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Bucs in middle of chase for NFL's No. 1 pick

Lavonte David
Lavonte David
Published Dec. 14, 2014

Yes, Bucs fans, we've heard from you this week and understand your concerns about Tampa Bay bungling its way out of the top pick in the NFL draft by, you know, winning a game.

With five teams all with 2-11 records and three weeks to play, much can change at the top of the draft. To be clear, the Bucs aren't guaranteed the top pick if they lose out — the tiebreaker, counterintuitively, is on reverse strength of schedule, so the worse your opponents fare, the higher you can pick.

Entering today's games, the Bucs' opponents are a combined 98-107-3, the worst of the five 2-11 teams, which is why they would have the first pick today. But the Titans' opponents are 101-106-1, essentially two games in back of the Bucs, with 47 NFL games left to be played.

So if you're pulling only for the Bucs to get the top pick, that means rooting for the other 2-11 teams (Titans, Jaguars, Jets and Raiders) to win. Nine games this weekend have an impact on that Bucs-Titans tiebreaker. Toward that end, you especially want the Steelers to beat the Falcons, and the Jaguars to upset the Ravens.

The last five NFL teams to be 2-11 went a combined 1-14 the last three weeks of the season. And the four Bucs teams that have been 2-11 went a combined 1-11 in their last three games. But the opposite can happen: The 2009 Browns, for instance, were 2-11, then went 3-0 to finish the season, dropping to No. 7 in the draft (but still got a top-tier cornerback in Joe Haden).

Along the same lines, the Bucs' biggest examples of winning games late to fall from near the top of the draft proved the No. 1 pick isn't always the best player.

In 1994, the Bucs were 2-9 and finished 4-1 in their last five, dropping them to the No. 7 pick. They traded down from that pick and took … future Hall of Famer Warren Sapp.

And in 2009, the Bucs were 1-12, only to finish the year 2-1, which knocked them from the top pick — oft-injured QB Sam Bradford — and to No. 3, where they found … another elite player in DT Gerald McCoy.

Slim pickings for picks at LB

Bucs linebacker Lavonte David had five interceptions last year, but has none this season. Carolina's Luke Kuechly, who had four last year, also has none. Detroit's DeAndre Levy, who led NFL linebackers with six picks last year, has only one.

Across the board, linebacker interceptions are way down across the NFL, and even Bucs coach Lovie Smith isn't sure why.

"I knew Lavonte's were down, but I just assumed there were a few linebackers out there that had interceptions," Smith said Friday.

Last year, the NFL had 11 linebackers with three or more interceptions. This year, there is only one — Tampa Bay's Danny Lansanah, who has three. The NFL's top 10 tacklers last year combined for 24 interceptions; this season they have five.

"Linebackers, it's a stereotype, but as a general rule, they don't have good hands. Most of them don't," Smith said. "Lavonte has good hands. Luke Kuechly, Lance Briggs, these are guys that have good hands. Sometimes, for whatever reason, they don't get the opportunities."

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Interceptions as a whole are down this year — on course for a 10.2 percent drop from 2013 — as officiating changes limiting downfield contact perhaps help receivers and offenses. But with just three weeks left in the season, linebackers have almost exactly half the picks they finished with last year: 55, down from 109 at the end of 2013.

Smith said his linebackers haven't even had interception opportunities — there aren't memorable drops that jump to mind for players like David this season.

"I would be really disappointed if he's dropped a lot of interceptions. He hasn't," Smith said. "Some years, the ball doesn't bounce that way."

David's Pro Bowl dilemma

It was an egregious snub last year when Bucs linebacker Lavonte David wasn't selected to the Pro Bowl, despite ranking in the top five in the NFL in tackles, along with seven sacks and five interceptions.

This year, with a prolific 121 tackles but zero sacks and zero interceptions, it's a harder sell to get him to the Pro Bowl, as he ranks eighth among NFL outside linebackers in the latest voting results.

Count Bucs coach Lovie Smith among those annoyed that the NFL lumps 4-3 OLBs in with 3-4 OLBs, who often are used more like defensive ends, primarily as pass-rushers.

"One of the injustices out there is how we do that," Smith said Friday. "For us, those (3-4s) aren't outside linebackers. Those to us are defensive ends, those are rush guys. To me, as I talk about a linebacker, I'm talking about a guy that can play in space, that can rush, that can drop (into) man coverage. There's a wide variety of things that we're asking (David) to do. … Most of the time, when those Pro Bowl ballots go in, you look: 'Okay, how many sacks does he have?'"

Of the seven OLBs getting more votes than David, six are in 3-4 defenses, and the other, Denver's Von Miller, is used extensively like a pass-rushing end. All seven have at least five sacks, and four have 13 or more.

The voting doesn't bode well for David, who was honored as an All-Pro last season despite missing the trip to Hawaii. The Bucs' weekly notes make a case for three players as Pro Bowl-worthy — David, DT Gerald McCoy, who ranks fifth in the Pro Bowl voting at his position, and rookie WR Mike Evans, whose 10 touchdown catches tie him for fourth in the NFL.

