BEFORE: 2010 record: 10-6 Record vs. Quality Opponents: 1-5 Last five seasons overall: 35-45 (.438)
Despite 10 victories the Bucs didn't get into the postseason. Tampa Bay finished third in the NFC South behind Atlanta and New Orleans last season. To leap them, the Bucs have to improve their pass rush, led by DE Stylez White's 4.5 sacks last season.
Ask any other general manager or coach in the league to point to a young team on the rise, one they fear in the coming years, and Tampa Bay will get a lot of mention.
In Josh Freeman, LeGarrette Blount and Mike Williams, the Bucs have that QB-RB-WR trifecta that really could be special – and was special in 2010. Coupled with one of the league's best offensive lines and some young talent on D, something exciting is percolating in Tampa.
QB: Freeman established himself as one of the best young quarterbacks in the league, although he did it in relative obscurity compared to some of the other young passers. Last year, Freeman threw 25 touchdown passes and only six interceptions. Freeman is a gym rat. He loves the game. He loves working at it and he's a film nut. It's why he has quickly made himself into a franchise quarterback. Freeman is big, strong and has a good arm.
RB: The move to claim LeGarrette Blount off waivers from the Titans paid off big. He led all rookies in rushing (1007 yds), and lead the entire NFL in missed tackles per rushing attempt. Recording 73.4% of his yards after contact (more than any other player with over 200 carries), Blount ran with the kind of wild and reckless abandon that simply wins battles against defenders. Earnest Graham, Kareem Huggins, and Cadillac Williams all have major question marks heading into 2011. Don't be shocked to see a pick at some point by the Bucs on a young back, maybe a speed guy.
WR: Rookie Mike Williams was the steal of the 2010 draft. He was taken in the fourth round because of numerous off-field issues at Syracuse, that lead him to quit the team half-way through his junior year. Williams went on to become an immediate star for the Bucs, catching 65 passes for a team-high 964 yards and 11 touchdowns. He was a 16-game starter who will only get better. He's big, fast and competitive. Arrelious Benn, a second-round pick, took time to get rolling, but he came on midway through the season before suffering a torn ACL in the 15th game of the season. If he's healthy, he should start opposite Williams. The Bucs love slot receiver Sammie Stroughter and Dezmon Briscoe , who they signed after Cincinnati waived him.
TE: Kellen Winslow remains a top target in the passing game. He had 66 catches and six touchdowns. Freeman loves using him in the middle of the field. He causes matchup troubles for linebackers. There isn't much behind him. They could use a good blocking tight end.
OL: When healthy, the Bucs have a talented line. But injuries slowed the group some last season. Center Jeff Faine and guard Davin Joseph ended up on injured reserve. Joseph, when healthy, is their best lineman. He could be a free agent, but the Bucs would love to have him back. Faine has played well since signing as a free agent. In his absence, Jeremy Zuttah took over. He did a nice job considering he has been a guard for much of his career. Left tackle Donald Penn played at a Pro Bowl level. Right tackle Jeremy Trueblood played through a knee injury and lost his job to James Lee. Ted Larsen, picked up after being waived by New England, played well at right guard and should start again.
DL: When your leading pass rusher has 4½ sacks, there are problems. The Bucs must fix that. The ends are just guys on this defense. Stylez White plays hard, but he should be a backup and not starting. The same goes for Kyle Moore and Tim Crowder. But they all have been pressed into duty because of a lack of talent at the position. The tackles have promise. Gerald McCoy, last year's first-round pick, and Brian Price, the team's second-round pick last April, will form a nice 1-2 punch inside. They both ended up on IR last season. McCoy has a chance to be special and the coaches love Price. Roy Miller, Al Woods and Frank Okam provide a nice group to go with the two young players.
LB: They have some questions here. Both middle linebacker Barrett Ruud and strong-side linebacker Quincy Black might be free agents. The Bucs would love to have both back, but the price will be the deciding factor. Ruud had led the team in tackles the past four seasons, but he isn't the star you would think. He's good, not great. Black has amazing athletic ability and has a chance to be special. But he is coming off a season ended by a broken arm. Geno Hayes is the other starter. He has good speed but is a bit undersized and gets overwhelmed at the point of attack at times. Dakota Watson, Adam Hayward and Tyrone McKenzie are the backups. They like Watson's potential. This is an area that could be addressed early in the draft.
DB: The pending legal troubles for corner Aqib Talib could impact their drafting as well. He is facing charges in Texas for aggravated assault with a deadly weapon -- a second-degree felony that's punishable by five to 20 years in prison. Talib's problems could lead the Bucs to draft a corner early, maybe in the first round. When he's on the field, he's one of the top cover players in the NFC. He had six interceptions before a hip injury ended his season in the final month. He is big and fast and has good ball skills. Ronde Barber, the other corner, is on his last legs. He's a smart player who excels in Tampa's Cover-2 scheme. He is also a capable blitzer off the edge when he slides inside in the nickel. The Bucs think they can get at least one good year out of him. E.J. Biggers and Myron Lewis are two young corners the Bucs like. Some scouts think Lewis would be a better safety, but Bucs brass insists he can play corner. Sean Jones starts at one safety and he is serviceable. Rookie Cody Grimm took over as the starter last season and played well before breaking a leg. There is a chance the Bucs could get back Tanard Jackson. He was suspended indefinitely after the second game for violating the league's substance-abuse policy.
