The 2012 NFL Draft could not have resulted better for the NFC South’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Not only did the Bucs clearly have the best draft in the division, they were among the best in the league. Unlike division rival the New Orleans Saints, nearly every player drafted will have an impact on the Buccaneers 2012 season.
Many analysts and prognosticators never saw the Buccaneers first pick coming. Nearly everyone had them tied to either Morris Claiborne or Trent Richardson. Instead, Mark Dominik decided to trade down with the Jacksonville Jaguars and select safety Mark Barron. At first, the reaction was one of confusion. The Bucs needed a corner and could have had their prayers answered in Claiborne. That is, until you realize the importance the role of strong safety will play in the Bucs defensive scheme. The Bucs plan on instituting a “4-3 Dallas” style of defense this coming season, which relies heavily on a safety willing to get in the box. Barron will be asked to blitz, give run support as the 5th lineman, cover tight ends and handle the normal duties of a safety in coverage. The Bucs did not need a corner as much as they needed their next John Lynch.
The Bucs followed the Barron pick up by trading back into the first round to select Doug Martin. The Boise State product was the second ranked running back in college football. The “Muscle Hamster” as he is referred, gives the Bucs a much needed every down back with explosiveness and agility. This doesn’t even include Legarrette Blount’s presence, which gives the team enough ammo to execute their vision of “ground and pound” power football. The Bucs then added Lavonte David in the second round, among the top linebackers in the draft and considered a Derrick Brooks type player. All three players were among the best at their position and instantly filled holes the team needed to address.
Once the big three were selected, the Bucs moved towards specialty type players, capable of boosting run support and areas of weakness. West Virginia’s run stopping linebacker Najee Goode was selected in the 5th round, followed up by his teammate Keith Tandy in the 6th round. Tandy is a physical corner and adds great value to a position of need. They then added depth in the 7th round, selecting Utah State’s 4.3-40 yard dash running Michael Smith and Northwestern tight end Drake Dunsmore. Each of the players were depth selections with upside.
At the other end of the spectrum was the New Orleans Saints. Stuck without a first or second round pick due to the bounty scandal and their trade for Mark Ingram, the Saints were behind the eight ball. Though able to get highly touted Canadian prospect Akiem Hicks to help at the defensive tackle position, many question his abilities due to the level of competition up north. They then attempted to replace Robert Meachem with 4th round selection Nick Toon out o Wisconsin. If that was their goal, they unfortunately failed. Toon is not as explosive, fast or shifty as Meachem and found it hard to break from defenders in college. The picks were then followed up by safety Corey White, guard Andrew Tiller and offensive tackle Marcel Jones from Nebraska. All three of course have potential but are considered projects at the next level.
To compensate, the Saints were among the most active in signing undrafted free agents. They will have to hope they strike gold with a few of the 20 players signed after the draft ended. Even if they do, who is going to coach them? Sean Payton is suspended for the season and interim coach Joe Vitt will be responsible for their grooming. Add to that the constant influx of allegations being hurled at the team and it makes for a less than perfect environment to foster young talent.
Though both the Carolina Panthers and Atlanta Falcons did well at addressing needs via the draft, they did not get extremely better because of their picks. The Buccaneers own that distinction, nearly transforming their team overnight. When combined with the free agency signings of Vincent Jackson, Carl Nicks and Eric Wright, it amounts to a team far from their 4-12 squad a season ago. Coach Greg Schiano has ushered in a new era and the front office has done everything to ensure that era is a championship one.