For the record, I'm a huge Bucs fan and carry a lot of hope and optimism for the upcoming season. All be it a little less after we started playing in the preseason, but no matter. I think we've made some solid additions to this team, especially in the draft. Every year I think that, and while I hope for the best from each draft pick, not all of them live up to their potential.
Yet every year the offseason talk - at least from some - is booming with optimism. Every draft pick is going to make the team and make an impact. If only things worked that way. And then I thought, what if?
What if every draft pick over the last decade or so lived up to their potential exactly from where they were drafted? No trades or free agents would be needed, because everyone drafted in the first few rounds panned out as a solid starter! Obviously, the actual players we drafted would be quite different - Claiborne and Bowers wouldn't be a necessity had Adams panned out, and Gruden would still be running the team. But just for fun, let's look at an alternate view.
In this reality, a team report with a breakdown of each position might look something like this (to make the point easier, I'll indicate each players draft round, or if they were top 10, their draft position overall (abbreviated ovr)):
Quarterback: Heading into the 2012 season, the utmost importance lies in Josh Freeman. Freeman, the 2009 17th overall pick was brought in to replace Chris Simms (3rd), who despite being a good starting quarterback for the Bucs from 2005-2009, failed to make a pro bowl. The Bucs hoped Freeman would bring more athleticism to the position. Though he did, overall he was no better than Simms in 2010 when he replaced the veteran passer, but made strides in 2011 that the Bucs hope continue. Long time backup Josh Johnson (5th) will be the #2 QB for the third year in a row.
Half Back: Though the Bucs have had great production out of Cadillac Williams (5th ovr) over the past 7 years, the veteran showed signs of slowing down last season. He actually sat out a game last season, snapping his streak of over 100 consecutive starts. Williams is part of a group of 2005 running backs that include Ronnie Brown and Cedric Benson, all of whom are Hall of Fame candidates. The Bucs brought in Doug Martin (1st) as heir apparent, having almost no depth behind the one man workhorse they've found dependable year in and year out. Allen Bradford (6th) rounds out the group, though he's mostly just a backup that was brought in in 2010 after long time backup Travis Stephens (2002 4th rd) retired.
Fullback: Rick Razzano (2005 - 7th rd) returns for another season, and will be challenged by rookie Dunsmore (7th) and practice squad standout Eric Lorig (7th). Though the group is equally talented, Razzano is favored to win the job because of his status as a veteran leader.
Wide Receiver: Freeman will have a solid group of receivers to throw to. Go-to-guy Michael Clayton (1st) continues to break all kinds of franchise records and is considered an elite possession receiver. #2 receiver Dexter Jackson (2nd) is feared throughout the league for his deep play abilities. A knowledgeable veteran with a great understanding of the game, Jackson also plays slot receiver when the Bucs go to a 3 receiver set, and the very physical Maurice Stovall (3rd) takes the field. Mike Williams (4th) showed flashes in limited play, but will have to unseat veteran and special teams standout Larry Brackins (2005 5th) for the #4 spot.
Tight End: After some speculation in 2009 that the team may trade for a tight end, the team ultimately drafted Richard Quinn in the second round. Quinn has been an excellent producer, and the combination of him and previous starter Alex Smith (3rd) has proved a lethal one in the NFL. The group is rounded out by 2011 4th rounder Luke Stocker, though he's not expected to take the field unless there's an injury.
Offensive Line: Kenyatta Walker returns for his 12th NFL season, 10th as the team's starting left tackle. The 2001 first rounder is the team’s last offensive link to the 2002 Superbowl squad. The offensive line is considered one of the league’s best, which features pro bowlers Davin Joseph (1st) and Aaron Sears (2nd). Jeremy Trueblood (2nd) is considered one of the best right tackles in the game, and is known for solid pass protection. Rounding out the group is Jeremy Zuttah (3rd)
Defensive Line: This may be the league's best pass rush. Led by Veteran Gaines Adams (4th ovr), who was second in sacks in the league last year to long time rival Mario Williams, the group has added a lot of talented youth. In his second season, McCoy (3rd ovr) earned the second most votes to the pro bowl, narrowly losing to the Lion's Ndamukong Suh (2nd ovr). In his second year, Second rounder Brian Price was asked to replace longtime starting Nose Tackle Anthony 'Booger' McFarland (1999 1st rd). He started all 16 games and excelled at the position.
The team also parted ways with vetern Dewayne White (2003 2nd rd) this year. The Bucs have a position battle to replace White, with Adrian Claiborne (1st rd) and Daquan Bowers (2nd). The group features solid depth with players like Roy Miller (3rd) and Dre Moore (4th) at Defensive Tackle, and Kyle Moore (4th) at defensive end.
Linebacker: The Bucs have a solid group at Linebacker, which includes Marquis Cooper (3rd) Barrett Ruud (2nd) and Quincy Black (3rd). Recent Draft picks Mason Foster (3rd) and Lavonte David (2nd) will have to wait their turn, as there is no indication they'll start anytime soon.
Cornerback: Ronde Barber announced his retirement this offseason. Stating "there's simply no room for me on this roster anymore" The talented group of corners features pro-bowler and outstanding citizen and 2011's NFL man of the year Aqib Talib (1st rd) and the intelligent, instinctive Myron Lewis (3rd rd) who will be taking over for Barber. The group has great depth with Alan Zemaitis (2006 - 4th) who will come in for nickel packages.
Safety: This is a deep and talented group now that the team added Mark Barron (7th ovr). Barron will likely start at Strong Safety, along long time defensive standout and tackling machine Sabby Piscitelli (2nd). To make room on the roster, the team will have to part ways with one of a great group of backups that features Will Allen (4th) Tanard Jackson (4th) and Ahmad Black (5th)
Special Teams: Punter Brent Bowden (6th) seems to have a relatively secure job, while only camp legs contend with Martin Gramatica (3rd), hoping someone remembers them if he's ever injured(it's got to happen at some point right? 13 years pro and not a scratch on him). Automatica enters his 14th season with the Bucs. Though the Bucs may want to look for a replacement soon, the 36 year old has shown no signs of slowing down and was just selected to his 8th pro bowl.
I have lot of hope for the guys we drafted this year, and the one's from the Morris era that haven't quite made it yet. Here's hoping they're remembered not in this way, but for amazing things they do for our Bucs.