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Between Claiborne and Richardson, Bucs have two solid options

Trent. It has to be Trent Richardson. Doesn't it?

It has to be Richardson because the Bucs could use a complete back. It has to be Richardson because he has the highest grades for a running back since Minnesota's Adrian Peterson. It has to be Richardson because the favorite way of new head coach Greg Schiano to get the ball into the end zone is to run it there.

Yep, if he is there at the fifth pick, the Bucs should, without a doubt, hoist him onto their shoulders and carry him directly to the nearest third-and-goal.

Unless, of course, they decide to draft Morris Claiborne instead.

It has to be Claiborne because the pitiful Bucs defense can use all the help it can get. It needs Claiborne because great cornerbacks are harder to find than great running backs. It needs Claiborne because Schiano is at heart a defensive coach.

And so the local debate rages between Richardson, a guy who scores touchdowns, and Claiborne, a guy who keeps them from happening. This is the reward for suffering a season that is hardly worth talking about; fans get a draft that is worth yelling.

The Richardson vs. Claiborne chatter has gone on for weeks, and from the sound of it, it is likely to continue until the draft begins on April 26. Perhaps longer.

You start with a simple question: If both Claiborne and Richardson are available when it is time for the Bucs to pick, which one do you prefer? The ensuing discussion will take you through a winding discussion about players, about positions, about performances, about perceptions, about incumbents, about Wonderlic scores and about prom dates.

Me? Today, I would vote for Claiborne.

Tomorrow, I will probably change my mind.

"It's a great question,'' said Tim Ruskell, who has worked as director of player personnel for the Bucs, Falcons and Bears and who was once the general manager of the Seattle Seahawks. "Five years ago, you would take the running back. No doubt about it. They were franchise players, and you could ride their backs and be a great team. I don't think you can do that anymore with one guy.

"The question is: Has the shutdown corner eclipsed the running back when it comes to the value of the position? In some places, it has. If you can take away the other team's best receiver, you can do so much more on defense.''

Here's a hint: There isn't a wrong answer. The Bucs could find plenty of work for both players. As bad as they were over their final 10 games last season, maybe they deserve them both.

Alas, the Bucs get to pick just one, which means they have to hope the talk about the Vikings taking Claiborne at No. 3 and the Browns taking Richardson at No. 4 is just smoke. (No, USC tackle Matt Kalil should not be considered a write-in vote. Both Richardson and Claiborne are better.)

Let's start with the argument for Richardson. No, he isn't quite the home-run threat that Peterson is, but he breaks tackles, he moves the chains and he makes his quarterback better. True, it is possible to find good — sometimes very good — running backs later in the draft, but for the most part, the great ones go early.

For the Bucs, what you think of Richardson has to be tempered with what you think of LeGarrette Blount. If you think Blount can be an every down back, you probably don't burn for Richardson.

The argument for Claiborne is a solid one, too. I mean, did you see that (alleged) defense last year? Put it this way: If you heard the Bucs had a Bounty program, you would probably think it had to do with buying paper towels to clean up their mess.

Claiborne would help. The NFC South is filled with quarterbacks and receivers, and he could help reduce the number of big plays the Bucs give up. He could also reduce the worry about Aqib Talib's upcoming trial.

As far as Claiborne's widely reported score of four on the Wonderlic, it shouldn't worry anyone. As Ruskell said, Claiborne doesn't play dumb. Think about it like this: while Claiborne is trying to cover Roddy White downfield, no one is going to ask him what color a firetruck is.

So what happens if Claiborne and Richardson are gone? Do the Bucs change the conversation to Kalil vs. Justin Blackmon? Or do they signal "retreat'' as loudly as they can?

I love when general managers say they would consider trading down for the right price. Well, of course they would. It's just a little tricky to pull off the part about the right price.

For instance, it isn't a secret that the Dolphins, who pick eighth, like quarterback Ryan Tannehill. But what price should they throw in to move up three spots? According to the NFL trade value chart (again, a reminder: it's only a guide), their second-round pick is too much to give up, and their third isn't enough.

For the Bucs, moving backward makes sense. They need linebackers and safeties and any extra picks you can spare.

Ah, but if it is greatness you desire, most of it is found in the first few picks of the draft.

So go on. Argue. It's cheap. It's interesting. It's fun.

When you get down to it, don't the Bucs owe you a little of that?

Between Claiborne and Richardson, Bucs have two solid options 04/16/12 [Last modified: Tuesday, April 17, 2012 1:36am]
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