One Buc Mailbag: Welcome to 2015

*Each week during the offseason, Senior Writer/Editor Scott Smith will dip into the inbox to answer questions from  Buccaneer fans.  This week, the discussion begins with a mulligan on last year's attempt to pinpoint a likely breakout player in the upcoming season. After that, we also touch on the possibility of Hard Knocks coming to Tampa as well as the most common uses for the first-overall pick in the draft.

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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1.* Hey Scott, great job on the prediction of a breakout player for 2014! I believe you said it would be Mark Barron…yep, that's who you said. Here's the story if you want to remind yourself. Maybe Mark Barron will break out for the Rams at some point, but it's safe to say you missed on that one. Wanna try again?*

- Lee Johnston, via email to tbbsocial@buccaneers.nfl.com

You're giving me a mulligan, Lee? Okay, this time I pick DE Jacquies Smith as my breakout player for 2014. Yes! Nailed it! The fact that Smith was still with the Buffalo Bills and I surely knew nothing about him when I made that original pick last February shouldn't seem fishy at all.

Okay, yes, I know you mean "try again" as in "make another prediction for the upcoming season." And you just want to give me another chance to fail after missing the mark on Barron. Thanks for the reminder, by the way, Lee. I actually made a similar point in another mailbag later last spring, just to really drive the point home.

I actually think it's a tad bit early for this question, but I didn't want to appear to be running away from it, so let's give it a shot. As I did last year (to such awesomeeffect), I'll start by listing a handful of candidates and then I'll narrow it down to a single choice. Last year, I started off by chopping the field of candidates in half, choosing only to focus on the defense behind the logic that, at the time, we had a much better feel for what Lovie Smith's defense would like than we did for Jeff Tedford's offense. This year, I'm not going to limit myself in that way. 3 Things to Know: New Bucs
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The obvious choice on offense, from among the players currently on the roster, is running back Charles Sims, who will be going into his second year after getting about a half-season of exposure as a rookie. Sims missed the first eight games after having ankle surgery right before the season started, then was gradually worked into an increasingly prominent role on offense. The numbers weren't overwhelming (185 yards and 2.8 yards per carry on the ground; 19 catches for 190 yards) but there were flashes of the two things Buccaneer management praised Sims for after the draft. Namely, the Bucs believe he can be an outstanding pass-catcher out of the backfield while also being a surprisingly tough and hard-cutting runner between the tackles.

I think one could also consider Demar Dotson a breakout candidate, even though he's been starting and doing a good job for the Buccaneers for the past three years. Probably one of the most underrated players on the team and among NFL right tackles, Dotson could see his profile raised significantly if he gets to continue playing left tackle. The Buccaneers tried him out there for the last three games of 2014 and seemed to be satisfied that it was an option worth pursuing.

My favorite choice on the offensive side of the ball, however, is tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins, who will also be heading into his second season after a rookie year somewhat hampered by injuries. None of his injuries was serious, in a long-term sense, but they were essentially the defining factor of his first season. Seferian-Jenkins showed great promise on several occasions but never really had a chance to build up any momentum. I think the Buccaneers are itching to make use of his big frame in traffic and his big-play ability overall.

The Buccaneers' leading tacklers for the 2014 season. Stats via NFL.com.

It's actually a little tougher on defense this time around, if only because you could say that many of the likely candidates have already had their breakouts. As I alluded to above, I think that's the case with Jacquies Smith, who went from waiver-wire pickup in September to a 6.5-sack man. Perhaps it's a matter of degree – safety Bradley McDougald and linebacker Danny Lansanah ended up with a lot more playing time than one would have predicted before the season, and both had some eye-opening moments. Still, if one believes that McDougald has a very good chance at being an opening-day starter in 2015 and being a surprise source of big plays – as I do – then he could still be in line for a next-level breakout. It's a little bit tougher of a case to make for Lansanah, who followed a five-year stint out of the NFL by tying for the league lead among linebackers with three interceptions, returning two of them for touchdowns and making team history by starting at all three linebacker positions. He would probably have to nail down one specific starting position and emerge as one of the Bucs' most important defenders in 2015 in order to be considered a breakout player once again.

I would also consider 2014 to have been Johnthan Banks' breakout season, and I really wish I would have made that pick back when I was hopping on the Barron bandwagon. (Or maybe I was driving that bandwagon; not sure anymore.) Other than perhaps William Gholston, I don't see any other obvious candidates on the defense who aren't already well-established.

That's fewer candidates than I expected to be choosing from, and I think that's because it's just so early in the new year that we don't have a great feel for how the roster will fall out just yet. Still, from among that group, I'll go with ASJ as my choice. I hope it goes a lot better this year because I fully expect Lee to be around to remind me again of my pick next January.

2.* A Knock on the Door?*

Andrew is referring, of course, to the extremely popular HBO series in which teenage kings are poisoned at their weddings and Lannisters bump off Starks any chance they get. Or maybe it's a different HBO series; I'm not sure. Anyway, the point is, a lot of NFL teams seem about as excited about participating on Hard Knocks as they would be about being King Joffrey's wine taster.

HARD KNOCKS 2001 - Ravens 2002 - Cowboys 2007 - Chiefs 2008 - Cowboys 2009 - Bengals 2010 - Jets 2012 - Dolphins 2013 - Bengals 2014 - Falcons

Which brings us to the list that surely piqued Andrew's attention. Hard Knocks, of course, is the popular reality series that gives fans an inside look at one NFL team during training camp. Cameras are everywhere and the access is amazing. I repeat, so one can see why this is such a great thing to watch and also not necessarily popular with every head coach: Cameras are everywhere and the access is amazing. The first one was in 2001 with the Baltimore Ravens and there have been a total of nine since, with last year's show focusing on the Atlanta Falcons. In the early years, HBO didn't have a difficult time finding volunteers (one can imagine the arm-twisting that got the Cowboys on the air in 2002), but more recently there has been a relative dearth of clubs wanting to step up into that particular spotlight. As such, it is now possible that a team could be compelled to be on the show.

