The top of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' 2011 draft was obviously devoted to defense, but in the underrated seventh round each side of the ball got a new prospect.
The Buccaneers opened the seventh round with their first small-school pick of the draft, taking Florida International cornerback Anthony Gaitor with the 22nd overall pick.
Tampa Bay has had very good success with seventh-round defensive backs over the last two years, grabbing cornerback E.J. Biggers at #217 overall in 2009 and safety Cody Grimm at #210 in 2010. Like Biggers and Grimm, Gaitor was a very productive player on the college level, playing in 49 games and racking up 197 tackles and 11 interceptions.
Twenty-one picks later, the Buccaneers finished their draft with a compensatory pick, taking Idaho tight end Daniel Hardy at #238 overall. Hardy was the second tight end selected by Tampa Bay in the 2011 draft, as the team's fourth-round pick, after a trade up of 12 spots, was Tennessee's Luke Stocker.
Despite missing the last five games of his senior season, Hardy was still the Vandals' second-leading pass-catcher, grabbing 32 passes for 545 yards, earning second-team all-conference honors in the process. The 6-4, 242-pound Hardy gets off the line quickly and could be a receiving threat in the NFL.
The 5-10, 178 pound Gaitor, who hails from Miami, was a four-year starter at FIU and one of the most consistently productive players in the Sun Belt Conference during his career. After starting 11 of 12 games and leading the Panthers with two interceptions as a freshman in 2007, he began a run of three straight years as a first-team all-conference choice. He had at least 44 tackles and two interceptions in each of his four seasons, peaking at five picks in 2008. He led all Sun Belt players that season with 1.29 pass break-ups per game, as well.
The selection of Gaitor continues the Buccaneers' leaning towards defense in the 2011 draft. Each of their first three picks and five of eight overall were used on defenders. Before Gaitor, the team added two defensive ends (Adrian Clayborn and Da'Quan Bowers), one linebacker (Mason Foster) and one safety (Ahmad Black).
Gaitor and his new Gator teammate, Black, give the Buccaneers two draft picks from the state of Florida. While Tampa Bay has never been shy about plumbing its home state for talent – think Warren Sapp, Derrick Brooks, Warrick Dunn, Winston Moss, Scot Brantley, Errict Rhett, Dexter Jackson, Geno Hayes, et al – this is the team's biggest Sunshine State haul in awhile. The last time the Bucs took two players from Florida schools in the same draft was in 1999, when they nabbed Jackson and his fellow Florida State Seminole, fullback Lamarr Glenn.
On the other hand, Hardy is the first player the Buccaneers have ever drafted out of the University of Idaho. The FIU-Idaho pair is an interesting finish for the Bucs after they spent the first six rounds picking exclusively from major programs (Iowa, Clemson, Washington, Tennessee, Florida and USC).
Hardy was among the nation's leading receivers among tight ends last season before sustaining a broken arm in the Vandals' eighth outing. He first emerged as a big-time threat in Idaho's passing game as a junior in 2009, finishing second on the team with 39 catches for 391 yards. Over the last two seasons, Hardy has averaged 17.4 yards per catch, a rather impressive number for a tight end.
Gaitor and Hardy have a strong recent tradition to follow as seventh-round Buccaneer draft picks. Over the last two years, the Buccaneers have drafted five players in the seventh round – cornerback E.J. Biggers, wide receiver Sammie Stroughter, safety Cody Grimm, linebacker Dekoda Watson and defensive end (now fullback) Erik Lorig – and all five are still with the team. All five, in fact, have the opportunity to carve out major roles on the team in 2011.