SR’s Fab 5 is a collection of inside scoop, analysis and insight from yours truly, Pewter Report publisher and Bucs beat writer Scott Reynolds. Here are a few things that caught my attention this week at One Buc Place:
FAB 1. It’s time for Luke Stocker to step up for the Buccaneers at the tight end position. Aging veteran Dallas Clark is gone, and you can forget about Tampa Bay drafting a tight end like Notre Dame’s Tyler Eifert in the first round of the 2013 NFL Draft. I’ll get to that later in Fab 2.
First, let’s take a look at the tight ends the Bucs currently have on their 2013 offseason roster.
The reality is that Tampa Bay doesn’t really need another tight end. They already have plenty with six on the current roster. That’s enough to go to training camp with.
Stocker is the most experienced Buccaneer of the group that also includes Tom Crabtree, a veteran free agent import from Green Bay, Nate Byham, Danny Noble, newcomer Zach Miller and Drake Dunsmore, a seventh-round pick a year ago who spent last season on the practice squad.
Dunsmore is the smallest tight end on the roster, listed at 6-foot-3, 235 pounds. He was an excellent receiver at Northwestern, and has the chance to be a combination H-back/fullback in Tampa Bay if he can add some more size during the offseason. That would help his chances of making the 2013 active roster.
Miller spent three seasons in Jacksonville where he caught 45 passes for 470 yards and four touchdowns in 33 games with five starts. He has the most career receptions and yards of any tight end on Tampa Bay’s roster. At 6-foot-5, 236 pounds, Miller needs to work on his blocking and is more of a receiving-type tight end, as is Noble.
Noble spent half of his rookie season on injured reserve after seeing action in four games early in the year. Noble is also a pass-catching tight end that is learning how to block. At 6-foot-5, 248 pounds, the former Toledo star has 12 pounds of bulk on Miller and has the chance to be an all-around tight end.
Crabtree, who played in 46 games in Green Bay with 16 starts over three seasons, has caught 18 passes for 302 yards and four touchdowns. His best season was last year with eight catches for 203 yards with three touchdowns as he started six games and backed up Jermichael Finley. Crabtree showed off his speed with a 72-yard touchdown catch, which is his career long. At 6-foot-4, 245 pounds, Crabtree is a better receiver than he is a blocker at this stage of his career.
The Bucs believe they have two all-around tight ends that can catch and block in Byham and Stocker. At 6-foot-4, 264 pounds, Byham has the size to be a pretty good in-line blocker. Byham was acquired by Tampa Bay for the final 11 games in 2012, and caught three passes for 18 yards, including his first and only career touchdown at Carolina. Byham has eight career catches for 45 yards and one score.
At 6-foot-6, 253 pounds, Stocker is the tallest tight end on the Bucs roster and might have the most potential. The Bucs invested a fourth-round pick on him in 2011 and also traded away a fourth-rounder in 2012 to move up to get the Tennessee product.
Stocker had 16 receptions for 165 yards and one touchdown last year after catching 12 passes for 92 yards as a rookie. As the number two tight end behind Clark, Stocker’s highlights were few and far between, but still worth reviewing.
Stocker’s first catch of the 2012 season came in Week 3 against Dallas when he caught a 1-yard touchdown pass off play-action at the goal line. That scoring reception was the first and only of Stocker’s two-year career.
In Tampa Bay’s 35-28 home loss to New Orleans, Stocker caught a career-long 33-yard pass. The big tight end showed good movement and decent yards-after-catch potential.
In the final three games of the 2012 campaign, Stocker was as active in Tampa Bay’s offense as he’s ever been. He was targeted 10 times by Freeman over those last three games and caught eight passes for 89 yards.
Stocker’s best game of his career came in the Bucs’ 22-17 win over Atlanta in the season finale. He had three catches for 50 yards, including a 26-yard grab off play action.
After seeing his rookie season limited by injury, Stocker was able to play in all 16 games in 2012, starting 11 as the Bucs would often open the game with two-tight end sets. He showed enough potential, especially in December, to possibly ascend into the starting spot in his third season in the NFL. That’s what the Bucs are hoping for anyways.
Stocker’s biggest threats in terms of battling for the number one job are likely Crabtree and Byham. Those three players stand the best chance right now of earning roster spots in September, but if the light comes on for Noble or Dunsmore or if Miller makes a favorable first impression things could get real interesting at the tight end position in training camp in August.