If you've been in the playoffs in the last two years or you have a new head coach or you were already on the show in the last decade, you are allowed to decline. This year, that leaves a list of nine teams that don't fit any of that criteria. Now, it's possible that one of those nine or even one of the other 23 will step up and agree to be on the show without being compelled, as the Falcons did last year. If not, it's going to come down to Cleveland, Houston, Jacksonville, Minnesota, the New York Giants, St. Louis, Tampa Bay, Tennessee or Washington.

So what do I think about that, Andrew? Well, I'm torn. I assume you mean, do I like the idea? On one hand, yes. I like the show and you really do get a peek at things you would normally never see, which is great for the fans. For the sake of Buccaneer fans, I'd like to see that happen.

On the other hand, there's a reason that volunteering teams have become scarce. Coaches and players like to build a very insular and family-like environment where they feel free to say whatever needs to be said. Lovie Smith and his team are no different. I am obviously not speaking for Lovie – he has certainly allowed us an unprecedented level of access, so you never know if he would welcome them or not – but I would personally wonder if the HBO presence would make it a little harder to build team chemistry next summer. That's a very important part of the year for any team.

In the end, I guess what I think about that, Andrew, is that if it were up to me (and, wow, it is SO not up to me), I'd probably pass to be on the safe side. However, if Hard Knocks does come to One Buc Place, then I'll embrace the positives and probably enjoy the show just as much as all the Tampa Bay fans out there.

3.* #1 Priority?*

Ooh, ooh, I know! Quarterback? It's quarterback, isn't it? I'm good at this game!

I think I've got a good answer for your second question, too, T: "Because quarterback is the most important position on the field." How did I do? Now, T is either the easiest quiz-master in the world or he's trying to make a point with a Capital P. Yes, we get it, you think the Buccaneers should take a quarterback with the first pick in the draft.

One of the reasons I've included this question is it gives me a chance to reiterate something I had to repeat quite often lot last year: While we certainly will be addressing the upcoming draft and the players available in a variety of different ways between now and May, Buccaneers.com is not the appropriate place for a specific prediction of a player the team will pick. I see many responses on Twitter asking for a pick between two players in particular, and apart from the fact that team representatives cannot comment on players who are not yet draft-eligible, that's just not for me to say in this space. I do think it's a fun discussion for all Buccaneer fans, though; keep at it!

Just in case that question was more straightforward than I'm giving it credit for, the more detailed answer is that quarterbacks have been the most common #1-overall pick by a wide margin. Here are the positions that have been picked first overall, and how often:

  • Quarterback: 33
  • Running Back: 13
  • Back: 9
  • Defensive End: 8
  • Defensive Tackle: 5
  • Offensive Tackle: 4
  • Linebacker: 3
  • Wide Receiver: 3
  • Center: 2
  • End: 2

The 11 picks labeled either "back," "end" or "center" – all of which occurred between 1936-53 – make this a tad more confusing for the modern fan. Both centers, including Hall of Famer Chuck Bednarik, were also linebackers. Both ends played offense (as essentially backs and receivers) and defense (as ends). The backs were mostly halfbacks, though many of them played a little quarterback, too. You could lump most of those backs into the running back category and then that position would close the gap a little bit on quarterback.

Either way, though, the quarterback is king, and that's not going to change. Seven times, quarterbacks have gone both first and second at the top of the draft, and you're not likely to see a team swing the RGIII type of trade that Washington did – giving up, among other things, their first-round picks for the next two seasons – for a player at any other position. If you're picking first, if you have a quarterback problem and – this is the big one – there's a quarterback you believe to the best of your scouting ability to be a solution, it's hard to justify going in another direction.

The Bucs added 10 new players to their roster since the conclusion of the 2014 season.

That list is interesting in a couple other ways, though. That running back is easily in second place speaks to a different game than what we have now. The running back position is still vitally important, of course, but teams have begun to believe that it is possible to get good results at that spot without spending a very high draft pick on it. In addition, it is one of the positions on the depth chart with the most rapid turnover, so it's harder to justify using a #1 overall pick on it without necessarily expecting a long-term solution.

If you lump ends and tackles together, you see that defensive linemen are very highly valued, as well. It may be that it is much harder to find a premier pass-rusher later in the draft or among the undrafted ranks, your occasional Cameron Wake notwithstanding. Seven of the top 10 and 10 of the top 15 sack artists in 2014 came into the league as first-round draft picks.

Offensive tackles are next, and presumably any team that takes a tackle first overall is envisioning him playing on the left side, if not immediately then at some point. You're seeing the generally-accepted hierarchy of NFL positions in play, with QB, pass-rusher, left tackle and cornerback in the top four spots. It's interesting, then, that a cornerback has never gone first overall; in fact, they don't normally dominate the top 10. As important as that position clearly is, teams have found solutions outside of the top 10. Of the eight cornerbacks selected to this year's Pro Bowl, two were top-10 picks (Patrick Peterson and Joe Haden), one was taken in the top half of the opening stanza (Darrelle Revis), two were taken later in the first round (Aqib Talib and Vontae Davis), one was a fifth-round pick (Richard Sherman) and two were undrafted (Chris Harris and Brent Grimes). The Bucs themselves have repeatedly found good to great cornerbacks in the third round – Ronde Barber, Donnie Abraham, Ricky Reynolds.

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