The 2012 NFL Draft starts on Thursday, but we haven't really summarized the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' team needs in a single story. So, let's do this here. In my mind, there are four areas the Bucs will want to address this draft, and three minor needs they could look at. The four major needs are safety, cornerback, linebacker and running back, while the minor needs are tight end, offensive tackle and defensive tackle. Let's go through them one by one.
This is the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' biggest need in my mind. It's easy to see why when you look at what the Buccaneers have at the position - or rather, what they don't have: quality. In fact, the Bucs' group of safeties is so terrible, that they have been experimenting with moving Ronde Barber to safety. The only player with some starting experience at the position on the roster is Cody Grimm, who is coming off an ACL injury and has collected a whopping 14 starts in his two-year career. Behind him, the Bucs have a bunch of undersized, athletically limited players in Ahmad Black and Larry Asante, as well as an undrafted special teams monster in Devin Holland. The Bucs need to address the safety position in the draft.
Can they do so? Sure, but it's not clear how. The best safety in the draft is Mark Barron, a prototypical strong safety who stands out because of his man coverage skills on slot receivers and tight ends. Unfortunately, he's not really good enough to be selected with the fifth overall pick, and he won't fall to the Bucs' second-round pick. Behind him, Harrison Smith is another, less talented strong safety. After that we get to just okay safeties, like George Iloka, Antonio Allen, Brandon Taylor and others. This is not a good draft for safeties.
This is the Bucs' second-biggest need for two reasons: Aqib Talib's legal issues, and Ronde Barber's age. Yes, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers signed Eric Wright this offseason, and Aqib Talib is indeed a very good cornerback. But with a trial for aggravated assault with a deadly weapon scheduled for the summer, Tampa Bay cannot count on Talib this season. Considering the fact that this is the final year of his contract, and Ronde Barber really is nearing the end, they can't count on those two players beyond 2012 either. They must find a long-term starter at cornerback, and the 2012 NFL Draft is perfect for that purpose.
Cornerback may be this draft's strongest position, and it shows. Morris Claiborne is the favorite for the Bucs' first draft pick, but there are a plethora of cornerbacks who will likely be selected in the first round. In the second round there should still be a few good players available; Josh Robinson, Trumaine Johnson and Brandon Boykin are a few names to keep in mind. In all of this, Janoris Jenkins is the wild card. Jenkins could be the best cornerback in this draft, but off-field concerns have plagued him throughout his college career. I mean, he got kicked out of Florida. That's really hard to do as a talented player.
As at safety, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers don't have many reliable players at linebacker. The most experienced player is Quincy Black, but the outside linebacker is coming off a very disappointing safety. Second-year player Mason Foster showed some promise last season, but he regressed later in the season. Adam Hayward is an okay backup, but not someone you want starting. Behind them, you come to a collection of somewhat talented but very inexperienced players like Dekoda Watson and Rennie Curran.
So, can the Bucs find starting linebackers in this draft? Yes, they can. The highest-rated linebacker is Luke Kuechly, who should go in the top 15 of the draft. Probably not worth the Bucs' fifth overall pick, he could come into play if they trade down. Dont'a Hightower is another inside linebacker likely to go in the first round. Lavonte David has been a popular pick for the Bucs in the second round of mock drafts, and that could easily happen with the explosive but undersized linebacker. Behind him, players like Nigel Bradham, Mychal Kendricks and Sean Spence could be available in the third round.
4. Running Back
What do the Bucs have at running back? Legarrette Blount, Mossis Madu and Robert Hughes. That's not much, and they need to at the very least find a change of pace back for Legarrette Blount, as well as someone to handle the third-down duties in this offense. Luckily for the Bucs, there are plenty of running backs who could do that in this draft.
The list of running backs starts with Trent Richardson, and for some fans ends with him too. But the Bucs may not even have the choice of selecting Richardson, as the Cleveland Browns are likely to take him with the fourth overall draft pick. In the second or third round, the Bucs should have more choices. Doug Martin is a good all-around back, who could turn into a three-down back early in his career. David Wilson would be a good fit as a third-down back and change-of-pace back. Then there's the talented but inconsistent Lamar Miller, who could help the Bucs as well. Finally, Oregon speedster Lamichael James has repeatedly been linked with Tampa Bay in the third round.
5. Tight End
At first glance, the Bucs may not need a tight end. But when watching the 2011 Tampa Bay Buccaneers, it's clear that they're lacking at the position. Kellen Winslow has lost a lot of speed and struggles to separate from defenders down the field, and the team needs to find a long-term replacement, especially so because Winslow is a terrible (but willing) blocker. Luke Stocker is last year's fourth-round pick, but he didn't show much during the 2011 season, and will never be a dangerous receiving threat if we can trust his college tape.
But tight end is a weak position in this year's draft. Coby Fleener is a decent all-around tight end out of Stanford who could be available in the second round, but he's not a real impact player. Dwayne Allen is another decent all-around tight end, but he's not likely to be in consideration for the Bucs' second-round pick. Orson Charles is more of a receiving tight end who might not fit what the Bucs want. The pickings are slim at this position.
6. Offensive Tackle
The Bucs don't have a major need at offensive tackle, but they will want to find a replacement for Jeremy Trueblood. For one, because Trueblood isn't actually any good as a pass blocker. For two, because Trueblood is in the final year of his contract.
For the Bucs, the first tackle they could select would be Matt Kalil. The USC project is an elite pass blocker who is a likely ten-year starter at left tackle, but the Bucs already have a good left tackle in Donald Penn. Would they move Penn to the right, or even trade him? In the second round, the Bucs should have some options. Players like Mitchell Schwartz, Kelechi Osemele, Bobby Massie and others should be available and could come in to displace Trueblood.
7. Defensive Tackle
While the Bucs have a group of young and talented defensive tackles, they lack reliable production at the position. Massively talented Gerald McCoy has ended each of the past two seasons on injured reserve, while injuries have prevented Brian Price from developing. Although the team did sign Amobi Okoye for some depth, they could use a reliable starter at the position. And good defensive tackles are always valuable.
In the first round, the Bucs have two realistic options: Quinton Coples and Fletcher Cox both have a small chance of being the Bucs' first first-round pick, and stepping in as a three-technique defensive tackle with the Bucs. Behind them, there is some depth in the second round as well. Devon Still, Dontari Poe, Alameda Ta'Amu, Brandon Thompson and Michael Brockers could all be available in the second round.