Is Stocker one of the upper echelon tight ends in the NFL? No, he hasn’t shown the consistency or the capability to elevate himself into that group. But the Bucs don’t need him to be. If he can produce Clark-like numbers next year with 47 catches for 435 yards and four touchdowns, as Clark did in 2012, Stocker will be a fine starter in Tampa Bay’s offense.
If you want a refresher course to see what he’s capable of, check out Stocker’s highlight video from Tennessee by clicking here.
The Bucs feel Stocker can become a starting-caliber player in 2013, but the team is unsure about the rest of the tight ends. Does Tampa Bay have a number two tight end, or just a bunch of number three tight ends? Training camp will help answer that question.
FAB 2. For those suggesting the Bucs need or want to select a tight end early in the draft, it’s doubtful to happen. Yes, the team has plenty of unproven tight ends that have invite more questions than present answers.
Tampa Bay will likely spend its premium picks on defensive players – think a cornerback and a defensive lineman – or possibly a unique offensive player like mammoth Alabama right tackle D.J. Fluker or West Virginia wide receiver Tavon Austin. Don’t expect the Bucs to draft a tight end until the third round at the absolute earliest.
Tampa Bay likes San Diego State’s 6-foot-6, 254-pound Gavin Escobar, who is expected to be a late second-round or early third-round pick. Despite having good size, Escobar, a junior entry, is a much better receiver than he is an in-line blocker, and typically lined up in the slot for the Aztecs. Escobar caught 42 passes for 543 yards and six touchdowns to lead the team in 2012, but those numbers were down from his sophomore year when he caught 51 passes for 780 yards and seven scores.
Cincinnati’s Travis Kelce has good size at 6-foot-5, 255 pounds and was a mega-producer for the Bearcats. He burst on to the scene as a senior in 2012, catching 45 passes for 722 yards and eight touchdowns to lead the Bearcats. Kelce, who had 35-inch vertical jump and ran the 40-yard dash in 4.62 seconds, is likely a high third-round pick due to his ability to block and catch.
Those two players could be third-round options, but those clamoring for Notre Dame’s Tyler Eifert, a likely first-round pick, or Stanford’s Zach Ertz, a sure bet to be drafted in the second round, need to understand a few things, including how insignificant a role the tight end plays in Tampa Bay’s offense.
Remember that the Bucs didn’t acquire starter Dallas Clark until May 21, which was over two months past the start of free agency and nearly a month afte
r the draft. If the tight end position was so important, Tampa Bay wouldn’t have waited so long to get a starter at the position – and it wouldn’t have been an aging veteran like Clark, who is past his prime.
The Bucs also passed on getting some of the premium veteran tight ends available in free agency this year, including Jared Cook, James Casey, Delanie Walker, Martellus Bennett and Fred Davis. If the tight end position was truly important in Tampa Bay’s offense one of these veterans would have been acquired, especially with all of the Bucs’ salary cap room available.
Offensive coordinator Mike Sullivan directs most of the passes in his offense to the team’s top two wide receivers, Vincent Jackson and Mike Williams. Jackson led the team with a career-high 72 catches for 1,384 yards and eight touchdowns while being targeted 147 times. Williams was second on the team with 63 receptions for a career-high 996 yards and a team-leading nine touchdowns while being targeted 127 times.
Clark, last year’s starting tight end caught 47 passes for 435 yards and four touchdowns while being targeted 76 times. But rookie running back Doug Martin was the Bucs’ third-leading receiver with 49 catches for 472 yards and a touchdown while being targeted 71 times.
After a breakout rookie campaign, you can bet that Martin will probably be targeted closer to 100 times with passes from Josh Freeman in 2013. That will likely mean less opportunities for a tight end in Sullivan’s offense, which mirrors that of the New York Giants.
The Giants have rolled through tight ends in recent years, treating them like commodities. Jeremy Shockey gave way to Kevin Boss, who gave way to Jake Ballard, who was replaced by Bennett, who was replaced by Brandon Myers. Don’t be surprised if the Bucs take a similar approach.
The whole “Freeman needs a good tight end to be a safety blanket” is a farce. Kellen Winslow produced as many penalties and interceptions as he did touchdowns, and was replaced by Clark, who will likely be replaced by third-year pro Luke Stocker.
The hierarchy of Sullivan’s passing game is Jackson first, Williams second, Martin third and either the slot receiver or the tight end fourth in terms of opportunities or importance. So does it really make sense for the Bucs to burn a first- or second-round pick on a tight end that will be nothing more than the fourth-best option for Freeman in Sullivan’s passing hierarchy?
