Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Magnificent Nine

Participating in the first-ever three-day draft, the Bucs found exactly what they were expecting - a multitude of difference-makers that fit their needs perfectly...Beginning with Gerald McCoy, the team believes it fashioned a 2010 draft class that will change the face of the franchise

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Sometimes, the story of a draft seems to be summed up exclusively by what happens in the first round, no matter how well the rest of the class unfolds. That would be the case for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, for example, in 1995 (Warren Sapp and Derrick Brooks), 2004 (Michael Clayton) and maybe some day 2009 if Josh Freeman proves to be the franchise quarterback many expect him to be.

So it is interesting that in a year in which the Buccaneers made what is probably their most highly-anticipated top-five pick in more than 20 years, this year's story is about much more than first-rounder Gerald McCoy.

The Bucs had it all in the 2010 NFL Draft: high picks, multiple selections and a draft board that seemed perfectly suited to fill their needs. That's how the team could pick a likely cornerstone player for years to come in the preposterously talented Oklahoma defensive tackle and still just be getting started. (Scroll down to see the Bucs' entire 2010 draft class.)

By the time that two nights, one afternoon and just under 15 total hours of drafting were done, the Buccaneers had made nine picks in a draft they had been targeting as a franchise-changer ever since Mark Dominik and Raheem Morris took over as General Manager and Head Coach, respectively, in January of 2009.

Expecting the 2010 pool of prospects to be extraordinarily deep - and, in the end, it was - the Bucs hoarded a dozen picks heading into the seven rounds, eventually spending one to trade up and nab a coveted player. The idea was that this deep and potential-laden class could form a significant part of the new foundation Dominik and Morris are building in Tampa, one that will produce the kind of sustained success that the franchise enjoyed from the mid-90s into the last decade. That era of repeated playoff runs was built around a core of drafted players; this one, if the plan succeeds, will be too.

"Rome wasn't built in a day, but the truth is this draft class provided us with the depth that I believed it had," said Dominik. "Certainly, I believe we took advantage of our picks and where we had them. I think we added quality teammates, quality kids. If you had a chance to look and see who they are on and off the football field, that was a big element for us this year, as well. I'm excited about the group that we have. I'm actually looking forward to letting Tampa meet them.

"At the same point, we didn't underestimate the football ability of those players. I'm not just going to try to sign great kids and not worry about football. Football was important to us. The love of the game was big and I think we attacked that very well at the end of this draft."

The spectacle of the first round in New York, the first ever held in prime time on a weekday, gave way to a second day that was almost certainly as important to Tampa Bay as the first. With two high picks in the second round, the second acquired last fall in the trade of Gaines Adams to Chicago, the Bucs were poised to emphatically answer two more needs. That their next pick was a player at the same position as their first - UCLA DT Brian Price - didn't mean the team had deviated from the plan.

If anything about the Buccaneers' once-and-future defensive juggernaut needed fixing, it was the run defense (32nd overall in the NFL last year) and the overall stoutness up front. Thus, it was a no-brainer to add Price to McCoy when the former was still on the board Friday night. The Bucs had contemplated the possibility that Price might fall into that region, but they certainly hadn't taken it for granted. The idea of working both McCoy and Price into a defensive line rotation in 2010, and of building on the gains the team had made late in 2009 by reincorporating Cover Two concepts and boldly mixing up their calls, was extremely enticing to Morris.

"We were very creative last year with some of our tackles and some of our schemes and some of the things we were able to do," he said. "With these guys coming into play, all kinds of thoughts and ideas are running through your head, especially as a defensive coordinator. I'm really excited about that and what those two players can do together."

The Buccaneers knew that the 12 picks they carried into this year's draft were versatile assets, capable of producing players or providing leverage to move up or down the board. In fact, the team used one of its 12 picks in this manner early on Day Two, when they began to worry that a coveted player would be selected shortly before they were on the clock. By trading their fifth-rounder to Oakland, the Buccaneers moved up three spots in the second round and landed Illinois wide receiver Arrelious Benn.

The Bucs even found a way to make parlay some of their dozen picks into an improved draft situation in 2011. The team headed into the seventh and final round with five picks to go but, after using the first two to nab ACC defenders Cody Grimm and Dekoda Watson, traded the next two to Denver in exchange for a fifth-round pick in 2011. The Bucs found excellent value for a pair of picks they had originally acquired by trading DE Marques Douglas and QB Byron Leftwich.

