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NFL draft grades are really made in these rounds

TAMPA — By comparison, the first round is a easy. Picking in the top five is a layup. Taking a player such as Gerald McCoy is a gimme putt.

Let's face it. You could have picked McCoy. I could have picked McCoy. Those blue-skinned creatures from Avatar could have picked McCoy. Give him five minutes and an old Mel Kiper mock draft, and a yak salesman from Tibet could have picked McCoy. And he wouldn't even have to be one of the smarter yak salesmen, either.

Friday?

Friday was harder.

For the Bucs, the second day of the NFL draft was a surprising, winding journey through the meat market. It included the selection of an imposing defensive tackle … again. It included trading up for a receiver whose production went down last year. It included a rangy cornerback who the Bucs thought was the best available Myron.

Maybe, just maybe, it included an improved franchise, too.

"The real heart of the draft started today," said Mark Dominik, the Bucs general manager. "We got a lot better today. And not only just better on the field, but off it. These are good kids. They're the kind of people you want so you can have a team people can fall in love with again."

Look at Friday through the eyes of Dominik, and this was a keeper of an evening. According to Dominik, the Bucs had second-round pick Brian Price with the grade of a first rounder. Also, they had fellow second-round pick Arrelious Benn with the grade of a first rounder. They had third-round pick Myron Lewis with the grade of a second rounder.

Is the analysis of the Bucs correct? We'll see.

For now, however, you have to admire their conviction.

Let's admit this. It was a funny-looking draft. Most of us figured that, after McCoy, the Bucs had found their defensive tackle. As it turns out, the Bucs liked taking a defensive tackle so much on Thursday, they did it again. The idea is to play Price at the nosetackle, and to play McCoy, Price and Roy Miller in a young-guns rotation in the middle of the defensive line.

How much did the Bucs like Price? Enough to stand pat, even though other teams called to ask if the Bucs were interested in a trade. Enough to ignore other areas of need, including at wide receiver. Enough to wait on Benn.

They didn't wait long, however. Three picks later, the Bucs traded up to take Benn, whose receptions fell from 67 to 38 last year at Illinois. In other words, the Bucs invested a second- and a fifth-round pick in Benn, the same price they paid a year ago for Kellen Winslow.

Why the trade up? With Benn, too, the Bucs had a conviction, and they didn't want to see him go elsewhere. There seems to be some grounds for their concern. After Benn went with the 39th pick, another wide receiver wasn't drafted until Golden Tate went to Seattle at No. 60.

How good are these two guys? Put it this way. In Kiper's draft back in February, he had Price going at No. 20 and Benn at No. 25. It wasn't just the Bucs who had them graded highly, in other words.

To put it another way, if the selection of McCoy on Thursday was designed to acquire the next Warren Sapp, then Friday was about getting the next Brad Culpepper, the next Keenan McCardell and, in the case of Lewis, the next Ronde Barber. If those guys live up to their grades, this was a good day indeed.

Are the Bucs better? Yeah, they are. Remember how bad they were against the run last year? Remember the rest of the receivers on the roster? Of course they have improved. The real question is: Have they improved enough?

If nothing else, the kiddie-corps pass rush is going to be interesting to watch, isn't it? The Bucs were awful on the defensive line last year, which makes the linebackers take on more blockers and the secondary cover receivers longer. No, the Bucs didn't get the pass-rushing end they need, but remember this: Simeon Rice's best years in Tampa Bay came when he played next to Sapp. If McCoy and Price can eat up that kind of attention, everyone around them is going to make more plays.

At this point, however, it's easy to imagine the veteran defensive tackles on this team as they wonder: "Were we that bad last year?"

The answer? Well, it wasn't the media that drafted these guys.

In other words, if the Bucs' grades were right, the ship may finally be righted.

NFL draft grades are really made in these rounds 04/24/10 [Last modified: Saturday, April 24, 2010 12:49am]

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