April 16, 2012 at 11:16am by Scott • 9 Comments »
Now that Tanard Jackson has been cut (and subsequently gobbled up by the Redskins where he will be under the eye of Raheem Morris), the Bucs have to get some help at safety. Roy Cummings breaks down the possibilities.
One, of course, is to promote from within, where the Bucs are still high on Larry Asante and intrigued by the playmaking ability of Ahmad Black, the former Gators defender they drafted in the fifth round last year.
The Bucs who were most intrigued by Asante and Black last year have been fired and this new group has nothing but mediocre tape of these guys right now to make heir determination, so I’m going to guess that the team will hedge their bets and bring in some new talent. Trusting important positions to kids who hadn’t proven anything may have been the strategy last season, but I don’t think that’s flying anymore.
There is also free agency to consider. Though the top-level safeties have been gobbled up, the potential to land a serviceable starter such as O.J. Atogwe or Melvin Bullitt is still there, and the Bucs are still shopping.
Atogwe or Bullitt would be good competition at the position. Neither is a long-term solution, but either is better than, say, Sean Jones. Cody Grimm is the most senior vet with two years of experience behind him. Regardless of what else they do to add depth, they do need someone with some years.
Finally, there is the draft. Though, most analysts agree this year’s safety class is not an exceptional one, there are couple of players projected to go in the top three rounds the Bucs could be targeting.
One Tampa Bay fans might want to get to know a little better is Harrison Smith, a chiseled 6-foot-2, 213-pound Notre Dame product who most scouts rate as a second-round talent and some see as a top-50 pick.
Safety is one of the weakest positions in the draft and Smith is starting to rise up draft boards. Smith is a really solid safety prospect, great speed and range, effective against the run and great leadership and intangibles. He’s an excellent athlete, well-built and strong and a hard hitter. He is not a “playmaker” — not a lot of interceptions or splash plays. He can run hot and cold sometimes and will miss tackles from time to time. His big weakness is man coverage, so free safety would be tough. Because he’s a clean cut white boy, he’s going to get compared to John Lynch, but it’s about three years too early for that. In any other draft, Smith would be a mid to late second, but he could easily get pushed into the first this year. If he’s still there when the Bucs pick in the second, they’ll have to take him then if they want him because there’s no way he lasts much longer than that.
Brandon Taylor (LSU) is a better cover safety but not as hard a hitter as Smith. Otherwise they’re pretty similar. Taylor will be available in the second or third. George Iloka (Boise St) is a more raw prospect but is a former cornerback with great height and leaping ability and could really excel as a cover safety with the right coaching. He is not a good tackler and takes poor angles, but I bet Greg Schiano and his crew could get him up to speed in that department. Iloka will be available in the third and possibly the fourth.
I think if most teams were to draft Morris Claiborne in the first, they wouldn’t be inclined to spend their second on a safety, but the Bucs aren’t most teams. They’ve spent the last two drafts picking back to back DTs and DEs in the first and second. They need help in a lot of other areas, but Claiborne/Smith would be a nice 1-2 punch. But one more draft with back to back defensive players in the top two rounds and expectations are going to be pretty high for this defense. And rightly so. Personally, I would take Claiborne and a second-round linebacker and sign Otogwe and pick a lower-round safety. Linebacker seems more important.