Tampa Bay Buccaneers 2012 Pre-Draft Breakdown
Three days from now, we will welcome a new member to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers family. The fifth overall pick brings with it a big contract and high expectations. We have spent months discussing, studying, and arguing about who will and who should be the first round choice that will help get these team pointed in the right direction. Now that we are just a few days away, I want to give you a comprehensive look at some of the players who will be considered by Mark Dominik, Greg Schiano, and the rest of the staff on Thursday.
First Round – 5th Overall Pick
Luke Kuechly – Middle Linebacker – Boston College
Many of you know by now just how keen I am on Kuechly. This may seem like a biased choice, but I truly believe that Kuechly is the player most likely to hold up the traditional #1 Buccaneers jersey on Thursday. If Luck, Griffin, Kalil, and Richardson are the first four players off the board, I believe we will choose Kuechly over Morris Claiborne at number five, or trade back a few spots and secure him with a later pick. The buzz on Claiborne has cooled off over recent weeks as Kuechly’s stock has risen. Eric Wright signed a big contract this offseason, and although cornerback remains a position of need, I have a hard time imagining the front office being so quick to use a top 5 pick at the position. Mark Dominik felt there was such a need at linebacker that Curtis Lofton was allegedly in the building as soon as the free agency period opened. As we know, that deal fell through and the powers at be have sworn their allegiance to Mason Foster. Drafting Kuechly would allow Foster to move to the weak side and give us a true leader in the middle. Luke just turned 21 years old and could bring a Hardy Nickerson-like presence to this defense for the next dozen years. In just three seasons at Boston College, he amassed 532 tackles, including 191 this past season. That means he averaged 14 tackles per game throughout his 38 game career. He failed to reach double digit tackles in just four games. Kuechly also managed 35.5 tackles for loss, 7 interceptions, and two touchdowns over his three seasons. He fell just 13 tackles short of the all-time tackles record in NCAA FBS history. He did break the record for tackles per game with 15.9 in 2011. Kuechly possesses a tireless motor, unparalleled intelligence and instincts, leadership skills, and a superb work ethic. At the NFL combine he measured in at 6 foot 3 and 242 pounds. He silenced the doubts about his athletic ability with an impressive 40-yard dash time of 4.58 seconds, which was third best amongst linebackers. Kuechly finished in the Top 6 performers at linebacker in every drill at the combine, including an impressive 38 inch vertical leap and 27 bench press reps. Many analysts see him as a cant-miss prospect and one of the safest picks in the draft. Some undervalue Kuechly because he isn’t a pass rusher. I would argue that he probably won’t be rushing the passer very often from the middle linebacker position in our defense. He is superb in coverage and is a tackling machine. This should be the pick because of the impact that a great linebacker can have on a defense. Kuechly would bring intelligence, work ethic, leadership, athleticism, and a sure tackler to a Buccaneers defense that desperately needs all of those things.
NFL Comparison: Brian Urlacher
Here is a video of Kuechly’s final game against Miami:
Trent Richardson – Running Back – Alabama
If Richardson is available, I don’t think there is any chance that the Buccaneers will pass on him. The problem is, I think there is a very good chance that he will be off the board by the time our pick rolls around. There is still a possibility that the Browns will take Ryan Tannehill with the 4th pick, but most experts believe the Browns will draft Richardson. If Mark Dominik likes him enough, he could attempt to trade up to the 3rd pick and steal him from the Browns, but Dominik has expressed a disinterest in trading up in this draft. I agree with this logic because this team has many holes to fill and really needs to utilize all six draft picks wisely. Many analysts agree that Richardson is the best running back prospect since Adrian Peterson. He possesses a rare blend of power and speed. He also still has plenty of tread on his tires. 2011 was his first season as a feature back after complementing Mark Ingram in the Alabama backfield. Richardson rushed for an impressive 1,679 yards this season on 283 carries, giving him an average of 5.9 yards per rush. He also contributed in Alabama’s passing game with 338 yards on 29 catches. He got in the endzone 24 times (21 rushing, 3 receiving). In his freshman and sophomore seasons combined, Richardson totaled 1,451 yards on 257 carries and 14 touchdowns (5.6 yards per carry). He added 392 yards on 39 catches for another four scores. It also doesn’t hurt that he helped lead Alabama to two National Championship wins. Richardson measures in at 5 foot 10, 227 lbs. He did not participate in the NFL Combine due to minor knee surgery that he underwent in the offseason, but he impressed scouts with a 4.46 second 40-yard dash and 25 bench press reps at his pro day. There are no flaws in Richardson’s game. He can run between the tackles or off the edge. He can catch and block and he’s a hard worker. If the Bucs do find a way to add Richardson to the newly revamped offense, defenses league-wide are going to be having nightmares trying to figure out how to stop all of these weapons behind maybe the league’s best offensive line.
