Here's the second half of the two-part FA and Draft Needs fanposting which I've threatened you all. This is where most of the contention will be, because having witnessed a few early mock drafts from some of you has made it abundantly clear than none of you realize WE HAVE NO CORNERS. /headdesk
I'll also give an overall Draft Needs list by order of priority.
And so, onto the damage:
Defensive End: People seem to be obsessing over the lack of QB sacks, over the possibility that we simply aren't getting pressure on opposing QBs.
I say no, you are looking at it wrong. Our defensive line, our ends in particular, had been doing a good job for most of 2012. The reason why our sack count is so low is due to the lack of "coverage sacks", the kind of sacks where a QB can't find anyone open downfield and so holds onto the ball for an extra second or two. Because of the porous secondary, opposing QBs are finding receivers fast enough to avoid the pressure. I point to Peyton Manning's performance: he wasn't sacked all game because he was expertly picking apart our secondary without a care in the world.
It didn't help that the defensive playcalling went with massive blitz packages, stranding our corners in one-on-one situations that were quickly exploited.
Where you can best see the line's performance was stopping the run. After a poor run defense since December 2008, the Bucs finally racked up the best run-stopping D in the whole league. Part of it may be due to tackling machines in the LB corps - David and Foster - but a lot of it has to do with our D-linemen closing the gaps and stuffing a lot of runs.
So no, we don't need Defensive End all that much. We've got Bowers coming off injury and showing promise the last half of this season. We've seen good things out of Adrian Clayborn before he went down. And we've got a solid veteran in Michael Bennett, who stepped in for both - especially Clayborn - and went on to have a career season with 9 sacks and an impressive number of Tackles For Loss. If you want more QB sacks, hire better CBs and generate more "coverage" sacks!
Free Agency move: Re-signing Michael Bennett is a top priority IMHFO.
Draft need: Middle Round if anything, for depth needs. But I doubt it.
Defensive Tackle: Please read what I just wrote about DEs and repeat. Better still, recognize that Gerald McCoy finally had a healthy season and reached the expectations of being a First Rounder pick. Roy Miller, a slower but reliable fellow lineman, also did well. If there is ANY need here, it's for depth or possible upgrade to having Miller. Considering high needs elsewhere, the team can focus on depth/development.
Free Agency move: Re-signed Roy Miller will help with consistency, but if there's a chance at an upgrade make the move.
Draft need: Not that high, most likely Fourth or Fifth Round.
Linebacker (both Inside/Outside): Getting LaVonte David was genius. As a rookie he outperformed and deserves serious DROY votes. He also made Mason Foster a better LB alongside him. So in terms of key starters, we're golden.
The question mark is the other Outside LB: not as huge a need as Nickel defense packages take him out for a Corner/Safety, but part of the 4-3 scheme all the same. But getting an upgrade here would make the Bucs' linebacking corps the most formidable it's ever been since the heyday of Derrick Brooks - Shelton Quarles - Al Singleton.
That begs the next question: should the Bucs fill this need with a FA signing or a rookie? While youth in the lineup has proven to work, it may help to get a solid veteran to step in as the other OLB starter. That's just me. Overall depth upgrade wouldn't hurt anyway.
Free Agency move: Find a good-value OLB with solid tackling skills.
Draft need: It's there, I just don't see where considering needs elsewhere.
Cornerback: Let me say this, early and often.
THE BUCS HAVE NO CORNERS.
Let me be more specific.
THE BUCS HAVE NO MUTHASMURFING CORNERS.
Granted, there are a few guys listed on the roster as playing at the Cornerback positions. But let's consider: in no sane universe are Myron Lewis, EJ Biggers, Leonard Johnson, Anthony Gaitor, Brandon MacDonald, Danny Gorrer and LeQuan Lewis anywhere NEAR starters. Maybe back-ups (Biggers, Gaitor, Johnson). Maybe.
We've traded away Talib. We're about ready to cut Eric Wright as a wasted FA signing.
THE BUCS HAVE NO CORNERS.
So to everyone wanting to draft DE, or DT, or ROT, or TE in the First Round, SHUT UP OR EAT NAPALM.
Face Facts: Not only do the Bucs need to pursue starting-caliber Cornerbacks in the upcoming FA market, but they'll have to find a solid starting rookie CB in the upcoming draft. For two reasons: our team's depth is so atrociously bad that if we're forced to play in Dime packages we're still screwed if we only get TWO veteran CBs. And because it helps to draft in talent for long-term deals as Free Agents are really only good for 3 years at best, maybe 4.
I even doubt the Bucs can afford signing two starter-level CBs: one, definitely, but the Bucs have FA needs at TE, O-line, maybe OLB as well. There's not that much money to throw around. Meanwhile, it's become cheaper - slightly - to draft the talent you'll need.
So I figure on ONE starting Free Agent CB, at least one back-up caliber FA Cornerback, and at least two drafted rookies, preferably one in the First Round, maybe another by the Third or Fourth Rounds depending on who slips. If we can get two starter-caliber CBs in FA, fine. We'll still need to draft a CB in the First no matter what. Our Secondary IS THAT BAD.
Free Agency move: Pursuing two of the best-available veteran CBs, sign one and hope to sign the second.
Draft need: Very high. First Round.
Safety: Drafting Mark Barron first last April was a good move. Our Safety depth was sorely lacking last off-season much like our CB depth is now. While Barron wasn't as flashy as our other top rookies, he was relatively consistent and should improve once the other half of the secondary - CB! - gets upgraded.
There remains two questions: what happens to Ronde Barber, who moved from CB to S and proved valuable but is close to retirement age? And what about the overall depth of the Safety roster?
The Bucs currently have Ahmad Black, Keith Tandy and Cody Grimm on the roster, but they're still raw talent-wise and in Grimm's case suffering injury woes. Getting another starter-caliber Safety would help, but is that best done via FA or the draft?
Traditionally, the draft hasn't been that high on Safeties: Mark Barron went as high as he did because he was a Sure Fire starting Safety, but that's more rare than an honest Senator. A lot depends on what will be available by the middle rounds of the draft if you want to go with the youth route. But in that case, going with Black, Tandy or Grimm (stay healthy dammit!) would do just as well.
Free Agency move: finding a solid starter in FA if Barber does retire.
Draft need: Low. Seventh Round if anything.
Punter: We have Michael Koenen. We're solid.
DO NOT DRAFT PUNTERS. I am deadly serious now. Damn you, Jacksonville. Damn you.
Free Agency move: none
Draft need: NEVAR
* * *
So. Draft Need Priorities, counted to seven to reflect the draft rounds. Ranked highest to lowest.
2) Tight End (also Cornerback)
3) Right Offensive Tackle (also also Cornerback)
4) Offensive Guard (if we haven't gotten a second Cornerback by now, now's the time)
5) Defensive Tackle (as long as this isn't the First overall pick, okay, I will calm down about getting more Cornerbacks)
6) Quarterback (depth need/development only, in case FA does not provide.)
What do you think, sirs?