Kevin C. Cox
Mel Kiper really liked what the Bucs' three main rookies did this year. No surprise.
Mel Kiper's rookie team has been out for a while, I just forget to write about it. And to on one's surprise, he listed three Tampa Bay Buccaneers among his rookies. If there's one thing the Bucs did right this season, it was absolutely nailing their first three draft picks. Doug Martin has been a dominant and incredibly versatile running back, Lavonte David was compared to Derrick Brooks before the season -- and has actually kind of lived up to that billing.
Mark Barron is the only one of the three rookies who hasn't played at a Pro Bowl level, mostly because of a midseason slump. Still, the rookie got off to a very fast start, and ended on a high note, with two great games to end the season. Fittingly, he made the final defensive play of the season, breaking up a fourth-down pass intended for Tony Gonzalez.
Doug Martin, Buccaneers: He was fifth in the NFL in rushing yards, with 1,454, and added tremendous value as a pass-catcher. Consider that he caught 49 passes, whereas Morris caught just 11. Martin does everything well, including block, which is why Tampa Bay stopped taking him off the field once it realized early on what it had. He gets the edge over Trent Richardson, who we now know played through a lot of pain.
Lavonte David, Buccaneers: David was one of my favorite players in the draft, but we knew he would drop because of questions about his size. Still, I compared him to a similarly small former Buc named Derrick Brooks, and David lived up to the comparison in 2012. The No. 57 overall pick played at a Pro Bowl level, started every week and finished the season with 139 combined tackles. He was a steal when he was drafted, and he looks like a bigger one today. Smaller linebackers (Khaseem Greene from Rutgers) in coming drafts can point to David in the way David could've pointed to Brooks.
Mark Barron, Buccaneers: My strong safety choice finished the season with 89 total stops, 72 of them solo, and has already developed a reputation as a guy who can line up the big hit. What I like about Barron is the way he takes great routes and lays hits without costing his team.
Unfortunately, the Bucs didn't get much play out of their other rookies. Keith Tandy, Najee Goode and Michael Smith managed just 13 active games between them. Drake Dunsmore, the team's final draft pick, didn't make it out of camp. The Bucs did get some play out of Leonard Johnson, who played 16 games and started 6, but it wasn't exactly high-level play, as he was picked on repeatedly throughout the season. All of those rookies could still improve easily, but their rookie years haven't exactly been useful.
The Bucs will want to repeat the success of their first three picks this season -- but I would bet some good money that they also want more early contributions out of the rest of their draft picks.