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Will the Buccaneers go offense or defense with their first-round selection in the 2006 NFL Draft?
That’s a question Pewter Report posed on the cover of its 2006 Draft Preview, and one I’ve decided to dig into in an effort to find a definitive answer for the inquiring Bucs fans that want to know.
Some believe the Bucs should continue to add players to an up-and-coming offense while others think the team needs to focus on adding youth and eventual successors to their No. 1-ranked defense.
So, which way will the Bucs go with the 23rd overall pick in the draft, and which unit – offense or defense – will the team focus more on in this year’s draft?
Well, the answer to both of those questions lies in Tampa Bay’s history under head coach/offensive playcaller Jon Gruden and general manager Bruce Allen.
This year will be Gruden’s fifth NFL Draft with Tampa Bay, and his history with the Bucs suggests his team will use their first-round pick on an offensive player.
Over the past two years, the Bucs have used their first-round draft picks on running back Cadillac Williams and wide receiver Michael Clayton, respectively.
In Gruden’s first year in Tampa Bay, the Bucs were without a first-and-second-round draft pick due to the trade for Gruden with the Oakland Raiders. The Bucs’ first selection came in the third round, and they went offense by drafting wide receiver Marquise Walker.
Tampa Bay went offense with their first picks in all three of those drafts with Gruden as its head coach, but there was one exception to the trend. In 2003, the Bucs were without a first-round draft pick, which again belonged to Oakland. And with their second-round draft pick, the Bucs selected defensive end Dewayne White.
In Gruden’s first four drafts with Tampa Bay, the Bucs went offense with their first pick three different times, and no one should be surprised if they select an offensive player with their 2006 first-round pick. In fact, the trend in recent years suggests it should be expected.
History also suggests Tampa Bay will spend the majority of its 10 draft picks on offensive players. Since Gruden’s arrival in 2002, the Bucs have had 35 draft picks, and 23 (65.7 percent) of them were used to select offensive players.
In 2002, the Bucs used five of their eight draft picks on offensive players.
Tampa Bay used four of its six draft selections on offensive players in 2003.
Unfortunately, the Bucs have missed on several of these picks, Walker, running back Travis Stephens, center Austin King and tackle Lance Nimmo to name a few, and that’s why they likely will continue to draft mostly offensive players in 2006 and until they eventually hit on more offensive picks just as they have with Williams, tight end Alex Smith and Clayton.
In 2004, the Bucs had eight draft picks, and used five of them on offensive players.
Last year, Tampa Bay had 13 draft picks (including the sixth-round pick used to trade for quarterback Luke McCown), and used nine of them on offensive players.
With Tampa Bay spending 23 of its past 35 draft selections on offensive players, the Bucs have used just 12 selections on defensive players, which averages out to just three per year since Gruden’s arrival.
Although Tampa Bay does have some concerns about its aging defense, don’t look for this trend to change this year.
Allen has done a great job of keeping Tampa Bay’s 11-5, NFC South division championship team intact this offseason. In fact, he managed to keep Tampa Bay’s No. 1-ranked defense from a year ago practically intact for the 2006 season.
The only defensive starter that left the Bucs via free agency was safety Dexter Jackson, who signed with the Cincinnati Bengals during the offseason.
Jackson got away, but Allen found a way to re-sign two key free agents in cornerback Juran Bolden and defensive tackle Chris Hovan.
Perhaps even more importantly, Allen and the Bucs managed to avoid having to release linebackers Derrick Brooks and Shelton Quarles, and defensive tackle Anthony McFarland, all of whom restructured their contracts during the offseason.
In addition to those moves, the Bucs made what could be a significant free agent signing by inking linebacker Jamie Winborn to a contract a few weeks ago.
The Bucs were just as active on the offensive side of the ball in free agency. They did, after all, re-sign fullback Mike Alstott, quarterback Chris Simms, wide receiver Ike Hilliard, tackles Anthony Davis and Kenyatta Walker and guard Sean Mahan, and inked free agent guard Toniu Fonoti and tackle Torrin Tucker to contracts.
But it’s important to note that Tampa Bay’s defense, which still is the strength of the team, virtually is intact. The Bucs only lost one defensive starter, which is more than even the 2002 Super Bowl champion Bucs defense could say the following year when they lost two starters – Jackson and LB Al Singleton – in free agency.
Even if the Bucs didn’t select one defensive player in the 2006 NFL Draft, defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin would have a difficult time finding holes in his defense. Sure, the defense’s need for younger players and depth is there, but the need for starters is not, or at least it isn’t this year.
Gruden can’t say the same about his offense, which still has pressing needs at several positions, particularly along an offensive line that is void of Pro Bowl-caliber players.
While there’s always the possibility that Tampa Bay could select a defensive player in the first round, Gruden’s track record suggests the Bucs will select an offensive player again in round one.
And with 65.7 percent of Gruden’s past draft picks in Tampa Bay having been offensive players, it’s not out of the realm of possibility to think the Bucs could use as many as seven of their 10 draft picks on offensive players in 2006.
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