The answer is a resounding no. That means no Eifert and no Ertz, and possibly no tight end until the third day of the draft.
The reality is that the Bucs will likely target a tight end late in the draft because of the insignificance of the position in Sullivan’s offense. Nevada’s 6-foot-7, 253-pound Zach Sudfeld, UCLA’s 6-foot-8, 259-pound Joseph Fauria and Rutgers’ 6-foot-6, 255-pound D.C. Jefferson are options for Tampa Bay in the sixth round. The bet here is Jefferson, who was recruited to play for the Scarlet Knights by Bucs head coach Greg Schiano.
FAB 3. Georgia linebacker Jarvis Jones was once thought of as the top defensive player in the 2013 NFL Draft. In mock drafts done at the end of 2012, Jones named was often linked to Jacksonville at No. 2, Oakland at No. 3 and Philadelphia at No. 4.
Jones was coming off a dominant junior season for the Bulldogs in which he was a one-man-gang when it came to tackles, a sack machine when it came to rushing the passer and a turnover fiend that forced fumbles. But then reports surfaced that Jones, who had transferred to Georgia from USC where he suffered a back injury, had spinal stenosis, which was a narrowing of the spinal cord.
Those initial reports caused his draft stock to plummet, but Jones received good news with more intensive medical testing showing that he did not in fact have spinal stenosis.
Jones visited Dr. Craig Brigham, a Charlotte orthopedist, in March and he issued a letter that said that Jones only had suffered a mild spinal-cord concussion at USC, which had been resolved for some time.
Either way, spinal stenosis wouldn’t have necessarily impacted Jones’ performance on the field for years – just the longevity of his career. San Diego offensive tackle Marcus McNeil was a second-round pick in 2006 and played six years in the NFL with the condition. McNeill was a two-time Pro Bowler before he retired last year at age 29.
So armed with a supposed clean bill of health, Jones had an opportunity at the his pro day to boost his draft stock and climb back into the top 10 and become the first linebacker taken in the first round. Instead, Jones underwhelmed, running a 4.92 in the 40-yard dash. Scouts expected Jones, who is of normal size at 6-foot-3, and weighs 241 pounds, to run a 4.7.
The results of his agility drills were pedestrian and it’s evident that Jones doesn’t have elite athleticism. Just like former Florida All-American linebacker Brandon Spikes, who had first-round production, but third-round athleticism that caused him to be selected by New England with the 62nd overall pick, Jones is a football player and not a great athlete.
Oakland Raiders general manager Reggie McKenzie told the Atlanta Journal Constitution, “You can never dispel what you see on tape.”
In two years at Georgia, Jones recorded 155 tackles, 44 tackles for loss, 28 sacks, nine forced fumbles, five pass breakups and one interception. In a breakthrough sophomore campaign in 2011, Jones recorded 70 tackles, 13.5 sacks and two forced fumbles. Last year, Jones notched 85 tackles, 24.5 tackles for loss and 14.5 sacks, which set a new Georgia record, in addition to seven forced fumbles, which led the nation.
Jones shined in Georgia’s biggest games. In two victories against Florida, he notched seven sacks and three forced fumbles. In a 32-28 loss to Alabama in the SEC Championship, Jones recorded six tackles, three tackles for loss, two sacks and a forced fumble. In a 45-31 bowl win over Nebraska last year, Jones notched eight tackles, two tackles for loss and two sacks. Check out his highlight reel by clicking here (obscene language warning).
Because of his slow 40-yard dash time, Jones will likely be on the board when Tampa Bay picks with the 13th overall selection. The Bucs may not see a ton of value in using a first-round pick on a strongside linebacker, especially when that player is typically off the field when the team deploys its nickel or dime defense, which is about 40-50 percent of the snaps. But the Bucs need to at least consider a player with Jones’ production and playmaking ability.
There are times when slow 40-yard dash times cause players’ draft stock to drop despite tremendous college production. The best example of this was Baltimore’s Pro Bowl pass rusher Terrell Suggs, who set an NCAA record with 24 sacks during his senior year at Arizona State.
Suggs was considered to be a top-five talent, but couldn’t run faster than a 4.8 in the 40-yard dash when scouts were expecting him to run in the 4.6-range. Suggs fell to the 10th overall pick where the Ravens scooped him up and he’s been one of the best pass rushers in the NFL since.