For the most part, however, the Bucs stayed put at their various draft slots, picking high in almost every round, and landed two defensive tackles, two wide receivers, a cornerback, a safety, a linebacker, a defensive end and even a punter. Taken as a whole, the Buccaneers added a group of talented, hard-working young men who will certainly be hard to ignore in 2010 and beyond.

"I think you're going to see a passionate football team, a passionate young group of rookies that walks in here and really wants to grab the bull by the horns and take advantage of the situations in front of them," said Dominik. "

In the end, the team had drafted nine players, some of whom will almost certainly make an immediate impact and some of whom will get the chance to prove they belong as part of the team's new core. Here is the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' 2010 draft class:

Rd.-Pick-

     

Overall

Player

College

Notes

1-3-3

DT Gerald McCoy

Oklahoma

Rated by many as draft's top talent

2-3-35

DT Brian Price

UCLA

Projects as nose tackle, but versatile

2-7-39

WR Arrelious Benn

Illinois

Big, fast, good yards after catch

3-3-67

CB Myron Lewis

Vanderbilt

Great size for CB, very physical

4-3-101

WR Mike Williams

Syracuse

Bucs thoroughly scouted top-notch talent

6-3-172

P Brent Bowden

Va. Tech

Big leg, directional skills

7-3-210

S Cody Grimm

Va. Tech

Played LB at VT; strong special-teamer

7-10-217

LB Dekoda Watson

Florida St.

Fast & rangy like former FSU/Buc LBs

7-46-253

DE Erik Lorig

Stanford

Former TE plays with high motor

The Buccaneers' first pick in the draft wasn't much of a surprise, but that's hardly a negative. Picking McCoy with the third overall selection answered a critical depth chart need and simultaneously brought one of the draft's most coveted talents to Tampa.

Many analysts rated the Oklahoma defender as the top player in the field, and while some others favored Nebraska DT Ndamukong Suh or Tennessee S Eric Berry what mattered is that McCoy was the exact player that the Buccaneers wanted. McCoy's rare combination of size, speed and burst make him a likely star in any defensive scheme, but he happens to be a particularly sublime match for the Buccaneers.

"This is exactly who we wanted," said Morris. "This is exactly who we went out to get and we got him. He's a perfect fit for what we do. The three-technique position is so important for us, it's so vital. You need a guy that's going to cause disruption and a guy that makes people game-plan around him, a guy that can just be a disruptive force on your football team and make everybody else better around him. We got a guy that's going to come in and provide that for us."

While comparisons to former Buc great Warren Sapp were both inevitable and unfair - at least for now - the basic concept is sound. Whether or not McCoy reaches the Hall of Fame-level of play that Sapp did, he is almost certain to be a force at a critical position. Tampa Bay's defense has had difficulty generating a consistent pass rush since Sapp's departure after the 2003 season. Pressure up the middle can drive a good Cover Two defense into greatness, and that's one thing McCoy can provide.

"His initial get-off [is great], he's got great use of hands, he's got a high motor when he's playing and attacking both in the run and pass game," said Dominik. "He chases and pursues like Buccaneer players that we look for."

McCoy was elated by the Bucs' phone call in the early minutes of the draft, swearing afterward that it was by far his preferred destination. He knows what the team expects of him and plans to hit the ground running.

"I want to come in and be a starter," he said. "I wanted to do that in college, and [they] play the same thing we did in college, the Tampa Two. They play that in Tampa Bay, they went back to it, and they think I'm the best fit for it. I can't wait to get going."

If it wasn't obvious that defensive tackle was essentially the Buccaneers' greatest need going into the draft, it certainly was after the team also used its second pick on a player at that same position. UCLA's Price is certainly not the exact same sort of player as McCoy - Price projects more as a nose tackleand thus could provide the perfect complement to his fellow Buc rookie - but like McCoy he was very highly-rated on Tampa Bay's draft board. Tampa Bay's scouts actually feel that Price can be a very versatile weapon for them up front.

The Bucs have actually drafted three defensive tackles in the top three rounds of the last two drafts, and that's not a subject team management is trying to downplay. It was, in fact, a big part of the plan.

"We play in Florida in the heat," said Dominik. "We have not had a good pass rush on this football team and it starts up front by attacking the quarterback. Brian Price, we feel, is like that. When you look at his statistics, when you look at his production and the way he played in college, you're going to see a very powerful, explosive young guy, who, as we play in this system, we believe can not only play the nose, but he can play the three, you can take him outside and play some end in certain situations.

"The idea is to take advantage and become a better pass-rushing football team, and we want to do that inside. That was the mindset. And again, you try to stay as true to the board [as you can]. Brian Price was very high on our board and that's why it made sense and that's why we were trying to be proactive in terms of bringing him in to make sure that the fit made sense if he was still available. We want physical guys - tough, physical football players. Roy Miller is that. Brian Price is that. And I certainly know Gerald McCoy is that. So over the last two years, I absolutely feel very confident."

While the Buccaneers were rumored (correctly, as it turned out) to be enamored with McCoy at the top of the draft, they knew that they might be able to pull off the double dip if the draft fell right. Price may have slipped into the top of the second round, but he's pleased with how it came out in the end and he's willing to line up anywhere along the line in Tampa.

"I can play any position," he said. "I played every position at UCLA on the D-line. I like playing nose, as well, so wherever the team wants to put me, I'll play. They told me out there that they'd see me again and I felt that was the place for me to be. I just felt it in my heart that everything was right."

The Bucs have routinely rotated at least three tackles into play in any given game, in part because it is such a physically demanding position. It's been some time, however, since they've had the kind of talent they now do to fill out that rotation.

"You're talking about guys with dynamic pass rush, guys that create disruption and guys that are going to be constantly in people's backfields," said Morris. "So, with the ability of these two players to play together, it really excites us. When you bring these guys in on your visits you talk to them about scenarios and the different things that you can do, you become really excited."

After collecting their two defensive tackles, the Bucs still had 10 picks remaining in the draft, and they put two of them in play to get their next targeted man, Benn.

Concerned that the big, rangy receiver might not last seven more picks, the Bucs sent their lone fifth-rounder to Oakland in order to move up three spots and secure their choice. Few draft-weekend maneuvers more clearly signal a team's feelings about a player than the decision to make a small but critically potential move up the board. The Bucs did the same thing twice last year to make sure they were in position to take QB Josh Freeman and DE Kyle Moore.

Making the move even more important, at least in the best estimation of those in Tampa Bay's draft room, was that the team was clearly in need of help at wideout. That fact was not likely lost on the team's picking between the Bucs' original 35 and 42 spots. The first two rounds might have sifted out perfectly for the Buccaneers without any movement, with two DTs and a WR, but Dominik didn't want to leave it up to chance. He also noted that, after the Benn pick, the next receiver (Notre Dame's Golden Tate) wouldn't go for 21 more spots.

"Absolutely there was apprehension [that Benn would be gone]," he said later on Friday night. "I don't think it's any secret that Tampa Bay was looking for wide receivers. But that's part of the poker you play in the National Football League. We felt like Benn was clearly the highest-rated receiver on the board and I think he somewhat justified that in my personal opinion because of how long it went for another receiver to come off the board. You do your homework and you try to look around the league. I knew our pick was about to come up so I thought it was worthwhile for us to secure the guy we wanted with that fifth-round selection."

With that mission accomplished, the Bucs can now begin planning how to work Benn into an offense that is trying to determine its number-one receiver. Benn will certainly get the opportunity to produce right away.

"When you turn on the tape and you watch Benn you see a guy that catches the football and then after he catches the football, he's tough to get on the ground," said Morris. "You see a guy run after the catch. All he's done [at Illinois] is catch a lot of balls, be very productive when he's caught those balls and run after the catch. It excites me to provide a playmaker for what we already have on our football team, and to go along with Josh Freeman."

The overall depth of the draft, particularly along the offensive and defensive lines, likely convinced teams that they could wait to pick up a quality receiver. Only two other wideouts went before Benn, in the first round: Maryland's Demaryious Thomas and Oklahoma State's Dez Bryant. Benn believes he just as easily could have been the first guy off the board.

"The other guys are good, but I feel as though I'm that guy that's going to take it to another level, and the next level," he said. "The next level is totally different, I approach the game different, and I take a professional approach to everything I do."

After a historic first round in prime time on Thursday night, the NFL held just two more rounds on Friday evening, so the Bucs finished their second day of the draft by taking Vandy's Lewis in the third round. It was yet another pick that satisfied an obvious roster need and it was also the second time in three years that the team has spent what used to be called a "first-day pick" (Rounds 1-3) on the cornerback spot.

Due to his size (6-2, 203) and physical style of play, some analysts believe Lewis might also be suited to play safety in the NFL. The Bucs might be in search of depth at that position, too, but Dominik insists that Lewis was drafted to play his natural position. The Bucs return starters Ronde Barber and Aqib Talib at the corner spots in 2010 but never settled on one full-season solution at nickel back last year.

"Myron's going to play corner for us," said the Bucs' G.M. "He's a big, tall, athletic corner, he's got great ball skills and he's a good tackler. He's a great kid off the field as well. He's got very good feet for such a big man. Part of what we want to do here is build a bigger football team and I think we did that today with his selection as well. We're excited for him. We see him going outside right away this year and competing for that nickel outside job. We hope that he does a good job; we obviously selected him to do so."

Lewis is the brother of former NFL defensive back Hanik Milligan and he's a pure football player, an eager 22-year-old who said he is looking forward to getting to camp and "knocking some heads."

"I'm a tall, aggressive guy," he said. "I'm going to fit well with the Tampa Two. I'm a Tampa Two guy, very aggressive against receivers, long arms, and I'm just a big-time playmaker. I'm going to make plays for the defense. Just being 6-1 plus and weighing over 205 pounds, I'm a unique guy. I'm able to stick with the bigger, taller receivers and actually play the jump ball, the deep ball."

When the third day of the draft dawned, it quickly became clear that the Bucs weren't afraid to double-dip at a position of great need, just as they had done with McCoy and Price. Despite aggressively going after Benn in the second round, the team jumped at the chance to land Williams, the former Syracuse receiver. A very gifted pass-catcher who dropped into third-day territory because he didn't finish his senior season with the Orangemen, Williams was the subject of a very thorough scouting job by the Buccaneers' staff.

Williams is eager to move on to the next level and prove himself all over again. He has a very simple plan as to how to do so.

"I still have to prove to them that I'm their guy and that I'm supposed to be where I'm at," he said. "I'm going to go in there and work hard. I figure if I work as hard as I can, they say hard work pays off. They're going to know that Mike Williams is a great player."

Williams also thinks that the situation is right for him to succeed in Tampa, in part because of the presence of new Wide Receivers Coach Eric Yarber.

"I felt like I was home with Coach Yarber," said Williams. "It was like he wanted me there. With Coach Yarber, I could tell that these coaches wanted me there."

The Bucs did indeed want to bring Williams into the fold, despite his difficulties at Syracuse. His selection was not a deviation from the team's insistence on adding high-character players through the draft; rather, it was a validation of what the team believed it had learned about the young man through some very thorough background work and one-on-one meetings.

"We spent a lot of time with Mike," said Dominik. "We spent a lot of time with him at the Combine. We spent a lot of time speaking to people about Mike Williams outside of this organization [including his Syracuse] head coach. Mike Williams is a great kid. He's really passionate about football, he loves it. He's not a quitter. We wouldn't have taken him if I was concerned about who he is. That's not what we want to do. The kids you saw in this draft, from the first round through the seventh round, are passionate football players. As Tampa gets to know them, they're going to love this draft class because they're going to love these types of kids and this type of mentality that we're bringing to Tampa, and he's one of them."

Having sent their fifth-rounder to Oakland, the Bucs were out of action until early in the sixth round, when they chose to address neither offense nor defense yet still addressed a significant roster need. Bowden, the Virginia Tech punter, was the second player at his position drafted when he went third in the sixth round (172 overall) and he was the first punter the Bucs have called on draft weekend since 1992. While it sometimes takes even the best kickers and punters a couple years to stick in the NFL, Bowden will certainly have every opportunity to earn a spot with the Bucs in 2010.

"I'm a special teams fundamentalist," said Dominik. "I'm a big believer in fourth down, and punters I think a lot of times go overlooked in this league. We went through three punters last year. I was very excited about this young man. He's got a good leg, he really controls the ball, he's got great get-off time, he's able to move the ball around the field. It's one of those positions that creates field position, and in the sixth round I thought we had a chance to select a guy that I think has an opportunity to be here for 10 years. In the sixth round, if you can draft a guy that has a chance to be here long term, you should take advantage of that. We felt like Bowden was the only other punter [besides Michigan's Zoltan Mesko] that was draftable in this draft."

The seventh round brought Grimm, Watson and Lorig, three promising players who will try to deliver on Dominik's stated goal of returning meaning to the bottom of the draft. After years of finding little lasting impact in the last three rounds of the draft, the Bucs found a gem last year in seventh-round wide receiver Sammie Stroughter and still believe that fifth-round tackle Xavier Fulton and seventh-round cornerback E.J. Biggers (both injured in 2009) are equally good finds.

"We went after team captains on the second day, especially in the seventh round," said Dominik. "Those guys are team captains, aggressive special teams players, guys that can rush the quarterback. That was really important to us, again, to attack the seventh round like we did last year. E.J. Biggers, I think he has a great opportunity to make this football team and really contribute this year. Certainly we all know what Sammie Stroughter did last year and we're going to tie that into this year's seventh-round. The draft doesn't end until it ends."

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