Buccaneers five-year draft review: More misses than hits
MAY 05, 2014 5:45p ET
TAMPA, Fla. -- Change happens for a reason. It's never random in the NFL. You hear the line all the time, ''This is a performance-based league.''
So much about that is true. From the front office to the field, results matter. Change happens if good results donât come fast enough.
There's one stat that sums up why the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have lived a wild overhaul since late December. Fifteen players were drafted in 2009 and 2010. How many of those remain on the roster?
Not two or three or more. One. That's defensive tackle Gerald McCoy, a fine player, but one is bad. It's terrible. It hints at failure in predicting success. It hints at a widespread problem.
''Is it hard to make up, and is it a hindrance?'' Bucs coach Lovie Smith said last week, when speaking about that very issue. ''That's probably one of the reasons why (general manager) Jason (Licht) and I are both here right now, so that's just a part of it. If you have to have one guy remaining you would like for it to be Gerald of course, that is a part of it. Of course our plan, it's for us to do better on the draft and make that our foundation. I feel like we'll do that.''
The Glazers hope the issue is fixed with Smith and Licht in power. We'll see. Between the new faces and new uniforms throughout One Buc Place these days, it's hard to consider this the same team that went 4-12 last year before then-coach Greg Schiano and then-general manager Mark Dominik were fired. Everything feels different.
That's good, of course. There were times last year when walking in One Buc Place felt like visiting a morgue. That may sound harsh, but it's true. There was tension. Players weren't inspired. The Josh Freeman drama wore on everyone. The MRSA mess was another problem that made everyone throw up their hands and say, ''What will go wrong next?'' Nothing about those weeks was fun.
Those days are long over, but the recent past's draft failures have left a shadow over the Bucs. A team can't win with so many misses. Tampa Bay is proof.
The free-agency signings of recent months are like a Band-Aid: They may stop the bleeding for a bit, but health will be restored when the wound closes. That will come with successful drafts. The opportunity starts Thursday.
Here's a glance back at the Bucs' drafts throughout the past five years:
2012: S Mark Barron, seventh overall (C) -- The Bucs should have expected a larger step forward by him last season. He had 88 tackles, the same as his rookie year. He also had two interceptions and six passes defensed. He must be better within Smith's scheme.
2012: RB Doug Martin, 31st overall (B+) -- After he produced a Pro Bowl campaign as a rookie, a left shoulder injury in Week 7 sidelined him last year. He was placed on injured reserve with a torn labrum after rushing for 456 yards with one touchdown. He'll remain the heart of the Bucs' offensive attack if he stays healthy.
2011: DE Adrian Clayborn, 20th overall (C) -- He was selected to be an elite pass-rusher, but he has fallen short of expectations through three seasons. He had 5.5 sacks last year, and he has 13 for his career. He'll likely receive a lesser role next season. Michael Johnson, formerly of the Cincinnati Bengals, was signed in free agency to be Tampa Bay's premier threat off the edge.
2010: DT Gerald McCoy, third overall (B+) -- Now a two-time Pro Bowl player, he has risen well after a rocky start to his career. He had a career-high 9.5 sacks and 50 tackles last season. He also has grown into one of the locker room's most influential voices. Smith and Licht are enamored with him. Expect more production within the Bucs' new defensive scheme.
2009: QB Josh Freeman, 17th overall (D) -- No player in pewter and red took a larger fall last season. There was blame to go around in this strange power struggle. It's no coincidence that all parties involved -- Freeman, Schiano and Dominik -- are no longer employed by the Bucs. You can't take away what he did for Tampa Bay in 2012, when he threw for franchise records in passing yards (4,065) and touchdowns (27). But his divorce from the team left a scar.
2011: DE Da'Quan Bowers, second round, 51st overall -- Time is running out. Ask him, and he'll likely blame coaching under Schiano for his lack of development. That's silly. Bowers must light a fire under himself fast, or his Bucs career will be short-lived. He started two games last season (played in 13) and had one sack. He only has 5.5 career sacks. The Bucs expected more when they let Michael Bennett walk to the Seattle Seahawks in free agency after the 2012 season. What a bad mistake.
2010: WR Arrelious Benn, second round, 39th overall -- He never had more than 441 yards receiving in a single year with the Bucs (2011). He was thought to stretch defenses with his speed, but those visions never became reality. He only had four catches for 26 yards in his final year with Tampa Bay in 2012.
2009: QB Josh Freeman, first round, 17th overall -- His story with the Bucs should have ended differently. It's a shame that someone who set franchise records in passing yards and touchdowns collapsed the way he did. Still, he's largely to blame for his departure from Tampa Bay. Now, he's irrelevant as a New York Giants reserve behind Eli Manning. He could have become so much more. He could have been much richer, too.
LATE-ROUND SUCCESS STORIES
2012: S Keith Tandy, sixth round, 174th overall -- He has played in 25 games with five starts since entering the league. He had a career-high 40 tackles with three interceptions and three passes defensed last season.
The NFL draft has produced more Bucs' misses than hits in recent years. So it's no shock to see why Smith and Licht leaned heavily on free agency to try to build a competitive roster for next fall. Here's the breakdown for a group that contributed to a 28-52 record (no playoff appearances):
2013: 6 players drafted/6 remain on current roster
Mission No. 1 for Smith and Licht: Improve in the draft. It's unacceptable that only one player remains from the 2009 and 2010 classes. The roster overhaul this spring was necessary, but the current regime canât rely on free agency in future years to build a consistent winner. Healthy franchises are made in the draft. Playoff contenders, for the most part, thrive with homegrown talent. Draft performance will determine this leadership's success. They must avoid their predecessors' fate.