Over the next week, The Falcoholic will review the 2011 drafts of the three other teams in the NFC South. Today, it's the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
The Buccaneers were one of the biggest surprises of 2010.
The Atlanta Falcons beat them twice last season, but it wasn't exactly a cakewalk. After having a couple of bad seasons, the Bucs came together under a young head coach, a talented young quarterback and some nice complementary pieces.
They're not likely to get any worse after their current draft, unfortunately. After the jump, let's break down their 2011 NFL Draft picks, which were geared at improving a leaky defense.
DE Adrian Clayborn: A powerful defensive end with a run-stopping pedigree and some potential as a pass rusher, Clayborn was one of the most balanced players on the board. He was widely thought to be a possibility for the Falcons at #27 by national experts, though I was never a particular fan of the pick because he didn't have the pass-rushing upside of some other ends.
Aside from a nerve condition that made scouts skittish, Clayborn is a safe pick. The Bucs had a huge need at end, and Clayborn was unquestionably a good fit for a team looking to get more physical up front. I'm not a big believer in his upside, but even if he tops out as a solid starter who can do a little bit of everything, he's an upgrade for Tampa Bay.
DE Da'Quan Bowers: You want to talk about boom or bust? Bowers will either be a stick of dynamite or Pamela Anderson's bosom.
Once thought of as a potential first overall pick, Bowers suffered a serious injury that scared teams away from him. Bowers was a huge value for the Buccaneers in the second round, and his talent is unquestionably top ten. When he gets on the field for Tampa Bay, he's going to produce, and he's going to be a pass rushing whiz as a bookend to Clayborn.
But there's the little question of getting on the field. Bowers could have a very short career, since he's going to need major surgery to repair his injuries, and the Bucs may only get to enjoy his brilliance for a fleeting moment. He's perhaps the biggest question mark in the draft, but I'd be lying if I said I wasn't terrified of him.
LB Mason Foster: A great value pick for the Buccaneers, and another good piece to add as they improve their defense. A well-rounded player and a fundamentally sound tackler, Foster is nothing spectacular but could start for the Bucs within a year or two and provide value.
That's really all I've got to say about that.
TE Luke Stocker: Here's a guy I would've liked the Falcons to get a hand on. A big tight end with soft hands, the ability to display a burst of speed when called upon. He wasn't super productive at Tennessee, but he could get better with time in the NFL. The Bucs aren't exactly stacked at tight end, so Stocker should be a valuable player.
S Ahmad Black: I'm not impressed with this pick. The Bucs, like most NFL teams, could use more depth at safety. The problem is that Black, while a wily player who puts himself in a position to succeed, appears to lack the strength, athleticism and speed to be more than a backup at the NFL. There's always the possibility that Black could overcome those weaknesses to be an effective starter, but I don't see it happening. Meh.
RB Allen Bradford: A big, bruising back in the mold of T.J. Buckett, Bradford doesn't do much more than run fast in a straight line and run over people. Given that the Bucs already have LaGarette Blount, this doesn't exactly strike me as a great complementary pick, but Bradford is a tough enough runner that he can wear down defenses.
DB Anthony Gaitor: I know very little about Gaitor, but I'm guessing he'll play special teams and enjoy being buried alive on the depth chart. Good? Good.
TE Daniel Hardy: A project tight end with some blocking chops. About as much as you can expect from a late seventh round pick.
Conclusion: The Buccaneers landed with a thud in the late rounds, picking up guys who are at best solid depth and at worst not much of anything. But in the early rounds they grabbed players who have the potential to transform their defense, as well as a potential future starter at tight end. That's an exceedingly solid draft for a young, talented team, and it's scary to think about Clayborn and Bowers chasing after Matt Ryan in the years ahead.
How Bowers does will come to define this one, but the Bucs did well. I don't like it, but there you are. What do you think?