The Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ 2011 Draft Class
The 2011 NFL Draft is over and the latest Bucs Draft Class looks to be another strong one. The Bucs focused on their front seven and the defense, using their first three picks on defensive ends and linebackers. Two players for the secondary round out the defensive class. The offense wasn’t neglected, though, as two tight ends and a running back were added. The Buccaneers were very successful drafters in 2009 and 2010, adding players like Josh Freeman, Mike Williams, Legarrette Blount and Gerald McCoy. If early draft reviews can be believed, the 2011 draft class may be just as good. Although no one ever knows how newly drafted players will do on the field, the Bucs look to have added other strong pieces to their rebuilding effort.
When the draft started the Bucs had several needs, but two were most obvious: they needed to add an edge rush, and they needed to stop the run. The Bucs had an NFL second-worst 26 sacks last season, and coupled that with the worst run defense by Football Outsiders’ rankings. The Bucs set out to fix both of these deficiencies, and used their first three picks to do so.
This started with the 20th overall pick of the draft: DE Adrian Clayborn out of Iowa. The Buccaneers surprisingly passed on high-motor left defensive end Cameron Jordan to pick this Iowa-trained beast of a player. Adrian Clayborn has Erb’s Palsy which affects his right arm and likely limits him to playing right defensive end in the NFL, but this isn’t a problem for the Bucs. While Adrian Clayborn had a disappointing senior year in terms of rushing the passer, he was a dominant run defender. There are also indications that he’s a better pass rusher than his 2010 stats would indicate, as Clayborn was asked to play contain in a 2-gap system instead of being let loose as he was in 2009 when he was a terror for opposing quarterbacks. We’ll have to see whether the Bucs get the 2009 or 2010 version of Clayborn, but there’s one thing he’ll add to the defense immediately: attitude. Adrian Clayborn is a nasty, violent and physical football player who loves to “kick offensive linemen’s asses”, as he put it. Clayborn was a two-time team captain at Iowa and should be a leader for the Buccaneers, someone who can set the tone on defense. And that tone will be violent.
The Buccaneers added another premium defensive end talent with Da’Quan Bowers in the second round. Bowers had dropped because of medical concerns, but he has the talent of a top 5 pick. It’s still unclear how bad his knee injury is and Bucs officials are denying that he’ll need surgery. He’s still rehabbing, and it’s unclear when he’ll be ready to get on the field. It seems most likely that Bowers will not be limited by his knee injury early in his career, as he played all of last season with the same injury and dominated. Be that as it may, the condition appears to be chronic and the Bucs will have to manage his knee as they have with Kellen Winslow to get the most out of him. The most likely outcome seems to be that Da’Quan Bowers will have a very good career shortened by his knee injury. It shouldn’t impair his ability to play, however.
In the third round the Buccaneers continued their focus on defense, and added Washington LB Mason Foster. Foster is an instinctive, hard-hitting, physical linebacker who could step into a starting role immediately. With Barrett Ruud, Quincy Black and Adam Hayward free agents the Buccaneers desperately needed linebacker help. Mason Foster can play all three linebacker spots, but is likely to compete with Tyrone McKenzie for playing time at middle linebacker. Both McKenzie and Foster are physical players who will come downhill and shut down the run, and who will work well in short zone coverage because of their instincts. However, neither of them has the range or coverage ability of Barrett Ruud to be effective in the deep middle of the field.
It wasn’t until the fourth round that the Bucs finally used a pick on an offensive player, even trading up for one. Surprisingly enough they picked TE Luke Stocker out of Tennessee, which seems like an odd decision with Kellen Winslow Jr on the roster, but Stocker is a very different player. Winslow is basically a receiver in a tight end’s body and he’s largely worthless as a run blocker. The other tight ends on the Bucs’ roster are blockers only who don’t add much as receivers, and Luke Stocker will bridge the gap. The Buccaneers had 2 tight ends on the field on over 25% of the offensive snaps last season, and that number is likely to increase with Stocker on board. Stocker gives the Bucs offense more versatility and will pose problems for opposing defenses.
With Florida safety Ahmad Black in the fifth round, the Bucs added a very instinctive football player who was a playmaker at Florida. Unfortunately he’s also small and slow, and this will limit his role on defense. He could find a niche as a slot defender, though, and may transition to strong safety later in his career. Raheem Morris loves players like Ahmad Black and will try to get him on the field in positions where he can match Black’s physical shortcomings.
The sixth round selection was RB Allen Bradford out of USC. Bradford is huge – 5’11″, 242 lbs – and a powerful runner who should be an effective short yardage back and could end up splitting carries with Legarrette Blount. However, he doesn’t seem all that different from Kregg Lumpkin, who is already on the roster, and the Bucs had a real need for a third-down back which Bradford absolutely isn’t. Bradford may be a good player, but I don’t know how he fills a need for the Bucs.
Finally, the Bucs took two more players in the seventh round: CB Anthony Gaitor out of Florida International and TE Daniel Hardy out of Idaho. Gaitor is an undersized but feisty cornerback who could come in and be the dime back for the Bucs if Talib doesn’t return. Otherwise he’ll be the fifth cornerback on the roster, but should still make the team as Elbert Mack is his only competition. He’s unlikely to ever be an outside corner, but could be valuable inside as a slot cornerback and as a special teamer. Daniel Hardy is an interesting selection. Strictly a receiving tight end, he put up record numbers at Idaho and should be able to contribute at the NFL level. He’ll struggle to make the roster, though, as the Bucs may need a blocking tight end more than a backup to Kellen Winslow.
Overall, the Bucs have strongly improved their defense, drafting three likely starters in the first three rounds of the drafter. They added versatility to their offense with Luke Stocker, and drafted scheme-specific role players in the last 3 rounds of the draft. This looks like another successful draft for the Buccaneers, and the future for this team seems very bright.| Adrian Clayborn, ahmad black, Allen Bradford, Anthony Gaitor, Buccaneers, Da'Quan Bowers, Luke Stocker, Mason Foster, NFL draft, Tampa Bay