Tampa Bay Buccaneers

One Buc Mailbag: O-Line on the Mind

This week's mailbag considers the Buccaneers' offensive line needs from two different angles and then takes some second-guessing regarding Monday's Optimal Bucs Draft Team.

*Each week during the offseason, Senior Writer/Editor Scott Smith will dip into the inbox to answer questions from  Buccaneer fans. This week, we start with two questions centered around the team's efforts to upgrade the offensive line, then finish with a discussion prompted by the Optimal Bucs Draft Team posted on Monday.

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1. Hi Scott, Casey,
My name is Rodrigo, I'm from Montevideo, Uruguay and I'm a huge Buccaneers fan! I've never been to a Bucs game, but I try to see them on TV whenever I can. It's clear that we need a QB, and Winston probably is our guy, but what about the OL? Nearly all the specialist say that we are going to use our 2 pick on the OL. We didn't find an OL in the free agency, so is it enough with only one pick in the draft to get the improvement that we need to protect Winston? Thank you very much.Sincerely, Rodrigo, via email to tbbsocial@buccaneers.nfl.com
P.S. sorry for my bad english!First off, Rodrigo, I see no reason to apologize for your English. I'm willing to bet you would communicate far more effectively in Tampa than I would if I visited Montevideo. I know exactly what you're asking, and it is indeed an important question.

You're also right in that most of the mock drafts that you can find that go into the second round pair the Buccaneers up with an offensive linemen. Heck, that's something Casey Phillips and I have discussed with great frequency in our daily video mailbags. In fact, we've said something to that effect so many times that now I'm starting to believe that, in real life on Friday night, the team is going to totally shock us with…oh, I don't know…a running back or a wide receiver or something.

Still, when you're predicting a team's pick, unless you have a pipeline to the actual decision-makers, the best you can do is try to match up obvious depth chart needs with the players expected to be available in each round. Since the Buccaneers' offensive line struggled in 2014 – and since to this point the only change to that group has been the subtraction of tackle Anthony Collins – it's fair to pinpoint that as a big need. Furthermore, the draft is considered deep in quality offensive linemen, deep enough that you might even find a potential high-quality starter at tackle in the second round. In some years, the top tackle prospects are depleted by the middle of the first round and you're better off shopping for interior-line value around pick #34.

That's the premise of your question, in fact. You're rolling with the conventional wisdom that the Bucs will take a quarterback at #1 and then use that high second-rounder to hit the offensive line. So for the sake of this discussion, let's say that's exactly what happens. Now, given that, you're wondering if that's enough to solve what ailed the O-Line last year.

Well, in and of itself Rodrigo, perhaps not. In fact, as excited as the Buccaneers would likely be to get a top O-Line prospect at #34, there's still no guarantee that player will adjust quickly enough to the NFL to be an immediate starter. Hopefully, yes, but not necessarily. So if you took last year's group, subtracted Collins and added just one potential (but not definite) starter, that doesn't seem on paper like enough to turn the line around.

But there are so many other factors. One obvious one is that the team might not be done addressing the O-Line even if it picks one high in Round Two. This draft is so deep at that position that there's a decent chance another very attractive blocking prospect will be there at #65, when the Bucs are on the clock to start the third round. Or they could package one of their Day Three picks with #65 to move back up into Round Two and grab a player they like who has dropped farther than expected. There are even potential starters in this year's class beyond those you most commonly see in the mock drafts, even those that cover multiple rounds. For instance, here's Grantland's Matt Hinton arguing that Wisconsin tackle Rob Havenstein – who could last until Day Three of the draft – has a chance to be a better NFL starter than Florida's D.J. Humphries, an expected first-rounder.

Also, keep in mind that free agency doesn't end when the draft begins. You can expect another wave of signings, albeit lower-profile ones, around the league in May after teams have had a chance to analyze their depth charts again, post-draft. You can't completely discount the idea of a trade, either. Last year, Tampa Bay plugged a hole on its offensive front at the 11th hour with its out-of-the-blue trade for New England guard Logan Mankins.

