Fast fact: The presumptive starting quarterbacks on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' schedule this fall threw for a combined 24 miles of passing yardage last season, and that didn't even include any contributions from a certain newcomer in Denver.
Swift reaction: On Thursday night, the Buccaneers invested as heavily in the concept of pass defense as they ever have in franchise history, using the seventh overall pick in the 2012 NFL Draft (after trading down from the fifth spot) to select Alabama safety Mark Barron.
That is the highest pick the franchise has ever spent on a defensive back, by far, and it reflects both the state of the modern game and how highly regarded Barron is by NFL scouts. Considered one of the best all-around defensive players in the college game ever since stepping foot on the Alabama campus, Barron is not just an athletic, fluid pass defender who posted 12 career interceptions. Looking almost more like a linebacker with a thick, strong frame (6-1, 213 pounds), Barron is also a powerful, aggressive tackler who is stout against the run, as his 237 career tackles attest. Above all else, Barron is considered a natural leader, a two-time captain and two-time national champion who controlled the Alabama locker room and served as a "coach on the field" for one of the best defenses in the college game.
Barron should instantly impact a Buccaneers pass defense that is going to face a series of imposing challenges in 2012, from Drew Brees to the Roddy White/Julio Jones combo to the aforementioned Peyton Manning in his debut season with the Broncos.
The Buccaneers' secondary ranked 21st in the NFL in 2011, uncharacteristic for a team that has lived in the top 10 for most of the last two decades. There will be significant changes in that area for the Buccaneers in 2012, however, beginning with new Head Coach Greg Schiano's defensive scheme and the arrival of Defensive Backs Coach Ron Cooper.
The Buccaneers also added starting-caliber cornerback Eric Wright during a memorable opening day of free agency in March and later were thrilled when veteran Pro Bowler Ronde Barber elected to return for a 16th NFL season. Safety Cody Grimm, who had a very promising 2010 rookie season before getting hurt early in 2011, also returns and the secondary should benefit from another year of development from the team's deep group of young pass rushers.
Thursday's addition of Barron, a potential all-around standout at safety, could be the most dramatic development of all. Historically, the Bucs had never taken a defensive back in the first half of the opening round. Aqib Talib, chosen 20th overall in 2008, was previously the highest-drafted cornerback in Buccaneer annals, slightly ahead of Rod Jones, who was the 25th overall pick in 1986. Barron made Buccaneer history on Thursday, becoming the first safety the team has ever selected in Round One.
Interestingly, Barron joins Eric Berry, who was tabbed by the Kansas City Chiefs with the No. 5 pick in 2010, as the second top-10 safety to be selected in the last three NFL Drafts. Prior to Berry, only seven safeties had been taken in the top 10 picks dating back to 1991, when two safeties actually came off the board in Eric Turner at No. 2 (Cleveland) and Stanley Richard at No. 9 (San Diego). The last time a safety was taken with the seventh pick was when the Oakland Raiders selected Michael Huff in 2006.
Barron was a focal point of an Alabama defense that paced the country in scoring defense (8.15 ppg), total defense (183.62 ypg), pass defense (111.46 ypg), and rush defense (72.15 ypg) in 2011. One of the most dominant defenses in the history of college football, the unit helped lead Alabama to a national championship win over LSU. Barron was named to the first team All-Southeastern Conference, was a Thorpe Award Semifinalist, a second-team Associated Press All American, and a first-team All American as named by The NFL Draft Report and the Football Writers Association. In 13 games in 2011, Barron recorded 68 tackles, two interceptions, and a sack.
Barron has the athleticism to help his fellow Buccaneers in the secondary match up against the new breed of jumbo receiver, important when the Buccaneers face the likes of Kansas City's Dwayne Bowe, and is a physical force against the run, which will surely come in handy against Atlanta's Michael Turner, Minnesota's Adrian Peterson, and the other tough runners the Bucs will square off against in 2012.
Barron joins a relatively young safety group in Tampa Bay that recently saw the departure of Tanard Jackson, a former regular in the secondary, and features two veterans, Sean Jones and Corey Lynch, who are currently unrestricted free agents. Along with the aforementioned Grimm, the Bucs return a number of other safeties whose NFL careers are all in their infancies – Larry Asante, Ahmad Black, and Ron Girault. While Barron will soon join his fellow safeties in trying to quickly pick up the nuances of new Head Coach Greg Schiano's defensive scheme, there is little doubt the Alabama product will quickly carve out a prominent role in the Bucs' defense.
A native of Mobile, Alabama, Barron played running back in high school and competed in track and field, where he won multiple state titles in everything from shot put to long jump.
Barron will travel to Tampa on Friday and take part in an introductory press conference at One Buccaneer Place in the afternoon. That press conference, tentatively scheduled for 2:00 p.m. ET, will be carried live on Buccaneers.com.