Tampa Bay general manager Mark Dominik had a stellar draft last year, getting four rookie starters, while Coach Raheem Morris has instilled a cocky attitude. Their year 3 draft should decide if this is a playoff team or not in 2011.
--The Bucs completed their construction of their defensive line that began two years ago.
Both players finished the season on injured reserve but are expected to make a full recovery. McCoy went nine games without a sack but recorded three before a torn biceps injury cost him the final month of the season.
The Bucs finished tied for 30th in the NFL in sacks with 26. The Bucs believe Clayborn and Bowers will help change that, and are also expected to help solidify Tampa's run defense, which surrendered an average of 131.7 yards per game last season, making it the fifth worst in the NFL. Tampa's scoring defense ranked ninth, however, but could also be improved in 2011.
#20. DE Adrian Clayborn, Iowa, 6-3, 281 - Adrian Clayborn busted loose in 2009 with one of the best defensive seasons in the nation: 70 tackles, 11.5 sacks, 20 tackles for loss and four forced fumbles. Anyone who watched the 2010 Orange Bowl will remember Clayborn’s MVP performance as he completely dominated the game against Georgia Tech.
The St. Louis native turned many heads when he decided to put off the NFL for one more year to return for his senior season at the University of Iowa. Entering the 2010 season, he was ranked by many as the top defensive end in college football. NFL draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. had Clayborn ranked as the No. 5 player overall on his NFL 2011 Draft Board.
Clayborn's senior season was not what he hoped it would be statistically (52 tackles, 3½ sacks and one forced fumble) but he still was a consensus All-American and first-team All-Big Ten pick. His inability as a senior to be the regular force in the backfield that he was in 2009, even when not drawing double-teams, has put concerns in the minds of some NFL scouts about his ability to be a true difference-maker at the next level.
Clayborn, who was born with a right arm that's smaller than his left arm, and suffers from Erb's Palsy, a paralysis of the arm caused by injury to the nerves, which most commonly takes place during the birthing process. That was the case for Clayborn, who grew up without full range of motion in his right arm. His agent, Blake Baratz, points out, the issue with his right arm has never kept Clayborn off the field. The fifth-year senior never missed a game with the Hawkeyes.
Round 2 #51. DE Da’Quan Bowers, Clemson 6-3, 280 - Top-10 talent plummeted in the draft because of a torn meniscus in his knee. The Bucs don't believe the injury will have any long-term effects but will take it slow in his rehab. When healthy, his ability is undeniable. He led the nation in sacks in 2010 with 16, and while some might consider him a one-year wonder, he was really just growing into the player many expected when he arrived at Clemson. The Bucs may have the most talented pass rusher in the draft to plug in at left end.
He spent most of his sophomore (2009) season fighting through a knee injury, then injured his meniscus Nov.6 against N.C. State but played through the pain that limited him in practice the rest of the year.
Post-season surgery on the meniscus had prevented Bowers from doing anything until his pro-day on April 1. His 40-yard dash times were slower than anyone would expect from a healthy Bowers. Two scouts said they had his times at 4.96 and 4.94 seconds, with one adding "the two guys behind me had him over 5.0."
He insisted there was nothing lingering about the problem, saying noted orthopedic surgeon Dr. James Andrews assured him he would be fine.
Round 3 #84. : ILB Mason Foster, Washington 6-1, 241-Hard hitter who can play any linebacker position. In 2010, Foster was second in the entire country in tackles with 163. He also led the PAC-10 in tackles in 2008. Foster had 6.5 sacks last year for the Huskies and led all tacklers in the Senior Bowl with eight.
Round 4 #104. (From Washington): TE Luke Stocker, Tennessee 6-5, 255– The Bucs traded up 12 spots with Philadelphia to select Stocker, one of the most complete tight end in the draft. What stands out about the former Volunteer is his size at about 6’5”, 260-pounds. He’s big enough to block defensive linemen, but is also a sure-handed receiver in the short passing game, though he is a limited athlete. Stocker, who played in a pro-style offense for the Vols, runs a forty time in the 4.6-4.7 range
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Acquired pick No. 104 in 2011
Philadelphia Eagles: Acquired pick No. 116 in 2011 and a fourth-round pick in 2012
Round 5 #151. SS Ahmad Black, Florida 5-9, 184– Undersized at 5-foot-9, Black has proven to have only 4.7 speed in the 40, causing his stock to free fall. Black was a great collegiate player who displayed excellent instincts in coverage and a nose for the football. In 39 career starts, he picked off 13 passes, batted down 28, returned three of the INTs for TDs, but to be both that short and slow would be almost insurmountable in the NFL.
Round 6 #187. (from Kansas City): RB Allen Bradford, Southern California 5-11, 242– The Buccaneers added some much needed running back depth with Bradford, who was recruited to Southern Cal as a safety but is a big, powerful back in the mold of Bucs tailback LeGarrette Blount.
Round 7 #222. CB Anthony Gaitor, Florida International 5-10, 177– Gaitor is a narrow-framed corner who has great instincts and excellent speed for the position. His level of competition is a concern and his lack of bulk isn’t comforting either. The Buccaneers were in need of more corner depth in light of the Aqib Talib situation.
Round 7 #238. (Compensatory): TE Daniel Hardy, Idaho 6-4, 249– Hardy is a playmaking tight end and former walk-on who worked his tail off to be a player.He has major injury concerns but has a chance to compete as the No. 3 tight end and contribute on special teams.