DE Gaines Adams had 28 sacks in 48 games at Clemson
This year, there will be no reason to debate whether the Tampa Bay Buccaneers followed their needs or took the "best available player" in the first round of the NFL Draft. When Clemson defensive end Gaines Adams was still on the board four picks into the proceedings, the Bucs had their answer no matter which strategy they chose to follow.
Thus it was Adams who became the newest Buccaneer after the Oakland Raiders, Detroit Lions and Cleveland Browns had gone all offense with the first three picks, taking JaMarcus Russell, Calvin Johnson and Joe Thomas, respectively. The selection of the formidable pass-rusher marks the highest pick the Bucs have used on a defensive player since 1990, when it took Keith McCants fourth overall. It is also the first time Tampa Bay has nabbed the first defender in the draft since 1976, when eventual Hall of Fame DE Lee Roy Selmon was the top choice overall.
Thank Russell and Quinn, in part, for the Bucs' good fortune. The Raiders and Browns' desire to land a franchise quarterback turned the Buccaneers' draft into a slam dunk. There may have been no area on Tampa Bayï¿½s depth chart that needed an infusion of talent and energy more than the pass rush, which produced just 25 sacks in 2006, the second-lowest total in the NFL. The lack of pressure on the opposing quarterback was clearly an enormous factor in the Bucs' fall out of the NFL's top 10 in the defensive rankings for the first time since 1996.
Meanwhile, the 6-5, 260-pound Adams emerged as the most coveted pass-rusher in the draft. An elite-level athlete and only the second Clemson player ever to earn first-team All-America honors, Adams had 28 sacks, 44.5 tackles for loss and 66 quarterback pressures in 48 collegiate games. He also blocked two kicks, forced six fumbles, deflected 21 passes and returned his three fumble recoveries for 85 yards and a touchdown.
Last fall, Adams may have been the most feared pass-rusher in the land, capping his career with a 12.5-sack season that earned him ACC Defensive Player of the Year honors. The prototypical edge rusher in a Cover Two-type scheme, Adams has a very sudden move off the line and can change directions instantly and fluidly. He also uses his height and impressive wingspan to great advantage in knocking down passes and keeping blockers from locking onto his frame.
Greg Spires, Dewayne White and Ellis Wyms tied for the Bucs' season sack lead in 2006 with five apiece. White has since departed for the Lions as a free agent while Spires and Wyms remain as versatile inside/outside threats. On the edge, Tampa Bay is hoping for a resurgent season from Pro Bowl end Simeon Rice, who missed most of last season with a shoulder injury. Now, with the addition of Adams, the Bucs could have a plethora of pass-rushing options.
Having already addressed one of their biggest concerns, the Bucs still have three more first-day picks to execute on Saturday. Next up is the third pick of the second round, the 35th selection overall. Tampa Bay is also due to pick 64th and 68th.