Mark Dominik went to bed Thursday night, after the first round of the 2011 NFL Draft was complete, believing there was a chance Clemson defensive end Da'Quan Bowers would fall to his Tampa Bay Buccaneers at pick #51. The Buccaneers general manager vowed to himself to jump at the chance to get Bowers if it materialized when Day Two of the draft began.
The Buccaneers obviously went into Day Three of the draft with a specific target, as well, but this time they weren't content to wait. Just minutes into the fourth round, Tampa Bay swung a trade to move up 12 spots and grab Tennessee tight end Luke Stocker.
Dominik sent a fourth-round pick in the 2012 draft to Philadelphia in order to move from pick #116 to #104, a selection the Eagles had previously acquired from the Washington Redskins. That marked the first trade for the Buccaneers since the 2011 draft began but it was certainly not unprecedented. Since ascending to their current positions in January of 2009, Dominik and Head Coach Raheem Morris have worked tirelessly to stockpile as many picks as possible, and then have not hesitated to use those picks in whatever manner it takes to get their targeted players.
"It's just part of the aggressive plan, going up getting the guys that we want," said Morris shortly after the Stocker selection. "We went up and got this guy. He's a captain, he's got great character and he brings a great complement to what we already have in Kellen Winslow. This guy will be able to fit right into our offense and was a definite need that we had on our team."
The first offensive player chosen by the Buccaneers after three rounds ruled by front-seven defensive acquisitions, Stocker was coveted for the possibilities he could open up in the team's playbook. His solid 6-5, 253-pound frame makes him an ideal blocker on the end of the line but he also runs well for his size and is a real weapon in the passing attack. In four seasons at Tennessee, Stocker caught 85 passes for 956 yards and eight touchdowns, including 68 receptions and seven scores over the past two seasons.
The Buccaneers believe Stocker will complement the dynamic Kellen Winslow (143 receptions and 10 TDs in two years in Tampa) in the two-TE, single-back formation the team refers to as 'Tiger.' With another pass-catching threat opposite Winslow on the line, the Buccaneers can pound away with jumbo back LeGarrette Blount out of the Tiger set or send one or both of their tight ends into the secondary.
"He's kind of an all-around guy," said Morris. "He's one of those guys that's very sound in his blocking and has the ability to catch the ball all over the field. He has the ability to make the offense look different. We've become a 'Tiger' team a little bit here and he'll be able to go in and do some of those things for us and be a great contributor to our football team."
Stocker has been described as a hard-working "blue-collar" sort of player, and he was also very durable for the Volunteers, playing in 52 games over four seasons. He has good hands and sharp instincts for finding open spots in the opposition's coverage.
The selection of Stocker represents the highest pick the Buccaneers have used on a tight end since the choice of Alex Smith in the third round in 2005, though a 2009 second-round pick was traded to Cleveland to acquire Winslow. The Buccaneers spent the first two days of the 2011 draft addressing their defensive front, taking Bowers and Iowa defensive end Adrian Clayborn (first round, 20th overall) as well as Washington linebacker Mason Foster (third round, 84th overall).
That marked the first time since 1995 that the Buccaneers had opened their draft with three straight defensive selections. That '95 draft is memorable, of course, for the first-round picks of Warren Sapp and Derrick Brooks, with safety Melvin Johnson following in Round Two. Still, the selection of Stocker underscores the fact that the Buccaneers can still help their offense considerably in the final four rounds. Recent later-round picks who have become strong contributors on the Buccaneers' offense include wide receivers Mike Williams (4th round, 2010) and Sammie Stroughter (7th round, 2009), quarterback Josh Johnson (5th round, 2008) and guards Dan Buenning (4th round, 2005) and Sean Mahan (5th round, 2003).
The Buccaneers have four remaining picks in Day Three of the draft, barring any additional trades, including one each in Rounds Five (151 overall) and Six (187) and two in Round Seven (222 and 238). The second pick in the final round is a compensatory selection and cannot be traded.