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Amid good draft, Tampa Bay Buccaneers take a worthwhile risk on Mike Williams

The Bucs rank Syracuse’s Mike Williams, evading USF’s Aaron Harris, the third-best receiver in the draft but get him in Round 4. Only first-rounders Dez Bryant and Demaryius Thomas rated higher.

Associated Press (2009)

The Bucs rank Syracuse’s Mike Williams, evading USF’s Aaron Harris, the third-best receiver in the draft but get him in Round 4. Only first-rounders Dez Bryant and Demaryius Thomas rated higher.

Drop a pass, and your teammates will understand. Fumble, and the fans will forgive you. Run toward the wrong direction, and no one is going to blame you.

On the football field, there are only two things that are unforgivable.

You don't cheat.

You don't quit.

Mike Williams, the newest Buc wide receiver, did both. He bailed on his Syracuse teammates. He looked for a shortcut during an exam. He cost himself millions of dollars. He shredded his own reputation.

And despite it all, Williams feels like an acceptable risk for the Bucs.

Yes, there are questions, and yes, there should be concerns. Williams has dug a hole and stuffed his career inside. It will take a lot of catches and a lot of touchdowns before his image is repaired.

That said, Williams is worth a roll of the dice. For a team that needs receivers as badly as the Bucs, Williams is worth the risk of a fourth-round pick.

I know, I know. It would be easy to turn moralist and try to lock any draft choice with a problem outside the building. And if you want to raise your eyes at the selection of Williams, you certainly are allowed.

Still, when a team has a chance to get a player with first-round grades on the third day of a draft, why shouldn't it take it? If Williams turns out to be a good guy who made mistakes, as he would have you believe, then the Bucs have struck gold. If he turns out to be a bad guy, well, the team didn't have a lot invested in him anyway.

Again, he was a fourth-round draft choice. You know who else was a fourth-round draft choice by the Bucs? Alan Zemaitis was. And Austin King. And Lance Nimmo and Jerry Wilson and Rudy Harris. If the Bucs are wrong, they will move on easily enough.

If they are right, however, they have made Josh Freeman a better quarterback.

Also, a giddy one.

"I'm loving these guys, dude," said Freeman, who watched game tape of Williams and second-round pick Arrelious Benn after coaches told him of their interest. "It's awesome. It almost feels like Christmas. It's the first time I didn't do anything and still became a better quarterback."

No wonder Freeman is fired up. Joe Montana was still a young quarterback when Jerry Rice showed up. Dan Marino had a young pair of receivers named Mark Duper and Mark Clayton to grow with. John Elway had the Three Amigos. A lot of quarterbacks have developed their games as their targets developed theirs.

"Ultimately, it's on my shoulders to see how well and how quickly these guys develop," Freeman said. "I was talking with (receiver) Sammie Stroughter. We have to get these guys up to speed."

For months, Bucs fans have shouted for receiver help. Finally, they have it. According to receivers coach Eric Yarber, Williams was the third-rated receiver on the Bucs' draft board. Benn was fourth. (Dez Bryant and Demaryius Thomas were 1-2.)

"I don't think (Williams) is a gamble at all," said Yarber, who has coached Terrell Owens and Chad Ochocinco. "We've done a lot of research on him, and we've talked to a lot of people. And we're very comfortable. I've told him: 'There is no need to look in the rearview mirror. Just look through the windshield and go from here.' "

Let's face it: There have been bigger knocks on a guy's character. There have been drug users and spouse abusers and bad characters of every variety. For the Bucs, this falls under the category of "acceptable risk."

So what does the week's draft all mean? It means Freeman won. It means Michael Clayton lost. It means Sabby Piscitelli survived. It means Chris Hovan is likely on the trading block. It means Ryan Sims might as well head to the airport. It means Barrett Ruud won't have to fight off as many offensive guards. It means Jeremy Trueblood can exhale. It means Stylez White is still styling.

But does it mean the Bucs will win substantially more games next year? We'll see. Odds are the Bucs won't get a real boost from this draft until two years, maybe three, down the line.

That said, I have to admit this: I like this draft. Usually, it's a dangerous thing to like a draft because it often leads to feeling foolish down the line. But I love the notion of slowing down opposing running backs. I like getting targets for Freeman. I like the star power of first-round pick Gerald McCoy. I like that out of their first five picks, the team had four of them with first-round grades and one with a second-round grade.

It is doubtful this draft adds up to '95, when the team brought in Warren Sapp and Derrick Brooks. It's hard to imagine it turning out as well as '97, when the team brought in Warrick Dunn and Ronde Barber. But rarely have the Bucs brought in so many players with such high grades.

Someday, this draft, too, could be worth remembering.

Someday, you might think of it as the day the Bucs turned around.

Amid good draft, Tampa Bay Buccaneers take a worthwhile risk on Mike Williams 04/24/10 [Last modified: Sunday, April 25, 2010 9:42am]
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