A couple weeks ago I wrote a story about Geno Hayes, and how he was the forgotten star on defense for the Bucs. I wrote that based on Football Outsiders' Defeat statistic, which basically measures the amount of impact plays a player makes. Geno Hayes had a lot of them, seventh most in the NFL, in fact. That's pretty impressive enough, but a more detailed view of his numbers makes his production stand out even more.
Geno Hayes had 15 Pass Defeats last season, and coupled that with 14 Run Defeats. Geno Hayes can be a playmaker both in the passing game and in the running game, and that's invaluable in the NFL. His pass defense really stands out, because a linebacker that can make an impact on third down is extremely valuable.
So what about his tendency to take himself out of plays and his inability to shed blocks? The first is a problem, but the latter not so much. When Derrick Brooks was redefining the Weakside Linebacker position, he had to be able to roam and make plays all across the field. It was the defensive line's job to keep blockers off Brooks, so he could flow to the ball and impact the play. Geno Hayes can do exactly that, although he's nowhere near Derrick Brooks' level - very few players are.
Geno Hayes' numbers also make me think the Bucs made a mistake trying to turn Quincy Black into the star playmaker among the linebackers last season. I've railed against Black several times this offseason, so it may seem like I hate him, but I actually think he's a pretty good player. He's a good player on regular downs who can occasionally make an impact on third down, but I don't think he's good enough as a pass rusher or in coverage to consistently be out there on third down. However, that's exactly what the Bucs wanted him to do.
Here's my suggestion for 2010: make Geno Hayes the featured linebacker on the team. Bring back either Quincy Black or Barrett Ruud and throw Mason Foster into the fire at the other position. That should add consistency and quality play to the defense, while an improved front-four should give Hayes the freedom to move around and make splash plays. Geno Hayes was good last season, and could be a star next season.