PROJECTED STARTERS

BUCS

OFFENSE

WR Vincent Jackson 83

LT Oniel Cousins 75

LG Logan Mankins 70

C Evan Dietrich-Smith 62

RG Patrick Omameh 66

RT Demar Dotson 69

TE Luke Stocker 88

WR Mike Evans 13

QB Josh McCown 12

RB Doug Martin 22

WR Louis Murphy 18

DEFENSE

DE Jacquis Smith 56

DT Gerald McCoy 93

DT Akeem Spence 97

DE Michael Johnson 90

SLB Danny Lansanah 51

MLB Mason Foster 59

WLB Lavonte David 54

LCB Alterraun Verner 21

RCB Johnthan Banks 27

SS Bradley McDougald 30

FS Dashon Goldson 38

SPECIAL TEAMS

P/KO Michael Koenen 9

PK Patrick Murray 7

LS Andrew DePaola 48

KR/PR Solomon Patton 11

PANTHERS

OFFENSE

WR Jerricho Cotchery 82

LT Byron Bell 77

LG Andrew Norwell 68

C Ryan Kalil 66

RG Trai Turner 70

RT Mike Remmers 74

TE Greg Olsen 88

WR Kelvin Benjamin 13

QB DerekAnderson 3

RB Jonathan Stewart 28

FB Mike Tolbert 35

DEFENSE

DE Charles Johnson 95

DT Kawann Short 99

DT Star Lotulelei 98

DE Wes Horton 96

LB A.J. Klein 56

LB Luke Kuechly 59

LB Thomas Davis 58

CB Bene Benwikere 25

CB Josh Norman 24

S Roman Harper 41

S Tre Boston 33

SPECIAL TEAMS

P Brad Nortman 8

PK Graham Gano 9

LS J.J. Jansen 44

KR/PR Philly Brown 16

THE POLL

Given their struggles this season, the Bucs should use their first pick of the upcoming draft on:

What they're saying

The Bucs didn't think it was funny the last time they saw Derek Anderson, and they won't think it's funny again. Panthers get a step closer to an unlikely division title, and the Bucs get a step closer to an unexpected top-three draft pick.

Mike Florio, ProFootballTalk.com

The Buccaneers will have to seriously consider giving Mike Glennon another run over the final three games — Josh McCown is clearly not the answer. The offensive line and secondary shouldn't escape without blame either.

Dan Schneier, Fox Sports

The picks

Panthers backup quarterback Derek Anderson beat the Bucs in the season opener and will beat them again. The Bucs' record, as coach Lovie Smith puts it, stays "two-and-whatever.'' Panthers, 24--10.

Tom Jones, Times Sports Columnist

The Panthers found something last week in New Orleans, and they are still alive in the playoff chase. The Cam Newton situation after his car accident Tuesday could mean he's out for a while. The Bucs are eliminated, and they are playing a second straight road game. That's tough. If Newton can't go, the Panthers will be in trouble. Bucs, 20-17.

Pete Prisco, CBSsports.com

I never saw Carolina's 41-10 win over New Orleans coming, and if you did, please proceed directly to Vegas. That miss dropped my record to 7-5-1 predicting the Panthers on the season. Anderson is going to do enough Sunday to beat the Bucs a second time this year. Carolina, 24-13.

Scott Fowler, Charlotte Observer

THREE QUESTIONS

TE Cameron Brate

Do you have a favorite place to eat in town?

I know this is lame, but it's going to be Chipotle. It's my spot no matter what. I love Chipotle. You've got to go bowl, but you have to get tortilla on the side. That's the way you get the most. It's the way to go. Chicken. I try to keep it lean.

You must get this all the time, but who calls you "Harvard" the most?

Definitely Russell Shepard. I get more flak from Russell than anyone else. There could be a lot worse things they call me.

So with that education, who is the smartest person on the team?

Austin (Seferian-Jenkins) thinks he's the smartest guy on the team. I don't know if that counts. Matt Patchan. I don't know if he's the smartest guy on the team, but he's very well-spoken and very opinionated. If you want to talk about anything, he'll talk your ear off. He wants to be a lawyer some day, but he's a smart dude.

Bonus question: Best rookie moment?

Just getting out against the Bengals, getting the start, playing against guys I've been watching my whole life. Like Terence Newman, I told him, "Man, I've been watching you since I was 12 years old, now I'm playing against you." That was a surreal moment, something I'll always remember.

Injury report

BUCS — Questionable: LB Mason Foster (Achilles), DT Gerald McCoy (knee), DT Clinton McDonald (hamstring), WR Solomon Patton (foot), RB Bobby Rainey (ankle), TE Austin Seferian-Jenkins (back), S Major Wright (ribs). Probable: T Anthony Collins (elbow), LB Lavonte David (concussion), TE Brandon Myers (calf)

PANTHERS — Out: QB Cam Newton (back), G Amini Silatolu (knee). Doubtful: RB DeAngelo Williams (hand). Probable: WR Philly Brown (shoulder), CB Carrington Byndom (illness), C Ryan Kalil (not injury related), LB A.J. Klein (knee), TE Greg Olsen (knee), G Chris Scott (foot), RB Jonathan Stewart (hip)

Jameis Winston, Florida State

Marcus Mariota, Oregon

Amari cooper, Alabama

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