In Greg Schiano's first year at the helm, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers finished 7-9 in 2012, a notable improvement from the previous year but still shy of the postseason. The Buccaneers lost six games by seven points or less, including four in which they had a lead in the fourth quarter, and saw a promising playoff-run position fade down the stretch.
Simply put, there were opportunities for a very promising season to be any better, and missing those chances still bothers Schiano. Over the three days of the 2013 NFL Draft – not to mention some very important days right before the draft – the Buccaneers took steps to make sure those opportunities would not pass them by again this season. There's no question that the team believes it can contend for the playoffs in 2013.
"I believe that we made ourselves better," said Schiano shortly after the Buccaneers made their last pick in the draft. "I felt like we let some opportunities get away from us last year. We need to get to work though. As is always the case, time is our enemy. It's not the other 31 teams, it's the clock and how fast can we get some of these talented rookies ready to play? We have some newcomers that we acquired through free agency that we need to get on board with our schemes. That's going to be the challenge. We're building it our way, we're building it with our kind of people and I'm excited. I think we've made ourselves better…I know we made ourselves better."
The Buccaneers drafted six players on Friday and Saturday, and while they addressed five different positions, came from four different college conferences and range in size from 185 pounds to 310, they shared some specific traits that the team's leadership covets, and that Schiano believes are necessary to win.
"They certainly have some physical traits that we're looking for, beyond a shadow of a doubt," said Schiano of his six newest charges. "But [it's] the kind of people, the kind of competitors they are. [These are] guys that can put this organization before themselves, and that's something that's not easy to find this day in age. I think that we found a bunch of guys that really fit into who we are and what we are. In the clutch, when you know you can count on the guy next to you, that to me is the secret, and we got some more guys that I think can be counted on."
The draft really began for the Buccaneers on Sunday, when they sent their first-round selection this year plus a conditional pick in next year's draft to the New York Jets for All-Pro cornerback Darrelle Revis. That continued a massive offseason upgrade to the team's most significant problem area in 2012, the pass defense, a project that would continue when the actual draft began.
When coveted Mississippi State cornerback Johnthan Banks remained available to the Bucs at pick #43 in the second round, they pounced, adding a player who has a very good shot to start on opening day. If he does, the Bucs could field a five-man secondary (counting the nickel back) consisting completely of players who have been drafted with high picks or acquired in significant free agency/trade deals over the last 13 months: Revis, Banks, Dashon Goldson, Mark Barron and Eric Wright.
With that top priority met, the Bucs filled another pressing need in Round Three by adding big-armed North Carolina State product Mike Glennon to their quarterback depth chart behind starter Josh Freeman. The third day of the draft was mostly aimed at the defensive line, which need a shot of depth and pass-rush potential, with a final flurry of moves at the running back position rounding out the day. The Bucs spent three fourth and fifth-round picks on D-Linemen Akeem Spence, William Gholston and Steven Means, then traded running back LeGarrette Blount to the Patriots and used the seventh-round pick they acquired (along with RB Jeff Demps) to move up and draft Miami running back Mike James.
Here's a look at the Buccaneers' final six-man 2013 draft class, including the man acquired for the team's first-round pick (plus a conditional 2014 selection):
Traded this pick 2014 conditional pick to NYJ for CB Darrelle Revis
Jim Thorpe Award-winner could start immed.
Great size, huge arm, good fit for Bucs' system
Traded up to get powerful, versatile tackle
Junior-eligible, athletically-gifted lineman
18.5 career sacks for Bulls
Senior starter for 'Canes, 986 comb. yards
* Round/Pick in Round/Overall Pick in Draft
After a series of deft maneuvers by Dominik in last year's draft got the team in position to draft the high-impact trio of Mark Barron, Doug Martin and Lavonte David – not to mention the more recent Revis deal – observers half-expected Dominik to spend the weekend sliding up and down the board again in 2013. And indeed, after standing pat with two picks on Friday and letting their targeted players fall to them, the Bucs engaged in a trio of deals on Saturday. Here are the four trades the Bucs made involving their draft picks over the last six days:
- A 2013 first-round pick (#13) and a 2014 conditional pick (either a third or a fourth) to the N.Y. Jets for CB Darrelle Revis. The Jets selected Missouri DT Sheldon Richardson with the acquired pick.
- A 2013 fourth-round pick (#112) and a 2013 sixth-round pick (#181) to Oakland for a 2013 fourth-round pick (#100). The Buccaneers selected Illinois DT Akeem Spence with the acquired fourth-round pick. The Raiders selected Arkansas QB Tyler Wilson and Central Florida RB Latavius Murray with the two acquired picks.
- RB LeGarrette Blount to New England for RB Jeff Demps and a 2013 seventh-round pick (#229). The Buccaneers used the acquired pick in the following trade.
- A 2013 sixth-round pick (#196) and a 2013 seventh-round pick (#229) to Minnesota for a 2013 sixth-round pick (#189). The Buccaneers selected Miami RB Mike James with the acquired pick. The Vikings selected UCLA G Jeff Baca and Florida State DT Everett Dawkins with the acquired picks.
