Every year, the Associated Press hands out two awards to rookies: Defensive Rookie of the Year and Offensive Rookie of the Year. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have seen two of their players win the second award, as running backs Warrick Dunn and Cadillac Williams won them in their rookie seasons. But no Buccaneer has ever won Defensive Rookie of the Year, despite a host of high-quality first-round defensive picks. This could change this year, though, as the Bucs have one player who could win the award quite easily: first-round pick safety Mark Barron.
The Defensvie Rookie of the Year is often handed out to the player who produces the most 'splash plays', preferably on a national stage. Not surprisingly, then, pass-rushers and linebackers are the primary recipients of this award: they're often put in position to impact the game through sacks and big hits. It's also relatively easy for a pass-rusher or linebacker to make an impact early in his career. But no safety has won the award since 1990, when Chicago Bear Mark Carrier took it home.
Barron could break this trend, however. The safety has the skill set to make an early impact, and has played in a pro-style system at Alabama for years. The step from Alabama's defense to the NFL isn't huge, as the responsibilities should be very similar. More importantly, though, it looks like Greg Schiano views safety as a key position in his defense, and we can expect to see Barron in position to make a lot of impact plays.
The Bucs have hinted that Barron will be used in a variety of ways: as a blitzer, in man coverage, in deep coverage and in the box. If the Bucs use the safety in the right way, he will have a lot of opportunities to impact games and sacks, interceptions and big open-field tackles should be the result. He certainly produced regular highlights at Alabama, as his 13 tackles for loss, 5 sacks and 12 interceptions over his career show.
Of course, for Barron to win, one thing has to happen: no rookie has to have a big year as a pass-rusher. If his competition is a defensive end with 16 sacks, he's going to lose out on this award. Fortunately for him, 2012 wasn't a particularly strong class of pass rushers and it would be a surprise to see any rookie make a huge impact as a pass-rusher early on.
More importantly, though, the Bucs simply need Mark Barron to play well. Whether or not he wins Rookie of the Year, it seems the safety will be asked to do a lot, and we've all seen the consequences of poor safety play the past few years. The Bucs want to win games, and they need Barron to have a good year - whether he wins Defensive Rookie of the Year or not.