DT Dre Moore can give the Bucs a different dimension along the interior line, according to Head Coach Jon Gruden
After selecting a total of 34 players over the previous three drafts, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers had a relatively paltry five picks to put into play when the 2008 NFL Draft began on Saturday. However, a series of savvy mid-draft deals pushed that total to seven before the weekend was over.
While that still represents the Buccaneers' smallest draft class since 2003, in the end it was more than enough.
The draft unfolded nicely for the Buccaneers, who targeted specific players at positions of need and consistently found them available when their picks rolled around. Though it is relatively meaningless to judge a draft class before it has several seasons to prove itself in the NFL, the Buccaneers believe they have added a significant amount of talent to their roster.
Moreover, that talent was spread around to a wide variety of positions.
"We are pleased with the way the draft turned out today and yesterday," said General Manager Bruce Allen, just minutes after St. Louis made the last of 252 overall picks. "If you look at our draft, it is very unusual in the fact that we filled a need in every position of our football team. We got an offensive lineman, we got a defensive lineman, we got a defensive back, we got a quarterback, we got a running back and a receiver. At all the key positions on a football team, we got someone we think will come in and help us compete."
During an abbreviated first day of the draft (two rounds instead of three), the Bucs focused on explosive playmaking on both sides of the ball, nabbing Kansas cornerback Aqib Talib in the first round and Appalachian State wide receiver Dexter Jackson in the second. As Head Coach Jon Gruden said on Saturday evening, Talib is a ball-hawking cornerback who plays with a high level of confidence and Jackson is a speedy return threat with big-play ability waiting to be developed on offense.
Though the specific picks weren't necessarily predictable, the Bucs surprised few by addressing those two positions in the first round. Many analysts had assumed Tampa Bay would try to bolster its cornerback and receiver spots. The team's five second-day picks offered considerably more intrigue. After trading up in the fourth round to nab a quick-footed defensive tackle, the Bucs also found an intriguing quarterback to develop for the future in the fifth round and heard echoes of Derrick Brooks with its sixth-round selection.
In all, the Bucs added five more players on Sunday, eventually taking one player in each round thanks to trades with Chicago and New England. In the new draft format, the second day began with the third round, and Tampa Bay opened its own efforts with the selection of Rutgers guard Jeremy Zuttah.
Here's a look at the Buccaneers' selections this weekend:
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers' 2008 Draft Class
|1||20||CB||Aqib Talib||Kansas||Highest-drafted CB in team history|
|2||58||WR||Dexter Jackson||Appalachian State||Speedster could help return game|
|3||83||G||Jeremy Zuttah||Rutgers||No sacks allowed last two years|
|4||115||DT||Dre Moore||Maryland||Career-best six sacks in 2007|
|5||160||QB||Josh Johnson||San Diego||43 TD passes vs. one INT in 2007|
|6||175||LB||Geno Hayes||Florida State||80 tackles and 5 sacks in 2007|
|7||238||RB||Cory Boyd||South Carolina||Ran for 903 yards in '07|
As much as the Bucs coveted Zuttah's versatility – he played tackle his last two seasons at Rutgers but also has experience at guard and center – they also considered his intelligence a major asset. Zuttah finished his degree at Rutgers in just three-and-a-half years, and he takes a studious approach to the game. That should help if the Buccaneers want to train him at several different positions, a plan of attack that would make Zuttah more valuable than ever in his rookie season.
The Buccaneers commonly keep seven offensive linemen active on game day, which means they have two backups for five positions. The more you can do, the more likely you are to suit up on Sundays.
"Whoever the sixth and seventh man are have to have versatility," said Gruden. "You have to have that sixth and seventh guy that are capable of playing tackle and guard or guard and center, and Zuttah we think can do that. Great test score, great football demeanor, football IQ, tough as heck, and we think he can play tackle, guard or center. That is why we were very ecstatic to see him there towards the end of the third round. He will add to our group a good bit."
Zuttah got a sparring partner for training camp when the Bucs drafted Maryland DT Dre Moore in the fourth round. Moore apparently stuck out on Tampa Bay's board at that point, as they traded up five spots with the Chicago Bears to get in position to make the pick. The trade cost the Bucs the fifth-rounder they had picked up a day earlier in a small trade down in the second round with Jacksonville, but it also brought back a sixth-rounder from the Bears.
