Did the Tampa Bay Buccaneers hit a home run in the 2010 NFL Draft? It may take a year or three to know for sure. Immediately after the Bucs' most recent draft efforts, however, most analysts were talking about a pair of doubles.
With four of their first five picks in the loaded '10 draft, the Buccaneers addressed two areas of particular need by selecting two defensive tackles and two wide receivers. Gerald McCoy and Brian Price for the front line, Arrelious Benn and Mike Williams for the passing attack – that would certainly seem to be the central plot of this year's draft.
But Tampa Bay drafted one other player in the middle of that run on big men and wideouts, and it's possible that man could have as big of an impact on the team in 2010 as the aforementioned four. Myron Lewis, the big and rangy cornerback from Vanderbilt selected with the 67th overall pick, certainly attracted attention last weekend during the Buccaneers' post-draft rookie mini-camp at One Buc Place.
At one point during that three-day camp, Head Coach Raheem Morris said this: "You'd love for those guys to really unite and form this ultimate [duo], let those guys go play together for a long time, pair them up with a couple other guys and let's take this thing off. Let them take off and run."
That statement could have easily been in regards to either the Benn-Williams duo or the McCoy-Price pairing. In fact, it was the latter. However, one could also envision Morris saying the same thing about Lewis and his new Buccaneer teammate, Aqib Talib.
Obviously, Talib was not part of the 2010 draft class; he was taken in the first round two years ago and has quickly established himself as a starter at left cornerback. With nine interceptions through his first two seasons and a bevy of amazing athletic plays on his personal highlight reel, Talib looks to be a star in the making. The Bucs hope Lewis develops similarly and gives the Bucs yet another duo of outstanding cornerbacks in the vein of Donnie Abraham-Ronde Barber, Barber-Brian Kelly or more recently, Barber-Talib.
That last duo is still intact, of course, and Barber has shown no signs of slowing down 13 seasons into his NFL career. A member of the NFL's All-Decade Team for the 2000s, Barber had another very strong season in 2009 and will remain a force in Tampa Bay's secondary. Still, there will be a time when the reins will be handed over, and perhaps Lewis can be next in that line of great Buccaneer cornerbacks.
It is far too early to make that assumption, it's true, and one rookie mini-camp is a very slight bit of evidence. But Lewis stood out among the defensive backs as that camp opened last Friday due to his size (he's 6-2 and 203 pounds and he looks every bit of it) and his smooth footwork. Physically, Morris compared the rookie to the man who could be his long-term running mate.
"When you look at him, that's one of the similar things you see in Aqib Talib," said the coach. "You see a big, long, physical bump corner with pretty good feet that can play off coverage. He played a bunch of off coverage and has got good ball skills. I don't want to put him in Aqib Talib category yet; Talib's been out there two years in a row and walked away with four or five picks [each year]. So he's got to go out there and prove himself."
The Buccaneers already had a favorable opinion of Lewis' abilities from their extensive draft scouting, but it was still good to see those traits on display at the team's own headquarters. Working with the young cornerback in person allowed Tampa Bay's coaches to get a more direct feel not only for his physical talents but for his intelligence, work ethic and instincts.
"I'm really fired up with the movement, I'm really fired up with the size, I'm really fired up with how he prepares himself," said Morris. "He's a smart kid, he understands football. All of those kids from Vanderbilt, you ought to hear these guys talk about football, how much knowledge they have coming from there and how good a job they do out there at Vandy. He's an impressive kid and I look forward to see him getting out there and competing with some of our guys."
Lewis and Talib are bigger than any of the aforementioned Buccaneer cornerback stars. Of course, Barber has spent the last decade and a half proving that some men can play much, much bigger than their listed height and weight. Barber has always been a fantastic tackler, he's one of the best DB blitzers of his era and he has successfully covered many bigger receivers. But Barber was a rare find; if a team can add a talented corner who also happens to have the type of size that Talib and Lewis have, that is hard to pass up these days.
" I remember being a defensive backs coach I used to always look for the short guys with the short-space quickness," said Morris. "Now, I'm starting to fall in love with these long guys with short-space quicks and the elite ball skills and the top-end athleticism. The Buc Two corner is starting to change a little bit. Ronde's still [representing] the short guys with the short-space quickness and the tough tacklers but these two guys have a place in our defense and they're helping us grow."