NFL Comparison: Adrian Peterson
Here’s Richardson showcasing all of his abilities against the Gators in 2011:
Morris Claiborne – Cornerback – LSU
Most “experts” and analysts believe that Morris Claiborne will become a Buccaneer on Thursday. The Bucs do have a need at cornerback with Aqib Talib’s pending trial and possible jail sentence or suspension. Ronde Barber is probably in his last season (I’ve said that before), and could potentially switch to safety if need be. I tend to disagree. Eric Wright signed a massive free agent contract this offseason, so we know Dominik and Schiano view him as a starter, and probably a number one cornerback. I also think that there is a sense of optimism in regard to Talib’s situation. If the Bucs were convinced that Talib would not be able to contribute this season, they probably would have cut him by now. Coach Schiano silenced rumors about Talib being shopped on the trade block by saying simply, “We aren’t trying to trade him” (or something to that extent). Fans aren’t exactly big supporters of E.J. Biggers and Myron Lewis, and it’s hard to imagine Anthony Gaitor developing into a starter so quickly. The fact is, if the coaching staff and front office didn’t believe Biggers and Lewis could contribute to this team, they wouldn’t be here. I believe there is a need at cornerback, but I don’t believe it is the biggest hole in this roster and I don’t believe it will be addressed with the 5th overall pick. Claiborne is an impressive prospect though. He played extensively in 2010 and 2011 and became the top cornerback at LSU this season after Patrick Peterson’s departure. He totaled 88 tackles in the past two seasons. He was a ball hawk throughout his career, snagging 11 interceptions and averaging 24.9 yards per interception return while returning one for a touchdown. He deflected 23 passes in his two seasons but did not force or recover a fumble. He also contributed as a punt returner this season, scoring once, while averaging 25 yards on 22 returns. I’ve watched as much tape as I can find on the kid, and I’ve seen a lot of things that I like, and a few things that I don’t. Claiborne looks like he could be a great cover corner in the NFL. He doesn’t allow much separation and plays tight and physical. He has very good game speed, running stride for stride with just about anybody he was asked to cover. He has elite ball skills, often going up and attacking the ball like a wide receiver. I think he is the best man coverage cornerback in this draft, but there are some other things that concern me. When you watch his tape, you just don’t see Claiborne making many plays around the line of scrimmage. He looks just adequate in zone coverage. He seems to have some difficulty shedding blockers and I’ve noticed him get washed out of many run plays by wide receivers. He is a good, not great tackler. This could all be a product of how LSU chose to use him, but his tape left some things to be desired and I don’t believe he compares favorably to his old teammate, Patrick Peterson who was selected with the 7th overall pick in 2011. I think he is a really good prospect, I just don’t see him as a Top 5 pick, although many analysts would disagree. At the combine, he measured in a little bit smaller than expected at just over 5 foot 11 and 188 lbs. Claiborne had a suitable performance at the combine. He did look miles ahead of just about everyone at his position in the on-field cornerback drills. He underperformed a little bit in the physical drills. He posted a 4.5 second 40-yard dash and didn’t place better than 10th (60-yard shuttle) in any other drill. Reports surfaced that Claiborne scored a 4 on the 50-point Wonderlic test. It was later reported that Claiborne suffers from a learning disability and perhaps should have been instructed not to take the test at all by his agent. Most people would argue that test scores aren’t an important factor in evaluating a cornerback, and I would tend to agree, although I do value intelligence at every position. We will see in a few days whether or not the analysts have correctly predicted Claiborne’s landing spot in Tampa. I don’t believe we will take him at number five because Kuechly is just a better fit at a more important position.
NFL Comparison: Aqib Talib
Here’s a video of Claiborne that displays the pros and cons that I mentioned:
Matt Kalil – Offensive Tackle – USC
For months it was a foregone conclusion that Matt Kalil would be drafted by the Vikings with the 3rd overall pick. As of late, reports have surfaced that the Vikings are still choosing between Kalil, Claiborne, and Justin Blackmon. If they do not choose to take Kalil, there is a good chance he would be available when the Buccaneers are on the clock. Kalil is a prototypical offensive tackle and many analysts have dubbed him a cant-miss prospect. The Bucs have a ton of money already tied up in their offensive line after signing Carl Nicks to a huge contract this offseason. Kalil could replace Jeremy Trueblood as the starting right tackle, a solution that Bucs fans have been waiting on for years. You can never have too many great offensive lineman and the addition of Kalil would leave little doubt that the Bucs have put together the best unit in the NFL. In 2011, he anchored a Trojans’ offensive line that allowed an FBS-low eight sacks of Quarterback Matt Barkley. He was named a first-team All-American and was considered for the Lombardi Award. Some analysts lately have displayed concern that Kalil has a bit of a bad attitude and a sense of self-entitlement. Kalil performed well at the NFL Scouting combine. He measured in at 6 foot 6 inches and 306 lbs. and finished second in the 40-yard dash amongst offensive lineman with a time of 4.99 seconds. He was 10th in the bench press with 30 reps of 225 lbs. He also finished second in the three-cone drill. Kalil would provide an end to any concerns about starting offensive lineman. It is just hard to imagine Mark Dominik making a luxury pick with a roster full of needs.