Finally, we need to consider the possibility that even if some of the names remain the same on the Bucs' line in 2015, that doesn't mean the level of play will be the same as well. A young player like Patrick Omameh, now with a year of starting under his belt and another offseason of hard work, could improve his game. This year, Mankins won't have to deal with the jolt of a trade and a new playbook right before the start of the season; I have a feeling that Buccaneers' management is expecting very good things from the veteran blocker this year. Who knows, Demar Dotson, who was playing well at right tackle last year before a late-season audition on the other end, could prove to be a strong NFL starter at left tackle.

As Casey and I have mentioned several times in our video mailbags, there's a long way to go. If the Bucs do take an offensive lineman at #34, it would certainly seem to be hitting a significant need, if not completely solving it. Just understand that the team-building process isn't over after that pick, and that getting better play from the O-Line is one of the team's primary goals this season.


2. Hi Scott and Casey, Keep the Bucs info comin! Really like the mailbag! Can you confirm whether Davin Joseph is a free agent or not? I do not see him on the Rams roster.  If he is indeed a free agent, do you think the Bucs would want him? Seems like he left on good terms and we sure have OL needs. I really like him as a person and a player. I am not his agent :) Scott Rairigh (sounds like Rary), via email to tbbsocial@buccaneers.nfl.com

Thank you for the pronunciation guide and for the assurance that you are not an NFL agent working some new and totally ineffective angle for his client. And to answer your question I'd like to begin at the end: I, too, really like Davin Joseph. Without a doubt, he's one of the favorite Buccaneer players I've come across in 20-plus years here.

He was also very, very good for most of his eight-year tenure with the team, which began when he was drafted in the first round in 2006. He made the Pro Bowl in 2008 and 2011, and the latter trip was after he came back from an injury that cost him the last five or six weeks of the 2010 season. That was impressive. Unfortunately, the injury bug got Joseph again in 2012, this time knocking him out for the season with a knee injury suffered in the third week of the preseason. While 2013 wasn't Joseph's best season, most likely because he was still trying to regain full strength in his knee – and the Buccaneers released him afterward – it was still impressive that he never made excuses. He simply fought through, started all 16 games and gave the team the best that he could.

So, what has happened since? Well, the Buccaneers released Joseph, as I mentioned, just before the start of free agency in 2014. Late that May, the St. Louis Rams signed him to a one-year deal, and he ended up winning their starting job at right guard, opening all 16 games. This March 10, that one-year deal expired, making Joseph an unrestricted free agent. To this point, he has not signed with another team.

So, yes, the Bucs could come calling if they wished, and I don't believe there is any lingering acrimony that would prevent a return (obviously, Davin would be better suited to make that claim, but he certainly said all the right things upon his departure last year). One has to wonder, however, if Joseph can be that great player he was for the Buccaneers in the prime of his career. There aren't a lot of statistics we can rely on to know how well he played last year in St. Louis, but we can look at a site like Pro Football Focus to see how they analyzed his play. Of the 78 guards graded by PFF, Joseph ranked 75th in 2014, well behind the Bucs' incumbent right guard, Patrick Omameh.

Now, you can choose how much stock you want to put in PFF's grades. You can also claim that the 31-year-old Joseph is still young enough to regain his peak NFL form, and I wouldn't spend any time arguing against you. But just looking at it from the evidence we have, you see that the Buccaneers released Joseph 14 months ago and it's hard to see what has happened in the interim to prompt them to bring him back.

So, to be honest Scott, I would be surprised if Joseph returned. If he did, however, I'd be thrilled to welcome him back because, like I said, there haven't been too many better Buccaneers through the years.