“He was productive,” said ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper, Jr. “He just didn’t run well. Some don’t. Look at Terrell Suggs. I think [Jones] goes in that top 15 to 17. I think he could go to New Orleans after 15, Pittsburgh at 17, maybe even as early as the Jets at nine. But if I had a say right now, it would be New Orleans at 15 or Pittsburgh at 17.”
The only problem comparing Jones, who is a two-time All-American at Georgia, and Suggs is that Jones is 10 pounds lighter, ran slower than Suggs and the fact that Suggs had the size to play both defensive end in a 4-3 scheme or outside linebacker in a 3-4 scheme in the NFL.
Jones has met with two top-five
teams – Philadelphia and Detroit – but chances are he will be available when Tampa Bay is on the clock. Could be the starting strongside linebacker? Could he challenge Mason Foster to be the starting middle linebacker? It’s worth pondering, and it’s something the Bucs have likely pondered, too, when doing their due diligence on the ultra-productive Jones.
FAB 4. The Buccaneers’ 2013 regular season schedule is out and I have plenty of thoughts and observations to share, but a prediction is not one of them.
There is no sense in forecasting wins and losses prior to the NFL Draft as the Bucs – or any NFL team – is an unfinished product right now. Plus, there are always surprises. Supposed playoff teams disappoint and underachieve, while a few teams shock the NFL with better-than-expected records and playoff berths.
I think Tampa Bay will have the talent to contend for a playoff spot in 2013, but will that be with nine wins, 10 victories or 11 triumphs? It’s too early to tell right now.
Here’s what is certain. The Bucs open with the New York Jets and that is a winnable game regardless of whether Pro Bowl cornerback is in red and pewter or green and white. As long as Mark Sanchez is the starting quarterback in New York, Tampa Bay has a very good shot at outscoring the Jets and starting the season 1-0.
Here is some more analysis of the Bucs’ schedule:
• Tampa Bay plays New England and Miami in both the preseason and the regular season. The Bucs travel to face the Patriots on August 16 and then again in Week 3 of the regular season on September 22. Expect both teams to be ultra-vanilla in their preseason clash. The same could be true of the Bucs vs. Dolphins preseason game on August 24, although both teams will have already put a lot on film before they meet on Monday Night Football in Tampa on November 11.
• If you don’t think the Bucs vs. Jets season opener had anything to do with the month-long storyline and headlines of a possible Tampa Bay-New York trade involving Revis, you’re not paying attention. The NFL loves drama, especially when it involves marquee players like Revis.
• The Bucs have two primetime games at home thanks to their prolific offense. There’s nothing better than an offensive shootout in a primetime game, and Tampa Bay’s offense features a plethora of players that have been to the Pro Bowl – wide receiver Vincent Jackson and running back Doug Martin recently, along with guards Carl Nicks and Davin Joseph and left tackle Donald Penn. The Bucs offense scored at least 21 points in six out of eight home games, including a pair of contests with over 30 points.
• The Bucs have 12 1:00 p.m. ET starts this season along with two games at 4:05 p.m. ET, including the home opener at New Orleans in Week 2 and an away game at Seattle in Week 9.
• There are no cold weather games on Tampa Bay’s 2013 schedule. The only chance for cold weather appears to be the Seattle game on November 3. The Bucs lucked out with their games in New York and in New England. Both of contests happen to be in September.
• The Bucs’ revamped secondary gets an early test. After what could be an easier time against struggling Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez in Week 1, the Bucs face future Hall of Famers in New Orleans’ Drew Brees and New England’s Tom Brady in Weeks 2-3. It might be increasingly difficult in Week 4 as the Bucs will face Arizona quarterback Carson Palmer. Last year while playing for Oakland, Palmer completed 39-of-61 passes for 414 yards with four touchdowns and three interceptions – all were season-highs – in a 42-32 loss to Tampa Bay.
• The Bucs’ bye week is in Week 5, which is the weekend of October 6, and nestled in between two home games. The last game prior to the bye is a home contest against Arizona on September 29, and the first game coming off the bye is a home contest against Philadelphia on October 13. After Tampa Bay returns from its game at New England on September 22, the team won’t travel again until its game in Atlanta on October 20.
• The Bucs face five opponents from last year in division rivals Atlanta, Carolina and New Orleans, in addition to games against Philadelphia and St. Louis. The Bucs lost at home to the Eagles and Rams, were swept by the Saints, split the series against the Falcons and swept the Panthers. Tampa Bay went 3-5 against those five teams last year.
