Thursday, November 23, 2017
Tampa Bay Buccaneers

John Lynch sees some of himself in Tampa Bay Bucs' draft pick Mark Barron

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TAMPA

The endorsement came from long ago and from far away. The more one safety raved about the other, the easier it was to feel good about the newest employee of the Tampa Bay Bucs.

Yes, Mark Barron has the skills to become the next John Lynch.

At least, that's what John Lynch says.

When it comes to judging safeties, who is in position to argue with Lynch, the best by-gum safety the Bucs have ever had? Yes, it was a bit of a surprise when the Bucs picked Barron with the seventh pick in the NFL draft, and yes, some of those people who guess at the event for a living might consider him a bit of a reach.

On the other hand, Barron — a two-time captain at Alabama — is one of those safeties who leaves bruises, the kind the Bucs have needed since the franchise held the door open for Lynch to leave. And if he can return greatness to the position, no one will ever quibble about the price. Just take it from Lynch.

"I think he's a flat-out stud," Lynch said.

"He doesn't have any holes. He does everything well."

Lynch should know. Over the past two weeks, he has studied the available safeties for an NFL team (he wouldn't say which one) "as if cramming for a history test." It didn't take him long to be impressed with Barron.

"Now, that's what I'm talking about," Lynch wrote of Barron in his report. "This is a big-time game-changing football player. My own opinion (I know he's hot), is that if he slips and you see an opportunity to go get him, do. This is guy is a start and top-line right now. He will definitely impact a team.

"What do I like so much? Everything. He sees things well. He recognizes and reacts quickly. He has very good athletic ability. He tackles well in space. He demonstrates great ball skills.

"In addition, he's nasty. He finishes, and he finishes violently."

Yeah, the Bucs secondary can use as much of that as it can get. Last year, it seems that every time you noticed a safety, it was because one was chasing a receiver across a goal line. Even more than corner, even more than running back, at least as much as linebacker, the Bucs needed a safety.

Give them credit for this. They entered this draft with a conviction. They took Barron higher than most would have expected him to go, then they traded up to get running back Doug Martin.

The last time the Bucs pulled off the trade-back, trade up scenario? It was 1995, when they picked Warren Sapp and Derrick Brooks.

Evidently, the Bucs recognized it, too. They could have stayed at No. 5 and picked LSU cornerback Morris Claiborne, the player who most mocks had them ending up with. But general manager Mark Dominik said the Bucs liked Barron better. If the Bucs had not moved back, he said, Barron is the player they would have taken at No. 5. In fact, Dominik wasn't nervous that the Cowboys might take Claiborne when they moved up to sixth (they did); he was nervous they might take Barron instead.

"Put on the film," Dominik said, "and he just pops out at you."

In other words, the Bucs were impressed. Coach Greg Schiano said his first reaction to watching Barron on tape was this: "Wow."

Ah, but how much can a safety impact Schiano's defense?

"A ton," he said. "Especially the way the game has developed. I know he can cover. He has to be able to cover. He's a big, physical, punishing player. But he's also a skilled athlete with speed and range and the ability to play man-to-man."

In other words, the Bucs see Barron as one of those special safeties — think Kansas City's Eric Berry or former Redskin Lamar Landry (before he was hurt) or former Redskin Sean Taylor. Barron's grades were similar.

Barron will have to prove he can hold up in the passing game. No one, however, doubts his toughness in the box, his ability to tackle, his ability to put a big hit on an opponent.

Remind you of anyone else?

"What I remember about John Lynch," Barron said, "is the way he was out there smacking people around."

Maybe, he will make other people remember it, too.

"The way he strikes people reminds me of myself," Lynch said, laughing softly. "He's a complete, big-time player. I liked the courage to go ahead and pick him at seven. There is a feeling in the league that the safety position isn't what it was because everyone is so spread out.

"To me, if you just look at the last 10 Super Bowl teams, every one of them had a great safety. You can't take safeties off the field. Safeties do so many things, covering tight ends, playing in the box, blitzing. When you have a great player, you can find a way for him to take over a game."

The money question? Can Barron be good enough to replace Lynch as the best-ever safety for the Bucs?

"Absolutely," Lynch said. Then he paused.

"Of course, he's got a lot of work to do first."

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