3. You should've put Harry Swayne and Reuben Davis on your all-draft team from the other day. I first became a Bucs fan in the eighties and I remember we got those guys very late in the draft. Could've saved yourself some higher picks for other positions. Just one fan's thoughts. Go Bucs! Mike Sievers, via email to tbbsocial@buccaneers.nfl.com

I'm just glad you read that, Mike. I had a real fun time doing it, but I wasn't sure the concept came across clearly. For those who didn't read it, here's the link; to be clear, this is what I called the "Optimal Bucs Draft Team," not the "all-draft team." That latter exercise would be easier, as I would just pick the best players in team history that were actually drafted by the Buccaneers and would end up with a squad led by Lee Roy Selmon, Warren Sapp, Derrick Brooks, Ronde Barber, Mike Alstott, Davin Joseph, Gerald McCoy, Hugh Green, Paul Gruber, etc.

I did manage to get a good number of those players on the squad, but it was impossible to get them all because of the rules I imposed on myself. Basically, I set out to make a squad of 22 starters (11 each on offense and defense) made up of three players drafted by the Buccaneers in each of the seven rounds that currently make up the draft. Seven multiplied by three gives you 21 players, so I allowed myself four players from the seventh round on, since the draft used to be longer than seven rounds.

Now you see the issue. Sure, it makes sense to start with the team's three Hall of Famers, all first-round draft picks: Selmon, Sapp and Brooks. And that's exactly what I did at first, but I eventually had to grudgingly give up Sapp in order to give that first-round slot to tackle Paul Gruber. The offensive line desperately needed help while the defensive tackle position – while best filled with first-rounders Sapp and McCoy – could get along nicely with later-round picks Santana Dotson and David Logan.

So, anyway, you have Mike here throwing out two names to try to make the task easier on me, and I will readily admit he's on to something. Swayne was a seventh-round pick in 1987 and Davis was a ninth-round pick in 1988. By my rules, including them on the squad would have cost me two of my picks in the seventh-plus rounds.

As for Davis, he was indeed fantastic value as a big-bodied plugger of a defensive tackle for the Buccaneers. Davis played a little more than four seasons in Tampa, starting almost the entire way, and then went on to five more seasons in Arizona and San Diego. He was usually good for about three sacks a season and was also stout against the run. And you'll have to take my word for it here Mike, but I did consider him for the time. In the end, I thought that Dotson as a fifth-rounder and Logan as a seventh-plus rounder (he was actually a 12th-round pick, believe it or not) was just as good, value-wise. I liked Reuben Davis, but I think I would take either Dotson or Logan over him in a vacuum.

Swayne is intriguing because he was drafted as a defensive end but quickly converted to offensive tackle. That proved to be a great move for the Rutgers product because it allowed him to fashion a 15-year NFL career in which he would play in 186 games and start 113. He even got to play in two Super Bowls for two different teams, winning one of them.

The problem is, only three of Swayne's 113 starts came as a Buccaneer. During his four years with the team, he was essentially a reserve the entire team. It wasn't until he joined San Diego in 1991 that he began a long run as an NFL starter. And I also made a point in my rules for this exercise to only consider what the player did as a Buccaneer. If I looked at Swayne when I was building the team (a dramatic term for writing down some names on a piece of paper), I must have dismissed him for that reason.

It probably would have helped if I could have used him. I have Paul Gruber at left tackle, which is great, and I originally had Ron Heller at right tackle, which is a pretty strong bookend. However, when it came down to it at the end, I had to give up Heller so I could use a fourth-round pick on QB Craig Erickson, and I replaced him with fifth-rounder Pete Pierson. Hypothetically, if I took Swayne as a seventh-plus rounder instead of Pierson, I could have freed up a fifth-rounder to use on…oh…maybe Jermaine Phillips? Yes, I think Phillips would be a bit of an upgrade over seventh-rounder Marty Carter at the other safety spot opposite John Lynch.*

*But, alas, that's against the rules. So I give Mike much credit for bringing up two great Buccaneer draft values of the past, but I don't think it would change my Optimal Bucs Draft Team. Thanks for trying!

Fans can submit questions for upcoming mailbags via Twitter to @ScottSBucs (#BucsMailbag), through a message on the Buccaneers Official Facebook Page or via email at *tbbsocial@buccaneers.nfl.com.  The One Buc Mailbag runs every Thursday and is not necessarily meant to reflect the opinions of the team's management or coaching staff.*

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