Moore might not have been on the Bucs' board at all if not for the persuasiveness of the head football coach at Independence High School in Charlotte, Tommy Knotts. Knotts convinced Moore, who had never played football, to go out for the junior varsity team as a junior. By his senior season, Moore was on the varsity squad and on his way to all-state honors, as he proved to have a beguiling mix of size, speed and agility on the football field.
That late start to his football career led to some struggles early in Moore's days at Maryland. However, by his junior and senior seasons he was a force, with 9.5 sacks combined in 2006 and 2007. He appears to be a penetrating sort of three-technique tackle, but he is more than willing to play either nose or under tackle for the Buccaneers.
"I don't really have a preference because looking at Tampa's defense I think I will probably spend equal time at both," said Moore. "[It depends] on what set the offense comes out in, what hash the ball is on and the strength of the formation."
Moore will have to work hard during training camp to earn that significant of a role, but it appears as if the draft gave him an extra dose of motivation. During his introductory interview with the Bay area media, Moore spoke of his desire to prove the league wrong for passing on him until the fourth round.
"When he is on, he is really on," said Gruden. "He is a flash player. I think he is a good kid, and he can give us a different dimension inside in terms of size. He is a long, linear guy with power. He can chase, he can run extremely well for a big guy. He has a tremendous upside if we can get it all out of him."
The Bucs' next pick was the one that will inspire the most ink among the second-day selections. Given that San Diego quarterback Josh Johnson, picked late in the fifth round, comes armed with otherworldly statistics – try 43 touchdowns versus one interception last year – but a small-school resume, his development in the coming years will be an intriguing story.
Gruden summed up the central question and the only possible current answer nicely: "Is he the quarterback of the future? I don't know, but he will compete and he will be very interesting."
What the Bucs do know is that Johnson is 6-3, 215 pounds and capable of running a 4.5-second 40-yard dash.
"We like the talent of Josh," said Allen. "He has not good statistics, not great statistics…he has spectacular statistics. We want to give him a chance to see what he can do in the NFL."
If Dexter Jackson's name seemed awfully familiar – he shares it with the former Buccaneers cornerback who was named Super Bowl XXXVII MVP – Geno Hayes' background and number rang a bell.
Hayes, a speedy and "undersized" linebacker out of Florida State, was the Buccaneers' sixth-round draft pick. He wore #10 during his Seminoles career, which means he has an awful lot in common with current Buccaneer great Derrick Brooks.
Hayes and Brooks are now teammates, and they are both part of what has quickly become a crowded linebackers meeting room. Last year, Tampa Bay took two interesting linebackers in the draft – Quincy Black and Adam Hayward – and also signed Pro Bowler Cato June away from the Indianapolis Colts. Barrett Ruud made a marvelously successful transition to the starting lineup after spending two years as a reserve. And promising young player Antoine Cash is returning this spring after missing all of last season with a knee injury.
But the Bucs find Hayes' speed and pursuit skills interesting and believe he can blossom in a room featuring so many veteran leaders.
"He can run, he can hit, he's 20 years old and he's had some real good experience at a high level, at a place where they're relatively famous for producing linebackers," said Gruden. "So we're excited to put him in the same room with Derrick [Brooks] and Barrett [Ruud] and Cato [June] and see what happens."
The Bucs concluded their draft late in the seventh round, spending the pick they snared from New England for a short move down in the fifth round. The choice was South Carolina running back Cory Boyd, who like Hayes joins a position on the Bucs' roster that has a lot of interesting pieces. However, while the Bucs' three starters at linebacker are pretty obvious heading into 2008, the running back corps has some sorting out to do.
Earnest Graham is the returning starter, and he performed very well in that role after injuries to Cadillac Williams and Michael Pittman. Pittman has moved on in free agency but Williams is in the midst of a comeback from his serious knee injury of last September. In addition, Warrick Dunn would seem to be a good bet to get significant playing time after re-signing with the team in March, and speedster Michael Bennett is another proven runner in the backfield.
Boyd will have an opportunity to carve out his own role as that situation settles. Scouts say he is a rugged, between-the-tackles pounder, which could help him stand out on the practice field. In addition, he can catch passes out of the backfield and even has experience as a fullback during his college career.
Boyd and his fellow '08 draftees will get their first chance to prove they belong next weekend at the Buccaneers' rookie mini-camp. There will be fresh faces in almost every meeting room.
"Most of our coaches will have a new player to coach," said Gruden. "We will fly in all of our rookie players and some free agents for our mini-camp this weekend. We are excited with the draft."
