We’re fast approaching a free agency period where our hope is that the Buccaneers can land some solid starting caliber talent. Beyond that lies the always interesting NFL Draft.
Forgive me for a moment for overlooking free agency however the question that seems to be on everyone’s mind right now is: who should the Tampa Bay Buccaneers select with the number 5 overall pick? In the minds of Buccaneer fans there are only 2 possible selections, Morris Claiborne the cornerback from LSU and Trent Richardson the running back from Alabama.
In his most recent Mock draft Mel Kiper has the Tampa Bay Buccaneers selecting Trent Richardson from Alabama. Kiper’s rational is as follows:
"I'll say it again -- don't simply dismiss the idea that Richardson could land here because of the presence of LaGarrette Blount. A great running team now needs more than one good back, and Richardson is by far the best back on the board this year. As well, if the Bucs are going with a "best player available" mantra early on -- very possible given a wide range of needs -- Richardson would make a lot of sense here. Blount has power, but he's far more limited as an all-around back than Richardson. The Bucs were actually below league average in yards per rush in 2011, and could look to improve there."
This particular subject seems to have stirred up quite a bit of debate around Bucs Nation. There are passionate opinions from both sides of the argument. (I’m looking at you here dcbucsfan) However in all the conversations/arguments/debates/etc that have come up I haven’t heard many people talk about what I consider the key ingredient in this equation. His name is Legarrette Blount. People have mentioned him in passing, however he seems largely dismissed as evidenced by Kiper’s explanation.
Perhaps his fumbling issues in the latter half of the season have some people spooked. (If I remember correctly a young man named Adrian Peterson had some similar issues early on in his career.) Perhaps some people will point to his perceived lack of production this year as a reason we need an upgrade at running back. Still other people think that his pass catching ability and blocking are issues. I’ve even heard some people say that Blount doesn’t have the ability to "hit the home run". I beg to differ. He might not do it by running right by anyone or making a lot of people miss but then again neither did this guy. Regardless of the reasons why, the general sentiment is that LGB is simply not a feature back and Trent Richardson would be a tremendous upgrade over him.I couldn’t disagree more. If you’ll bear with me for a moment I’d like to take a look at some numbers. For 2011 Legarrette Blount got exactly 184 rushing attempts in 14 games. Arian Foster (while playing only 13 games and sharing time with Ben Tate) got 278 rushing attempts. That is 94 less attempts to run the ball and Blount wasn’t splitting carries with anyone. Splitting that up over 13 games that is over 7 carries per game just to get to the amount of carries Foster had. Given how far behind the Buccaneers were in most of their games this year that isn’t altogether surprising however for all the naysayers out there I want to point out one other number. 4.2 Yards per carry. Per how many times he actually got to run the ball Blount only trailed Foster by .2 YPC as Foster ran it for a 4.4 average. Kiper pointed in his explanation to the fact that the Buccaneers overall were at less than the league average in YPC. It doesn’t matter how good Blount and Graham were, at least before Graham was injured, the "Benndaround" lost so many yards we might as well have had a -1 YPC handicap. When he was given the chance Blount produced. He got to 1,000 yards in his rookie season and would have been there again this year as well. With a guy like that I can’t see the justification in spending a top 5 pick on another running back. Should the Buccaneers pick up a speedy back to bring in on 3rd downs or other special situations? Absolutely. A true change of pace back would add a whole other dimension to this offense and likely be tremendously helpful to have in the game plan. For those who think that we should draft Trent Richardson I ask, what use will he be to this team when our defense is getting burned and we have to play from behind the entire game? Blount would have ended up with over 1,000 yards but couldn’t get there because he simply didn’t have the opportunity. Why would having Richardson on our roster change that? Will we suddenly be able to stop opposing offenses? If we were to pick up some quality free agents on the defensive side of the ball including 2 starting cornerbacks then I would be all for the philosophy of taking the best player available in the draft. (Which may or may not be Richardson depending on whom you ask and who’s actually available when we pick) However that scenario seems highly unlikely so my vote has to go to Claiborne. The Detroit Lions taught the league a lesson about drafting the best player available. They infamously selected 3 wide receivers in a row all within the top 10 of their respective drafts. The Lions didn’t make the playoffs for over a decade. If we had depth then maybe we could take someone like Richardson who would be a great addition however doesn’t really address a need. We don’t have depth right now. I can understand that after a 4-12 season that saw us get humiliated in many games our fans are starving for some excitement. I really don’t know if I can stand to see another team hang up 40+ on us. Yet rather than trying to address a glaring weakness we’re infatuated with getting someone who will allow our offense to be explosive! We are not the Green Bay Packers, the New Orleans Saints, or the New England Patriots. We don’t need to try and be those teams. Going forward we need to forage a new identity. Defense brought us from being the laughing stocks of the league to prominence and eventually a Superbowl. Defense will once again right this franchise and rejuvenate our fans. We well remember what defense has accomplished. We well know what defense is worth now. (Just ask the New York Giants) Claiborne or Richardson…. Seems pretty clear cut to me…