Wednesday, January 17, 2018
Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Tampa Bay Bucs expect to add defensive backs in NFL draft

TAMPA — As Bucs coach Greg Schiano and general manager Mark Dominik plot their course of action in this week's NFL draft, they'll do their level best to focus more on the best available players versus players who fulfill needs.

And it all sounds pretty good — in theory.

"I think the smartest thing to do is let the draft tackle itself and proceed accordingly," Dominik said. "Instead of playing what-if games, just look at the draft as its own thing. The reality is, you try not to let your strengths or weaknesses determine which player to take at the time. You don't want to prevent yourself from saying this is the best player for this team at this time."

But it will take significant discipline to ignore the reality in the Bucs' secondary. Can the brain trust look at a thin group of safeties and not make it a draft priority? Is it possible not to focus on cornerbacks when your most experienced one is 37 (Ronde Barber) and your most talented one (Aqib Talib) is in a contract year and facing a felony trial this summer?

That's why, despite the Bucs' intent, conventional wisdom says they'll grab LSU cornerback Morris Claiborne with the fifth overall choice Thursday night. And the Bucs probably will continue supplementing the secondary, with several early- to mid-round safeties among the options they'll consider on Friday and Saturday.

Even the principled Dominik admits that, at times, when the need is great — as in this case — you can't help but factor it into draft decisions.

"You have to balance it out," he said. "There's no debate. That has to come into play."

There's also little debate about the merits of drafting Claiborne, the consensus top defensive back in this draft. Perhaps his best attribute is making plays on the ball using his long frame and his solid technique.

"He's got wide receiver type ball skills," ESPN analyst Mel Kiper Jr. said. "… When the ball is in the air, it's his."

And those are qualities the Bucs could use regardless of who currently is on the roster.

As the NFL continues to evolve into a pass-first league, with long-standing offensive records falling everywhere, defending such offenses becomes more difficult without proper personnel.

"In this league, he's needed," Kiper added.

The Bucs have quarterbacks Cam Newton, Tony Romo, Eli Manning and Drew Brees on their 2012 schedule — and that's just in the first six weeks. Peyton Manning and Philip Rivers loom later.

"You're always looking for the right fit (with cornerbacks)," Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt said. "And you're always looking for more. It seems like you can never have enough.

"It's such an important value position in the league."

If the Bucs can get the best guy at that position in this draft, it would be hard not to consider that a success. Claiborne, winner of the Thorpe Award, hopes to continue his dominance in the NFL. He seems to pattern his game after the right player, too.

"I watch a lot of Darrelle Revis," Claiborne said, referring to the Jets' All-Pro cornerback. "He's one of the best corners doing it right now. I admire the way he plays."

The Bucs seem to admire Claiborne, but so do the Vikings, who own the third overall choice.

As for safety, the Bucs are woefully thin after the release of Tanard Jackson and the decision not to re-sign free agent Sean Jones, who struggled in 2011. The Bucs likely won't have a shot to draft Alabama's Mark Barron, expected to be chosen later in the first round, but Harrison Smith of Notre Dame and Brandon Taylor of LSU are options in the second and third rounds, respectively.

The Bucs would like to make their picks irrespective of their needs. But needs in the secondary are great, probably too great to be ignored.

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