Additional notes regarding the Bucs' 2008 draft class:
- Buccaneers Defensive Backs Coach Raheem Morris got an up-close look at Talib while Morris was the defensive coordinator at Kansas State in 2006, Talib's junior season at Kansas. Morris will now be a key figure in Talib's adjustment to the NFL. The Bucs' coach says the key for his newest cornerback is to realize quickly the amount of work it will take to succeed at the professional level. "Once he gets here and realizes that it's about him locking in and buying into everything around him [he'll be fine]," said Morris. "The faster he figures that out the faster he'll have success." * The Buccaneers continue to invest in their rapidly-improving offensive line. The selection of Zuttah in the third round marked the fourth straight year that the team has spent at least one pick in Rounds One through Three on that unit. The choice of North Carolina State's Chris Colmer in the third round in 2005 didn't work out, but the Bucs have been thrilled by Oklahoma guard Davin Joseph (first round, 2006), Boston College tackle Jeremy Trueblood (second round, 2006) and Tennessee guard Arron Sears (second round, 2007). In the seven drafts prior to 2005, the Bucs had spent only two picks in Rounds One through Three on offensive linemen – Tennessee guard Cosey Coleman in the second round in 2000 and Florida tackle Kenyatta Walker in the first round in 2001. * The Bucs went to some new sources for their first three picks in 2008. Talib was the first player Tampa Bay ever drafted out of Kansas, and Jackson was the first Buc draftee produced by Appalachian State. The Bucs had only drafted one player from Rutgers prior to the pick of Zuttah – DE Harry Swayne in the seventh round in 1987. Swayne eventually switched to the offensive line and enjoyed a lengthy NFL career in Tampa and San Diego. * Zuttah could become the answer to another Buccaneer trivia question, assuming he makes the active roster in the fall. Zuttah would not only be the third player in team history with a surname beginning with a Z, but he would be alphabetically last among all players on the all-time roster. Cornerback Alan Zemaitis currently holds that distinction. * Despite some speculation to the regard, the Buccaneers have not purposely avoided taking cornerbacks in the first round because their defensive system deemphasizes corner talent. That's according to a man who would know, the architect of that defense since 1996, Monte Kiffin. "It has nothing to do with style or the Tampa Two…we just didn't pick them," said the Bucs' defensive coordinator. "It has nothing to do with the system; I like corners. The thing about Talib is that he can run. You can't teach speed. You can improve technique. We can take a guy and teach him to play the Cover Two, but you can't teach a guy to play three-deep or man-to-man. You can't teach them to run fast backwards or cover guys deep unless he has some talent." * The Bucs have made a habit in recent years of trying to find a keeper at defensive tackle in the second half of the draft, with mixed results. A sixth-round pick on Alabama's Anthony Bryant in 2005 failed to pan out in the end, though the huge Bryant did show some promise during his year or so in Tampa. DT/DE swingman Julian Jenkins, a fifth-round pick out of Stanford in 2006, also lasted a year with the team, seeing some action late in his rookie season, but he was unable to secure a roster spot again in 2007. DT Greg Peterson, a fifth-round choice out of North Carolina Central a year ago, was clearly something of a project given his small-school roots. He played intermittently during the first half of the season and turned in 1.5 sacks, and the Bucs still have high hopes for his development. * Rutgers Head Coach Greg Schiano appreciated what Zuttah did for him in his four years with the Scarlet Knights. Schiano is positive that his former charge will do well in the NFL. "Jeremy was a four-year starter for us and I know he will excel at the next level," said Schiano. "He is a multi-talented player and outstanding athlete who can play several positions. Not only did Jeremy excel on the playing field, he also graduated in 3.5 years. I expect to see big things from Jeremy in the NFL." * By grabbing Florida State's Geno Hayes at #175 overall, the Bucs took a linebacker in the sixth round for the second straight year. Overall, however, Tampa Bay has rarely spent late-draft picks on the position. After the draft was shortened to seven rounds in 1994, the Bucs drafted only two linebackers after the fourth round from that spring through 2006: East Carolina's Bernard Carter in the sixth round in '94 and Clemson's Wardell Rouse in the sixth round in '95. * Allen says it would be a mistake to assume that Jackson will end up as a return specialist and nothing more due to his size (5-9, 182). Allen couldn't help from answering that assumption with a pun: "That would be selling him short. He is a playmaker. He is a great competitor who wants to involve himself in the offense in as many ways as possible. Knowing Coach Gruden's imagination, he'll be in the offense."