Analysis: Tampa Bay Bucs rookie class gets mostly good marks

Doug Martin has displayed a strong all-around game.
Doug Martin has displayed a strong all-around game.
Published Dec. 28, 2012

TAMPA — Long before the Bucs kicked off their season, even months prior to the start of training camp, came an important time for the franchise.

The final weekend in April might one day be remembered as a pivotal moment in Bucs history. That was when the team made the selections that make up the 2012 draft class, one the club hopes serves it well for years to come.

For their part, the group arrived with big plans.

"None of us came here to lose," said safety Mark Barron, the seventh overall selection out of Alabama. "You can see it in the competitiveness of all the guys."

With Barron, Doug Martin, Lavonte David and other rookies nearing the end of their initial seasons, it presents an opportunity to assess their contributions so far and their roles going forward.

SS Mark Barron

The first of the team's two first-round picks, Barron is the Bucs' third-leading tackler with 87 total stops, including four for losses. It's arguable he didn't have the splash hoped for from a player drafted with the No. 7 pick overall, but one thing that can be said of Barron is he has been solid.

Because free safety Ronde Barber often plays closer to the line of scrimmage than Barron, he frequently is relegated to the back end. His strengths, coming out of Alabama, were seen as his hitting and tackling abilities.

But starting 16 games as a rookie is always a good thing.

"The experience in general was great," Barron said. "I got great experience and that's something I can grow from."

OUTLOOK: Here to stay

LB Lavonte David

It's likely no Buccaneer will ever wear No. 55 again, the jersey worn by sure Hall of Fame linebacker Derrick Brooks. But there are times when No. 54, second-round pick David out of Nebraska, makes you wonder if he might one day be discussed in the same conversations as Brooks. His cat-quick, sideline-to-sideline style is matched by his understanding of the game that allows him to function at a veteran level.

A handful of rookie mistakes have cropped up, but David's potential for growth is tantalizing.

OUTLOOK: Here to stay

LB Najee Goode

This fifth-round choice from West Virginia has appeared in just two games, but the Bucs see potential, influencing them to keep him on the active roster despite his limited use.

"He's been (inactive) most weeks but was up last week, and I thought he played well on special teams," coach Greg Schiano said. "He's a guy that I think has promise."

Much of that is assessed during practice, where Goode has had a chance to show his abilities against the starting offense while on the scout team.

OUTLOOK: Need to see more

S Keith Tandy

The preseason is never a great indicator of anything, but don't discount Tandy's team-leading 24 tackles in the exhibition season. The sixth-round pick out of West Virginia hasn't gotten consistent playing time on defense during the regular season, but his play on special teams has been valuable.

One reason the team sees Tandy as an important piece is his flexibility. He has spent this season working as a safety but also has the ability to play nickel cornerback.

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OUTLOOK: Favorable

RB Michael Smith

You wouldn't know his name from watching games on Sundays — he has been activated for just one game this season — but the seventh-round choice out of Utah State seems to have made quite the impression on Schiano.

"I think Mike's got promise," Schiano said. "Most of the time you see him on the (scout) team, but he's done a really good job. … He really shows that he's got some stuff."

The Bucs have had three other running backs active on most Sundays, precluding Smith from playing. But his speed and power are intriguing to the team.

OUTLOOK: Favorable

CB Leonard Johnson

There was a time when no one would have predicted that Johnson would even make this list. Undrafted, he first had to earn his way onto the roster via a tryout in rookie minicamp. Then he had to make the final roster.

Eventually, Johnson earned the opportunity to play a sizable role due to injuries and suspensions.

The Clearwater native has had ups and downs while defending many of the NFL's top-flight receivers, but his fearlessness allowed him to have an impact: three interceptions and 38 tackles while starting five games.

"He made plays," Schiano said. "It's not like he just kind of filled in."

OUTLOOK: Very good

RB Doug Martin

If you like your running backs to break tackles, records and opponents' hearts, then Martin is your man.

He did it all for the Bucs this season: churned out tough yards in short yardage; made long, game-breaking runs; and caught 45 passes for 454 yards.

Currently the NFL's sixth-leading rusher, Martin has a team rookie record 1,312 yards and 10 touchdowns. But it's his less-obvious traits that also appeal to the Bucs. Martin has handled the ball 336 times and has fumbled just once, on a play against Carolina that was arguably ruled incorrectly by officials.

OUTLOOK: Here to stay