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Once again it will be a new era of Buccaneers football in Tampa, where Lovie Smith has taken over for Greg Schiano and inherited an already-talented roster. Over the past two years the Bucs have poured a lot of money into free agency to acquire big-name players like Vincent Jackson and Dashon Goldson, traded for the likes of Darrelle Revis, and have drafted great finds like Doug Martin and Gerald McCoy.
The team can still afford to make some big moves in free agency — and that remains to be seen — but the Bucs’ work in the draft in recent years has been excellent.
Every Lovie Smith defense revolves around a talented edge rusher, an area where the Bucs are lacking. Picking seventh overall, the team will have its chance to grab the best available defensive end. If Jadeveon Clowney is around at No. 7 he’s the obvious choice, but in reality the Bucs have their picking between Missouri’s Kony Ealy and Auburn’s Dee Ford, both of whom are coming off of tremendous seasons in the SEC. Ealy was the conference’s co-Defensive Player of the Year, while Ford took home MVP honors at this year’s Senior Bowl.
One other option the Bucs have is to go after a standup edge rusher like a Khalil Mack or Anthony Barr. Mack could be used all over the field, as the FBS’s all-time leading sack artist proved in college. Barr was the West Coast’s Clowney, but may be better suited for a 3-4 defense.
Even though Revis is manning one side of the defense, the team struggled in coverage on the other. Johnathan Banks struggled and, even if Smith brings in a familiar veteran like Charles Tillman, the team needs to get younger at the cornerback position. The Bucs have a chance to nab a top-level corner early in Round 2, with the likes of a Lamarcus Joyner or Kyle Fuller possibly around. Smith drafted Tillman in the second round but has also turned late-round selections like Zachary Bowman into starters.
And while the team spent big bucks on guard Carl Nicks, both he and the rest of the line struggled last season. The unit will have to be addressed both through free agency and the draft. There’s some talent at the top of the draft at the position, but if the team doesn’t strike in the first or second rounds they may be able to get a steal in the third or fourth. Baylor’s Cyril Richardson and Alabama’s Anthony Steen could be around at that time, while Notre Dame’s Chris Watt or Miami’s Brandon Linder could fall into Round 5 or so.
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