Alan Dell

Commentary | Tampa Bay Buccaneers are better but hold off on grading Dominik's draft

Draft day in the NFL is like the first day of spring training.

It's sacrilegious to harbor negative thoughts.

But somebody has to do it when it comes to our beloved Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

To Mark Dominik's credit, this is the hardest of his four drafts with which to find fault. But let's not anoint him a genius as some long-suffering Bucs fans are doing.

Painful memories can cause delusional thoughts.

If filling a team's needs is a primary way to judge a draft, the Bucs GM would receive a nice report card to show his bosses, the Glazers. But buyer beware: The Bucs have so many desperate needs, particularly on defense, that nearly any pick is an improvement.

The Bucs draft definitely has the stamp of new coach Greg Schiano. The Jersey guy with the Tony Soprano mantra is about toughness and physicality, which isn't bad for a Bucs defense that played as if they got points for allowing opponents to break tackles last season.

Schiano took the tough-guy approach in choosing Alabama safety Mark Barron with the Bucs' first pick instead of selecting LSU's Morris Claiborne, the top-rated cornerback in the draft.

Conventional wisdom says you don't select a safety in the top 10 and never ahead of an equally talented cornerback. Barron was con

sidered the best safety in the draft, but there are others who were close, including Notre Dame's Harrison Smith and LSU's Brandon Taylor.

Bill Parcells, maybe the best living football coach in the country, and others list four premium positions that teams should focus on with early picks: quarterback, offensive left tackle, pass rusher (either defensive end or outside linebacker) and cornerback.

Parcells says good teams move cornerbacks to safety when they can to keep up with today's modern offenses that like to spread out and throw the ball all over the place.

"Those are still the four," says Charlie Casserly, NFL TV analyst and former NFL executive for 24 years.

Among the top five picks in the past seven NFL drafts, nearly 63 percent went to those four positions.

Five of the last six cornerbacks in the Pro Bowl were first-round picks.

According to many NFL coaches and executives, the one position that is moving into the "premium" category is "receiver with height." Guard and safety are among the two lowest-rated positions in importance.

Selecting a safety with the seventh overall pick raises questions, but then if you saw the Bucs play their final 10 games last season you would've called the Red Cross.

The Bucs had the worst defense in the NFL, and Dominik must have gone home every Sunday night wondering if those dreams he had of his safeties playing without arms were real.

Tanard Jackson and Sean Jones missed more than 40 combined tackles to make up the worst safety tackling tandem in the NFL. That's why they are gone and Barron is a resident of One Buc Place.

Schiano sees a head hunter in Barron. And if bountygate had not surfaced, he might have given his new safety a list of targets.

Few will doubt Barron's physicality, and he seems to be a high-character guy. But he is what you call an in-the-box safety, and his coverage skills come under question, particularly playing in a division that features Drew Brees, Matt Ryan and Cam Newton.

Rule changes on hits and wide-open offenses have caused major problems for safeties who don't have coverage speed, making many irrelevant. Even mediocre quarterbacks will expose those safeties. Last year, Houston started two safeties who used to be starting cornerbacks, giving credence to Parcells' argument.

It begs the question of whether it was smart to use a No. 7 pick when the Bucs could have gotten Claiborne and another tough safety, perhaps even Barron, later.

If you now count tall receivers among the "premium positions," the Bucs were one of two organizations not to select a premium position player among the teams picking into the top 10. The other was Cleveland, which chose Trent Richardson, considered the best running back in the draft since 2007 had Adrian Peterson.

The Bucs perhaps believe Aqib Talib will snag a get-of-jail card or avoid suspension, Ronde Barber will be effective heading into this 16th season at age 37, and newly acquired Eric Wright will be a top-of-the-line commodity at corner.

Pro-Bowl type corners are so hard to find you don't pass them up.

But the Bucs did some nice things in free agency and are definitely an improved team.

Everyone but LeGarrette Blount must like Boise State running back Doug Martin, who the Bucs moved up to get at the end of the first round with the 31st pick.

Gil Brandt, former Dallas Cowboys vice president for player personnel for 28 years, had Claiborne ranked the sixth-best player in the draft and Barron 19th. Behind top-ranked running back Trenton Richardson (fifth overall), he had Lamar Miller of Miami 49th, Martin 50th and Virginia Tech's David Wilson (chosen by the Giants) at 53rd.

Dominik basically gave up Claiborne to move up to get Martin, whom the Giants figured to select with the 32nd pick. The GM and Schiano said it doesn't matter because they wanted Barron all along. The jury will decide the merits of that move somewhere down the road.

You can understand Schiano's love affair with Martin. He is as a close to a Ray Rice clone as you can get, and Schiano would not be an NFL coach right now if he didn't have Rice as his running back at Rutgers to make his resume shine. The 5-foot-9, 223-pound Martin is a three-down back who can catch and block.

With Mason Foster the only thing you like about the linebacking corps, the Bucs moving up to get Nebraska linebacker Lavonte David in the second round seems to be a positive move, though he is a little undersized at 6-1, 223 pounds. Schiano says he is very athletic and has good pass coverage skills.

The junior college transfer played two years for the Cornhuskers and set a school single-season record with 152 tackles in 2010. Last season, he was moved to weak-side linebacker and had 133 tackles.

You are going to hate this, but Barrett Ruud led the Bucs in tackles three seasons, and middle linebackers are supposed to do that aren't they?

Oops, Ruud also played for Nebraska and was a second-round pick. And it was David who broke his single-season tackling record.

Sorry to ruin your beer!

"I think he can play all three linebacker positions. I think we will put him at one of the outside linebackers," Schiano said. "The way he runs and hits, we'll utilize his speed. As Mark mentioned, he is really a good cover linebacker and does some things out in space as well."

Now that they let Claiborne go to Dallas, the Bucs are in need of a quality cornerback so why not go after the Cowboys' Mike Jenkins, who could be the odd man out in Jerry Jones' domain. During free agency, Dallas signed Brandon Carr, which gives the 'Boys three starting cornerbacks.

A first-round pick in 2008, Jenkins has been a three-year starter, but the former Southeast High/USF standout has had to deal with injuries and had a disappointing season in 2010 after a Pro Bowl season.

He bounced back last year and was doing well despite dealing with a shoulder injury. When healthy and motivated, Jenkins can be one of the best cornerbacks in the league. The Bucs could've drafted him, but chose Talib.

Oh about that grade.

Well with its free agency moves, Dominik and his Bucs are certainly better on paper. But they don't play games on paper do they?

So Mr. Dominik we will send your grade in the mail at date to be determined.

Alan Dell, Herald sports writer, can be reached at 941-745-7080, ext. 2112.