Before the draft, the discussions about the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' draft plans centered on two players: cornerback Morris Claiborne and running back Trent Richardson. In the last few weeks, linebacker Luke Kuechly and Matt Kalil entered the fray as well. Yet the Buccaneers ended up drafting a player no one thought was on their radar: safety Mark Barron.
But this only happened after a series of interesting events: the Bucs traded back with the Jacksonville Jaguars before the Minnesota Vikings' pick had been announced, although they were most likely aware of who the Vikings would pick. When Morris Claiborne fell tot he #6 overall pick, the Dallas Cowboys traded up with the St. Louis Rams, picking Morris Claiborne right before the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. This, in combination with the seemingly low price of a high fourth-rounder the Bucs got for trading back has led to accusations of general manager Mark Dominik getting fleeced and fooled. The perception exists that he really wanted Claiborne, and thought he could grab an extra pick while still landing Claiborne after trading back. The team, of course, has claimed that it wanted Mark Barron all along - which means nothing, as every team says that about their draft picks.
Yet, I don't believe that the Bucs saw Claiborne as the player they needed. I do believe the team when they say that they wanted Mark Barron all along. Hit the jump to see my reasons for believing that.
1. Mark Barron is more of a 'Greg Schiano' player than Morris Claiborne is
I like Morris Claiborne more than I like Mark Barron. That's not an indictment of Barron, who I think is a terrific football player. It's a mark of respect for Morris Claiborne, who is one of the best cover cornerbacks to come out in years. But that doesn't mean the Tampa Bay Buccaneers saw it that way, and there's plenty of reason to believe that. The Bucs have noted that they had Mark Barron at the top of their list, but we don't know if that's actually true. Dan Pompei in the Sunday Blitz noted that the Bucs had the two valued equally:
The Bucs didn't lose anything by trading down in the first round. The player they wanted was Mark Barron. They had the safety and cornerback Maurice Claiborne graded identically, but they deemed safety a bigger need. What's more, they picked up an extra fourth round selection. Said one national scout: "Tampa Bay did an unbelievable job. Their draft has been great."
There is one humongous reason why I believe this: Mark Barron is an excellent tackler and a physical player, while Morris Claiborne is not. One knock on Claiborne is that he's a subpar tackler and not a really physical player. This isn't a liability - Claiborne is still a terrific cornerback and he will get his man on the ground if he needs to - but it doesn't seem to fit what Schiano wants: physical players who know how to tackle. Mark Barron just feels like a Schiano guy, more so than Claiborne.
2. The Buccaneers had a chance to draft Morris Claiborne, and they didn't
If the Tampa Bay Buccaneers had really loved Morris Claiborne, they would have stayed put and drafted him. When they traded back, there was no reason for them to believe that Claiborne would still be on the board at the 7th overall draft pick. The St. Louis Rams needed a cornerback, as evidenced by their selecting Janoris Jenkins in the second round, and they could easily have selected Morris Claiborne. The Bucs also could expect a trade up at that spot, as it was evident that this would be a very trade-heavy draft. And that's exactly what happened.
It seems most likely that the Bucs didn't really think Claiborne was the unique, elite player he's been made out to be. You can agree or disagree with that assessment, but it's hard to argue that the Bucs would assume he would still be on the board at number seven. I'm convinced that if they thought Morris Claiborne was clearly better than other prospects on the board, they would have selected him with the fifth pick. After all, don't you think a fourth-round pick, especially in this relatively weak draft, is worth giving up to grab a truly elite, impact player?
3. Mark Barron filled a much bigger need
This goes back to that Dan Pompei quote above. If the Bucs had both Barron and Claiborne graded equally, they would take Barron every time as he filled a much bigger need. Yes, the Buccaneers need a cornerback. They have a lot of uncertainty at the position. But their top 3 cornerbacks are Aqib Talib, Eric Wright and Ronde Barber. That's not a godawful group that needs to be upgraded immediately, but it is a group that needs to be addressed in the near future as there is very little certainty at the position beyond 2012.
But if we look at the starters at safety, well, the Bucs were trying to play Ronde Barber at strong safety before the draft, because they had no one else. The two starters in 2011 weren't with the team anymore, for good reason. The Bucs had one player at safety they could kind of rely on at safety in Cody Grimm - but he is coming off a knee injury. In addition, there was one safety in the draft who they could maybe rely on to start in this entire draft in the form of Harrison Smith, and he was gone by the Bucs' second-round pick. If the Bucs wanted to find a new starter at safety, they had to draft Mark Barron - and that's exactly what they did.