The Revis trade was its own sort of beast, and the Blount deal had motivations beyond movement up and down the draft board. But the other two trades were made specifically to make sure that targeted players didn't slip out of the Bucs' grasp. While the Buccaneers had hundreds of players scouted and ranked, and contingency plans upon contingency plans, it certainly sounds as if they came into the weekend with a pretty specific wish list. They left with much of that list fulfilled.
"As I said last year, I thought Mark did a masterful job again [in 2013]," said Schiano. "A lot of it is patience, so some is moving up and some is sitting there. That's hard. It wasn't like we had a ton of different guys. We knew who we wanted if they were there. When you know your guy is sitting there, as a coach you're dying, saying, 'You have to get him, you have to get him.' And Mark said, 'We'll get him, we're going to get him.' The relationship that we have is that we discuss everything, and to me that's critical. We communicate as well as anybody in this league, as far as head coach and GM, constantly going through things, and we usually come to a consensus on most things. We believe in the same things, football-wise. It's a matter of managing that phone and the other GMs and again he was awesome at it."
On Friday evening, Dominik and Schiano discussed the team's strategy in the second and third rounds, as well as the eventual selections of Banks and Glennon. On Saturday evening, after being ensconced in the One Buccaneer Place Draft Room for about six hours, the two emerged to provide details on the selections made in Rounds 4-7. The first three of those picks were all additions to a defensive line that lost two starters to free agency and ranked 31st in sacks produced per pass play in 2012.
The first of those three was Spence, the powerfully built and extremely strong defensive tackle from Illinois. Spence is apparently ticketed for the "tilt-nose" position that the departed Roy Miller played in the Bucs' new scheme last year, a very important piece of the defensive puzzle according to Dominik. The Bucs' GM said he could envision Spence being a force inside, which is why the team felt it had to move up to nab him. Spence isn't guaranteed the starting spot, but the Bucs obviously believe he has a chance to win it.
"We didn't use that pick for him to watch," said Schiano. "I mean we want him in the mix and competing. We think that he is tailor-made for what we do defensively, I mean we really do. That's why we went to get him. We felt that strongly, we think he's going do the things that we need done at that position. I'm thrilled that he is in our defense."
The Bucs have two likely starters at end in Adrian Clayborn, who is returning from injury, and Da'Quan Bowers. They still needed to add depth and future potential, however, especially after the departure of Michael Bennett in free agency. And Gholston just happens to be loaded with potential, in the eyes of the Bucs, who reserved one of their 30 pre-draft visits for the Michigan State standout in order to get a better feel for his attitude and approach.
"We really got to know him better and got to learn about him more," said Dominik. "I thought that pick, in terms of quality and quantity and where you're taking a player of that level, is very exciting for our entire staff. Our scouting staff, as well as our coaching staff, is very excited to continue to develop him because of what he brings and the traits that he has.
"We felt like he was continuing to grow this year," said Dominik. "Although he came out [for the draft early], we felt like there was a lot of potential still in this young man. We really started to appreciate everything about him; not just the tape that we saw but what we believe he can become. That was a big part of the selection."
The Bucs also had a full jacket on their next pick, Means, even if it was an unfamiliar name to Buc fans (and television analysts). Means was viewed by some as a potential outside linebacker in a 3-4 defense but Schiano said that he will play defensive end for the Buccaneers, and potentially dominate on special teams.
"He might be a little off your radar, but he wasn't off of ours," said Dominik. "He was a guy that we put a lot of time into and we know a lot of about. We did a private workout with the young man, so we just spent a lot of time with him. We're very excited about him being a developing pass-rusher. We think he's got tremendous ability and that's why we're very excited about bringing him in. Any time you can draft a pass rusher, you don't want to pass it up. We thought that he was one of those guys for us. We're really excited about him."
The Blount trade was executed after that pick, and Dominik quickly flipped the extra seventh-rounder he acquired to move up in the sixth round and take James with the team's final pick of the afternoon. Later, Dominik invoked a comparison that will warm the hearts of many Buc fans: Earnest Graham. James is taller than Graham and he isn't really a fullback option, but he has the same willingness and ability to fill in a wide variety of ways.
"[It's] just who he is, a selfless player," said Dominik, explaining the comparison. "The personality, the traits, the toughness, all of those things that Earnest [had]. It took a while for Earnest to really get an opportunity and take advantage of it. But the one thing that Earnest kept doing was playing so great on fourth down as well. Mike can play all four downs. I think it's just so important, as Coach knows, when you're putting 46 men on the football field what they can do in every phase is why you dress them, and Mike is able to do that. And that's what makes him so valuable and that's why we made the selection."
The Bucs made each of their selections over the weekend with the belief that every one of them was moving them closer to their championship goal. We can follow that thought up with the annual caveat about the draft: Every team is thrilled with its draft picks right now but it will take several years to know which ones were right. The draft team of Dominik and Schiano had a marvelous debut together a year ago, however, so it's natural to believe that their immediate assessments have some credibility.
Dominik and Schiano firmly believe the Buccaneers got better during the 2013 NFL Draft. There's a very good chance they're right.