For starters, I've said before that talking draft this early in the season (Before Turkey Sacrifice Day) is pretty meaningless. Anything can change between now and late November, and even moreso for December.
But I find myself thinking about it already, even with the Bucs poised at getting to 3-3 on the year and possibly playing into Wild Card contention (weird huh?) because of the multitude of 1-win "they're THAT bad?" teams hovering below us.
So with many apologies (and more than likely forewarning that this will change by January 2013), I give you the Needs List for the 2013 Off-Season.
Quarterback - This is very much in play as a need position for either Free Agency or Draft. While Josh Freeman FINALLY had a good game this past weekend, a lot of caveats still apply: it was against a bad Chiefs team; he needs to show continued improvement as this season progresses; he needs to reduce the number of sacks and INTs and increase the percentage of third-down conversions. We've seen how good he can be from 2010: but we've also seen how bad he can be from 2011. While patience for another season (much like the 49ers did with Alex Smith, which paid off last season) may be the way to go, if Freeman has a major relapse it means two things: another bad losing season, and a high draft pick where we could end up with either Matt Barkley or Geno Smith. If Freeman excels, No draft selection: If Freeman sucks, this is the most likely First Rounder.
Running Back/Fullback - Doug Martin may be struggling a bit, but our offense as a whole still has to work its way into contention. Along with LeGarrette Blount, we've got a solid RB tandem. With Michael Smith also in play for special teams duties (I think), the need for another young RB isn't there. Drafting a Fullback hasn't been an option for several years as the position is rarely called upon (most duties getting merged to Tight End). No draft selection suggested.
Wide Receiver - The buzz is back. WR Mike Williams is a deep threat once more. Having a solid WR veteran in Vincent Jackson forcing teams to reconfigure double-team duties helps a ton. And both receivers are benefiting this early in the season. The WR depth is decent: Arellious Benn remains a question mark but heralded UFA Tiquan Underwood is quickly proving a solid third down target. Drafting a WR at this point makes little sense. No draft selection suggested.
Tight End - Dallas Clark is a bit upset he's not seeing the ball more. Considering Freeman's currently not attuned to the short-passing game (or mid-field passing game), this may cause some frustration. That he and the other TEs are called more on blocking might be another source of woe. The problem is that 1) Clark is an aging veteran and 2) our Tight End depth isn't shaking out well (Sorry, Stocker, had high hopes for ye). Getting a bona-fide double-threat TE (one great at block AND receiving) would be a nice First Round draft pick. But it all depends on two things: how Freeman fares for the rest of the season; how our cornerback situation pans out; and what our needs for offensive line will be. THREE! Three things... Possible Second Round pick - needs elsewhere may be too high, and it depends on how the TE talent board shakes out.
Offensive Tackle - Been screaming for years to get a Right Offensive Tackle taken in the higher rounds to resolve the headache that was Jeremy "Personal Foul" Trueblood. While the line might be stabilizing now, depth is a very serious concern: the need to garner the best available OT is as close to a Must as we've had in ages. And while you don't tend to use a high draft pick on a ROT, the need for Left OT may be there as Penn - while solid - isn't exactly a Top Ten Left Tackle. Depending on where we draft - and if Freeman's proven himself to where QB is not a need - I wouldn't be surprised if we go after a rookie franchise-caliber LOT and shake up the line a bit. Possible First Round pick.
Offensive Guard - The loss of Davin Joseph to injury hurt the whole line. If Joseph was still in the lineup, Martin and Blount would be making 100-yard games EACH over the first 5 games. Vet additional Carl Nicks has been of great help, so there's that. Any draft need here is more for depth, to ensure we've got talent in case either set starter goes down. Possible Sixth Round pick (we didn't trade this one away already, have we?)
Center - Zuttah is palatable. I doubt there's a rookie Center deserving of a high round pick, and the current methodology in the league of switching over a Guard to Center duties seems to be the norm now: drafting a pure Center might not happen... No Draft Round suggested.
Defensive Tackle - The Bucs' biggest woe has been injuries. Dear please GOD stop letting our D-line get banged up. Past that, our starters are playing VERY well, especially First Rounder Gerald McCoy. If there's any need to draft, it's with depth needs. We may be better off shopping in Free Agency for solid depth needs instead. No Draft Round suggested.
Defensive End - See previous entry. PLEASE GOD NO MORE INJURIES, I'm serious :( We've benefited from having great depth with Michael Bennett, and with luck Bowers will get back into the lineup ASAP. But if we lose any more DEs to injuries I ponder if we'll draft another First Rounder on a Defensive End so soon. Again, this might be more a place to shop for healthy, solid DEs if it gets to that. No Draft Round suggested... unless the Bus get real unlucky :(
Linebacker - Both inside and outside Linebacker have outstanding starters in Mason Foster and Lavonte David. Depth may be an issue as well as solidifying the other OLB spot, but getting that is a minor issue at the moment. Late Draft Round - between Third to Fifth - suggested.
Cornerback - Aliq Talib should go by season's end. Mostly due to the off-field woes (three strikes...) but also because he's proving not to be a solid isolating CB at all: he needs Safety help by the looks of it, and that's not what you want in your Number One Guy. Add to that Ronde Barber facing retirement any day now, and CB / secondary depth is taking a serious hit come 2013. The talent need is very high here: with only CB Eric Wright as a solid veteran as the only sure-fire starter. If Freeman excels heading into the off-season, Cornerback becomes the most obvious First Rounder need (even if we get another guy in Free Agency, drafting a speedy young Corner will answer a lot of sins). Most Likely First Rounder pick.
Safety - Mark Barron as the First Round pick this year has already paid dividends in terms of tackling and decent pass coverage (which should only get better). While the other Safety spot has issues - Grimm? Black? Barber? - it doesn't look to be that bad at the moment. If we need to draft here it will be for depth needs, and the way the draft board shakes down the last 4-5 years we can find some rough diamonds in the later rounds. Sixth Round or Later suggested.
Kicking - You don't draft for kickers anymore. Not punters. You can WAIT for these guys in UFA stages anymore. NO DRAFT ROUND SUGGESTED EVER.
That said, if I had to rank in order of need what the Bucs should look at for April 2013 IF FREEMAN EXCELS, it would be this:
2) Offensive Tackle
3) Tight End
4) Outside Linebacker (depth, not starter)
5) Offensive Guard
If FREEMAN FALTERS:
3) Offensive Tackle
4) Tight End
5) Offensive Guard
What do you think, sirs?