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Legacy of Tampa Bay Buccaneers GM Mark Dominik tied to draft

Soon enough, Mark Dominik's name will be in lights.

Soon enough, we will find out if he is destined for starlight or the searchlights of angry fans.

This is the week Dominik defines the family name. He either makes it sound like royalty, like one of those names that rolls pleasantly off the tongue, or he changes the pronunciation of it into something that sounds like a curse word. This week, he fashions the family crest. This week, he writes his own Wikipedia page.

This week, Dominik either turns around a franchise or he might as well turn around and leave.

Oh, and Mark?

No pressure, dude.

Considering that Dominik is the man in the dunk tank, in the crosshairs and on the hot seat, he seems fairly relaxed as he sits in the back of a large, theater-style meeting room at One Buc Place and talks about the importance of this year's draft. It is a rich pond, stocked with enough first-round grades to last midway through the second round. Dominik, the general manager of the Bucs, has enough picks, enough possibilities, to make a bad team better.

In other words, all Dominik has to do is not screw it up.

"Fair enough," Dominik says, grinning. "I don't know if there is extra pressure, but I'm certainly aware of how important this draft is."

For a long time, they will be intertwined, Dominik and this draft. In a week, in a year, in a decade, when someone mentions one of them, you will not be able to avoid thinking about the other. Despite the drafting of Josh Freeman last year, despite the trade for Kellen Winslow, despite a 3-13 season, this draft will be Dominik's legacy.

After all, how else is this going to get better?

The Bucs have 11 picks, enough to fill a huddle, and five of those are among the first 101 selections. It is not too much to suggest the Bucs should walk away with four eventual starters and two Pro Bowl caliber players. It is not too much to expect their top three picks to start — or at least contribute significantly — next season.

Along the way, it is not too much to hope that the Bucs can avoid tripping over a bust or two.

For Dominik, that's a big part of it. For a year, he and his scouts have been working on this draft, changing things up, reworking their philosophy. They have tweaked the way they grade players, adding a round grade to their overall talent score. At times, they have met to talk only about the mid to late rounds, a minefield for the Bucs in recent seasons. They have added categories to their evaluations. Is the player a team captain? Does he really love football?

They have included more voices from throughout the building, Dominik says.

Will it work? Who knows? Everyone drafts busts. Bobby Beathard, one of the great general managers, drafted Ryan Leaf. George Young drafted Derek Brown. Al Davis drafted, well, enough busts for a fireworks show.

In a way, perhaps it is odd that Dominik's reputation would be so tightly linked to the draft. For most of his 15 seasons in Tampa Bay, Dominik worked on the pro personnel side of things, evaluating free agents. He spent a lot of his drafts working the phones, fielding trade offers.

Still, he has been around enough draft days to know where teams go wrong.

"Potential," Dominik says. "It can be a dangerous thing. You can have great rewards and great pitfalls."

In other words, too many teams want to project who a player could be, not who he is. They look at stopwatches and workouts instead of tape. They are hypnotized by possibilities instead of production.

So what can a general manager do? He can work as hard as possible to know as much as possible.

That's the funny thing about the NFL draft. Everyone thinks they're an expert, but the experts know how easy it is to pick the wrong guy.

In this draft, for instance, Dominik says his staff has put in "about 600 hours" on Gerald McCoy and Ndamukong Suh. Yeah, it beats watching YouTube videos and photocopying Mel Kiper's ninth mock draft.

What will Dominik do on draft day? He isn't saying.

What should he do?

It's one man's opinion, but I still think Suh was the best player in college football last year. If the Bucs find a way to end up with him, I'm willing to give their first round a grade of 98 percent.

McCoy? There are a few more questions about him, but a lot of people will argue he's the better fit. If the Bucs pick him, I'm willing to go to 95 percent.

Trading down? There is a lot of suspicion the Bucs want to retreat from large signing bonuses (Dominik denies it). But if Suh and McCoy are both gone (which means Sam Bradford isn't), there is an argument to move back and pick up an extra No. 1. If the Bucs move back and end up with two No. 1s and two No. 2s, I'll give them 92 percent.

Russell Okung? There are worse arguments than protecting Freeman's backside for 10 years. I'll go to 90 percent on him.

Eric Berry? I love the player but not at No. 3. That's worth 87 percent. Of course, your scores at home may vary.

Of course, Dominik can always pick up extra credit. He can trade back into the end of the first round to get a player the team has a conviction on. He can draft not just one, but two wide receivers.

Most of all, he can plug holes, fix leaks and find overachievers. He can go a long way toward repairing a broken franchise.

Do that, and people will smile at the sound of his name forever.

Fail, and they will find a way to make it rhyme with "squandered pick."

Legacy of Tampa Bay Buccaneers GM Mark Dominik tied to draft 04/17/10 [Last modified: Saturday, April 17, 2010 10:30pm]
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