• Tampa Bay closes out the season with just two home games out of the last six contests. The Bucs have two away games against Detroit and Carolina on November 24 and December 1 before coming home to play Buffalo and San Francisco on December 8 and 15. Then the team ends the season at St. Louis on December 22 and at New Orleans on December 29. In order for Tampa Bay to have a chance of making the playoffs, the Bucs will have to be road warriors down the stretch.
• Finally, I’m not sure if Tampa Bay’s 2013 schedule is hard or easy. It seems rather balanced, actually. There are no more than two games away at a time and two games at home at a time. I think the best opportunity for success comes earlier in the season and the chance for a 3-1 or 2-2 start before the bye week exists. At first glance, the stretch from the Carolina home game on Thursday Night Football on October 24 through the December 8 home contest against Buffalo seems favorable in that the Bucs could produce a winning record out of those seven games – maybe going 5-2 or 4-3. The real problem could be the final three contests, starting at home against San Francisco and followed by road games at St. Louis and New Orleans.
FAB 5. Here are a few things to hold you over until the next edition of SR’s Fab 5:
• Here’s something to consider when looking at the Bucs’ 2013 schedule. It’s interesting to note that Tampa Bay scored 195 points at home, averaging 24 points per game at Raymond James Stadium. Yet on the road, the Bucs scored 194 points, also averaging 24 points per contest. The Bucs wound up being 3-5 at home last year and 4-4 on the road. Despite a much-improved offense and point production, the Bucs couldn’t generate a winning record at home or away. Time to really shore up that defense in the draft, Mark Dominik.
• One final note about Tampa Bay’s 2013 schedule and the importance of finding some premier cornerbacks to team with Eric Wright. The Bucs face a slew of talented wide receivers this year, including Atlanta’s Julio Jones, New Orleans’ Marques Colston, Carolina’s Steve Smith, Philadelphia’s DeSean Jackson, Seattle’s Percy Harvin, San Francisco’s Michael Crabtree and Buffalo’s Steve Johnson. Oh, there’s also these two other receivers named Larry Fitzgerald (Arizona) and Calvin Johnson (Detroit) to contend with, too.
• If the Bucs don’t draft a quarterback next week, and I don’t expect them too given the sub-par group of signal callers, keep an eye on Southeastern Louisiana QB Nathan Stanley. His stats won’t wow you – he completed 177-of-327 passes for 1,952 yards with nine touchdowns and nine interceptions last year – but Stanley, who transferred from Ole Miss, is 6-foot-5, 218 pounds and has a big arm and the Bucs like him as an undrafted free agent.
• The Bucs will likely draft a running back to back up Doug Martin and attempt to deal LeGarrette Blount on or before draft day. The Bucs have had Wisconsin’s Montee Ball, Michigan State’s Le’Veon Bell and Texas A&M’s Christine Michael all in for official visits to One Buccaneer Place.
It’s interesting to note that Ball is considered to be a second-round pick, Bell is a second- or third-rounder, and Michael is either a third- or fourth-round prospect. Could the Bucs possibly consider using that high of a pick on a running back? Keep in mind that head coach Greg Schiano loves to run the ball, and if Martin goes down with an injury the running game goes south, as does Josh Freeman’s play-action passi
That’s why getting another starting-caliber running back is important for Tampa Bay. Running back is also a position that typically falls in the draft. Second-rounders can fall into the third or fourth rounds, and fifth- and sixth-rounders can sometimes go undrafted.
A trio of late-round options for Tampa Bay includes Rutgers’ Jawan Jamison, Pittsburgh’s Ray Graham, who hails from Elizabeth N.J. up in Rutgers territory, and one of my personal favorites, Vanderbilt’s Zac Stacy. All three running backs are around 5-foot-9 and weigh 200 pounds or slightly more. Bowling ball-types – just like Schiano and director of college scouting Eric Stokes prefer.
Scott Reynolds is in his 23rd year of covering the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as the vice president, publisher and senior Bucs beat writer for PewterReport.com. Author of the popular SR's Fab 5 column on Fridays, Reynolds oversees web development and forges marketing partnerships for PewterReport.com in addition to his editorial duties. A graduate of Kansas State University in 1995, Reynolds enjoys giving back to the community as the defensive line coach for his sons' Pop Warner team, the South Pasco Predators. Reynolds can be reached at: email@example.com
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