At the NFL Scouting Combine last week, Tampa Bay Buccaneers General Manager Mark Dominik cautioned draftniks not to "pigeon-hole" his team when it comes to the 2011 NFL Draft and a very deep class of defensive end prospects.
Well, the mock drafts have begun to fly, and it doesn't appear as if the analysts are listening. Internet-surfing Bucs fans won't find too many mocks – yet – that suggest their team taking anything but an edge rusher. NFL.com's Pat Kirwan, SI.com's Don Banks and ESPN.com's Mel Kiper all put their chips on Iowa defensive end Adrian Clayborn, for instance, while Pete Prisco of CBSSports.com went with Ohio State end Cameron Heyward and the folks at Yahoo settled on Missouri pass-rusher Aldon Smith.
Of course, every analyst revises his mock draft as the weeks pass in March and April – note that most now label their initial effort as version 1.0, then move on from there. Some variety in who the Bucs are matched up with #20 is likely to grow as the versions progress to 2.0, 3.0 and so on.
Charles Davis, an on-air analyst for the NFL Network and a contributor for NFL.com, is one of the first to strike out in a new direction.
Davis posted his first official mock draft on NFL.com on Thursday, only a few days after finishing a week of covering the Combine in Indianapolis. A former cornerback at the University of Tennessee and, briefly, with the Dallas Cowboys, Davis believes the Buccaneers could use somebody of his own positional persuasion.
At #20 in the first round, Davis has the Buccaneers taking Colorado cornerback Jimmy Smith. Smith has been a riser on draft boards lately, and he didn't hurt himself in Indy, where he ran a 4.38-second 40-yard-dash and managed 24 bench press reps at 225 pounds. At 6-2 and 211 pounds, he is one of the bigger cornerbacks available this year.
Davis thinks that might work for Tampa Bay, following his pick with this statement: "Ronde Barber is coming back for one more season. He can tutor his eventual replacement."
Davis, who currently predicts that the Carolina Panthers will start the draft with Auburn quarterback Cam Newton, used his observations at the Combine and his study of the 32 teams' roster needs to devise his first mock draft. In fact, Davis spoke to Buccaneers.com during the workouts and gave a hint as to what direction he might go in his pick for Tampa Bay.
"I don't know if you'd call it a wild card [pick], but I do know the cornerback position would be a thought if you look down the road," said Davis last weekend. "I know Ronde Barber is coming back for another year, but it wouldn't hurt them at all and I think they'll probably take a good look to see if there's any value out there for them to be able to bring in another guy."
Of course, Barber could certainly play more than one additional season, and the Buccaneers did use a third-round pick on promising Vanderbilt cornerback Myron Lewis just last year. And, as Davis himself pointed out, the cupboard isn't exactly bare at that position for the Buccaneers, who have a rising star in Aqib Talib and the unheralded but talented E.J. Biggers.
"Now, they had guys that played well for them last year," said Davis. "You look at young Mr. Biggers, who jumped in and played so well for them. But at the same time, you can never have enough defensive backs in this league. Everyone has to try to guard the Green Bay Packers and that style of offense now with four and five wide receivers. It's a copycat league; you'd better have your defensive backs ready."
According to Davis, the Bucs draft decision-makers may have just that thought on their minds in April.