NFL Comparison: Jake Long
Here’s Kalil displaying all of his abilities against Arizona State in 2011:
Stephon Gilmore – Cornerback – South Carolina
Mark Dominik doesn’t like to say much in regards to his draft plans, but he hasn’t tried to hide the fact that the Buccaneers may be interested in trading back in the first round. If they do that, I think there will be three players that they target depending on how far back they trade. The first is Kuechly. The next player on their list may be Stephon Gilmore. In the past few weeks, Gilmore has flown up boards faster than any other play in the draft, so much so that some scouts and analysts think that he is a better prospect than Morris Claiborne. Although I can’t see Gilmore being taken higher than Claiborne, it has become somewhat of a foregone conclusion that he will be taken in the Top 20, but probably sooner. He displays better size than Claiborne, measuring in at 6 feet tall and 190 lbs. He also displayed better athletic skills at the combine. He ran a blazing 40-yard dash in 4.4 seconds flat, good for third best among cornerbacks. Gilmore also placed 2nd in the 20-yard shuttle drill and performed better than Claiborne in every drill that they both participated in. Do not get the impression that Gilmore is just a workout warrior though. He played at a high level throughout his college career against the very same competition as Claiborne. He displayed shutdown corner abilities at times at South Carolina, but has a reputation as a bit of a gambler. He does not possess the kind of ball skills as Claiborne but is a good coverage corner in his own right. He plays the run very well and was an impact player close to the line of scrimmage. Gilmore projects better in a zone-based scheme where he can use his physicality and good instincts. He played extensively over his three seasons at South Carolina, amassing 181 tackles, including 15 for a loss. He was used effectively as a blitzer and racked up seven sacks in his career. He isn’t as dangerous with the ball in his hands, averaging a modest 14 yards per interception return while scoring one touchdown. He does seem to be around the football a lot, recovering 4 fumbles and forcing two in his time in college. Overall, Gilmore is just about as good of a prospect as Claiborne and I think he is a better fit in our defense if we are sticking with a mostly zone-oriented coverage scheme. Some analysts believe Gilmore could be drafted as early as 7th overall to the Jaguars, so it’s hard to say how far the Bucs could trade back while still having a chance at Gilmore.
NFL Comparison: Antoine Winfield
Here’s Gilmore displaying some of his versatility against Alabama in 2010:
Dre Kirkpatrick – Cornerback – Alabama
The final of what I believe are six possible choices for the Buccaneers in the first round is yet another cornerback, Dre Kirkpatrick. There was a time when he was in the same conversation as Claiborne amongst the drafts top corners. He got in some trouble for possession of marijuana and fell down the boards a little bit. He later beat those charges, but never regained his Top 10 pick status. Kirkpatrick visited the Bucs and will be another consideration if Mark Dominik does indeed choose to trade down. At Alabama he displayed the ability to be a shutdown cornerback. I see him as somewhere between the skill set of Claiborne and Gilmore. He’s more physical and more of an in-the-box presence than Claiborne, but not as good of a cover corner. He measured in at 6 foot 2 inches at the combine, but is still a little lean at 186 lbs. He only participated in three drills, running his 40-yard dash in 4.51 seconds and not doing anything overly impressive in the vertical leap (35 inches) or the broad jump. Kirkpatrick played extensively for the dominant Alabama defense in the past two seasons. He falls short of what you would consider a ball hawk, snatching a modest three interceptions during his career. He also wasn’t used as a pass rushing threat as he didn’t record any sacks. He did force three fumbles and deflect 19 passes in his last two seasons. Although he is skinny, when I watch tape on Kirkpatrick I see a physical player, capable of laying big hits on ball-carriers. Although he lacks dynamic ball skills, Kirkpatrick looks like he could develop into a shutdown cornerback at the next level. He was very reliable at Alabama and doesn’t take unnecessary gambles. He excels in bump and run coverage and displays good hip movement. If the Bucs can trade back into the teens and get a few more draft picks, assuming Kuechly and Gilmore or off the board, I think Kirkpatrick would be the choice and I believe that fans should be perfectly satisfied with that selection.
NFL Comparison: Jonathan Joseph
Here’s a video where Kirkpatrick displays some serious physicality: