Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Mock-Rakers

Who will the Bucs take with the 23rd pick in the first round? If you believe our collection of mock drafts, it’s probably a cornerback…or maybe a tackle…or a linebacker…Is there a consensus?

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Three analysts predict the Bucs will take Florida State CB Antonio Cromartie with the 23rd overall pick

Who will the Bucs take with the 23rd pick in the first round? If you believe our collection of mock drafts, it's probably a cornerback…or maybe a tackle…or a linebacker…Is there a consensus?

Eighteen picks make a big difference when it comes to draft certainty.

Last year, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers were slated to pick fifth in the first round of the NFL Draft, and they knew exactly who they wanted. As it turned out, the coveted player just happened to be the same young man most analysts had married to the team in the weeks leading up to the draft: Auburn running back Cadillac Williams.

Chalk one up for the mock draft-makers, though truth be told, the logic surrounding the five spot wasn't all that complicated. That San Francisco was going to take Utah quarterback Alex Smith overall was no mystery, and the draft then featured enough high-end running back talent to please all the teams looking in that direction in the top five – Miami, Chicago and the Buccaneers. From there, it was just a matter of guessing the order that Williams, Ronnie Brown and Cedric Benson would fall.

Try doing the same thing at pick number 23.

That's where the Buccaneers are sitting as the 2006 NFL Draft approaches. The mocks are flying as furiously as ever, but there is much less consensus on who the Bucs are hoping to grab at that spot. There is also a far lower chance that these mock draft authors will predict Tampa Bay's draft strategy with any accuracy.

That's no knock on those who are working hard to break down the draft for the edification of the rest of us. All 32 teams are actively trying to keep their draft plans secret, sometimes even engaging in subtle forms of counter-intelligence.

Moreover, to be on the money with a prediction at pick five requires only a few things to fall your way. By the time you get to number 23, whatever surprise moves occurred in the first few hours of the draft – and there will be several surprises – have knocked most mock drafts completely off track.

But that's precisely why we spend so much time poring over mock drafts before the draft and very rarely go back and gauge their accuracy afterwards. We want to know if a certain player will last to our team, or if a particular need will force our team's hand. Or, at least, what the prevailing opinion is in that regard.

And if one mock draft is a guide, then a dozen mock drafts are a consensus. Because there is no shortage of reputable sources out there making draft predictions, we can easily pull together 12 mocks to compare, and perhaps get a better feel for what might be available and attractive to the Buccaneers are pick number 23.

So that's what we've done. We've stacked up 12 mock drafts, five of which even went so far as to predict the first two rounds of the draft and four of which extended into the third round or beyond, as they stand just two weeks before the "annual selection process," as the NFL likes to call it. We looked at such sources as The Sporting News, Pro Football Weekly, Ourlads and, of course, ESPN's Mel Kiper. We also threw in the Pewter Report for a local angle. We won't actually reprint each mock draft, because in some cases this information was behind a subscription service on the source web sites. But we will tell you what the experts expect the Bucs to do.

The first reaction: We spoke too soon on that whole "consensus" thing.

Even with 12 mock drafts to pull from, no player got more than three votes as the Buccaneers' pick at number 23. Here's how the predictions for the Bucs in the first round fell out:

  • Florida State cornerback Antonio Cromartie: 3 (Kiper; Don Banks, SI.com; Clark Judge, Sportsline.com) * Auburn tackle Marcus McNeill: 3 (Todd McShay, ESPN.com; Rick Gosselin, Dallas Morning News; Pewter Report) * Ohio State wide receiver Santonio Holmes: 2 (Foxsports.com; NFL Draft Scout) * Iowa linebacker Chad Greenway: 1 (ProFootballTalk.com) * USC tackle Winston Justice: 1 (Ourlads) * Ohio State center Nick Mangold: 1 (Pro Football Weekly) * Florida State linebacker Ernie Sims: 1 (SportingNews.com)

So, there you have it. The Bucs are going to either address the critical left tackle position or build for the future behind veteran cornerbacks Ronde Barber and Brian Kelly. That is, unless they grab a deep threat at wide receiver, a hard-nosed center or one of two outside linebackers with sideline-to-sideline range.

One can easily see the argument for any of these players, which is an indication not of a Buccaneer lineup full of holes but of one that's relatively set and most pressingly needs help for the future. Tampa Bay's defense ranked first in the NFL last season and has been in the top 10 for an amazing nine years in a row, but this veteran-heavy group will obviously need some young talent at some point in the coming years. Obviously, analysts also see the offensive line as one of Tampa Bay's areas of concern, and it's hard to argue the point when much of the team's work in free agency has been aimed at that unit.

Cromartie would be an interesting choice for any team in that he did not play at all in 2005 due to an ACL injury. However, he has excellent size (6-2, 200) and his pre-draft workouts – particularly his blazing 40-yard dash times – have bumped him back into the top round of the draft in most mocks. That being said, only three of the eight mock drafts that did not have Cromartie going to the Buccaneers had the Seminole going early than 23rd. (The Pewter Report predicted only the Buccaneers' picks.)

Conversely, of the nine drafts that did not hook the Bucs up with Holmes, only two had Tampa Bay passing on the Buckeye wideout. Holmes was off the board as early as the 18th pick by Dallas (Pro Football Weekly) but was placed all the way down at #32, to Pittsburgh, by Sportsline.com.

Not many of the other mockers would agree with SportingNews.com's assessment, either, as eight of the other 10 have Sims coming off the board well before the Bucs pick. Even though ProFootballTalk.com leaves the Florida State linebacker off their first round completely, Sportsline.com tabs him as early as ninth to Detroit and two others see Sims in the top 12.

Even less likely in the eyes of the other mock drafters is Ourlads' prediction of Justice, the USC tackle who shot up many media-driven boards after his strong performance at the Trojans' Pro Day. Only Pro Football Weekly has Justice going deeper into the round than the Bucs' 23rd pick (to Denver at #29); the other nine all have his name somewhere between eight and 16th.

It would be inaccurate and unflattering to call any of these projected new Buccaneers a "reach" at number 23; it's anybody's guess which of the seven will turn into the best pro players. But as it relates to the other mock drafts in this study, the selection of Mangold by Pro Football Weekly qualifies as the biggest reach. None of the other analysts has Mangold coming off the board as early as 23rd, and only SportingNews.com is close, matching the Buckeye up with Cincinnati at number 24. Four of the mocks don't even include Mangold in the first round. Most likely, this is less an indictment of the player and more a nod to the fact that high picks are rarely used on centers.

As mentioned, five of the mock drafters continued making predictions after the first round, and there is even a tiny bit of consensus on the Bucs' pick as late as 59th overall. Both SportingNews.com and Mel Kiper have Tampa Bay snapping up Louisiana State offensive tackle Andrew Whitworth. Offensive line is a common theme for the Bucs in the second round, as NFL Draft Scout matches the team with USC guard Deuce Lutui and the Pewter Report says it will be Oklahoma guard Davin Joseph. Only McShay dissents, giving the Bucs Arizona State wide receiver Derek Hagan.

Of course, in the end the only opinions that matter will be those expressed inside the Buccaneers' Draft Room two weekends from now. Will any of the above analysts do the improbable and accurately predict the 23rd pick in the draft? We'll know soon enough.

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