NFL draft: With 11 picks, Bucs aim to plug lots of holes
By FRED GOODALL
AP Sports Writer
TAMPA, Fla. — Tampa Bay's Mark Dominik is frank about the importance of this year's draft to the rebuilding of the Buccaneers.
With the third pick overall, three in the top 42 and a total of 11 over seven rounds, the second-year general manager is under pressure to reverse the team's trend of unproductive selections.
"I think it would be unfair for me to say this class won't have a big impact on our football team going forward," Dominik said. "If this draft class doesn't succeed, I probably don't either."
Coming off a 3-13 season in which they broke in a rookie coach and quarterback, the Bucs have glaring needs for help on the defensive line and playmakers on offense, particularly at wide receiver.
Nebraska's Ndamukong Suh and Oklahoma's Gerald McCoy, the top defensive tackles in the draft, both could be available at No. 3. Either would fit into what coach Raheem Morris would like to do on defense.
But much of Dominik's focus has been on rounds three through seven, an area the Bucs have not done a good job of drafting players since the mid-1990's, when the club was putting together the nucleus of a team that eventually won the Super Bowl.
Tampa Bay hasn't won a playoff game since the championship season.
"Candidly, we haven't done a great job of finding Pro Bowlers in the second, third, fourth and fifth rounds. We just haven't done that," said Dominik, who has been part of the Bucs since 1995.
To get a better handle on where the Bucs are, and who might be to help them get where they want to go, the GM hired former NFL scout and college recruiter Bill Rees to assess the roster and evaluate between 100 and 150 draft prospects.
"At the end of the season I approached ownership and just talked to them about how I'd like an eye for this football team outside of the building, Dominik said.
"I wanted a true opinion of a 3-13 football team, and what is the talent level of that team. I wanted to make sure we're not judging our football team incorrectly because we're staring at the players every day. He gave me that unbiased opinion."
And while Rees has not been involved in planning meetings for the draft and won't be in the room when selections are made, his conclusion "that there was a good strong core nucleus of players that you could build around," was reassuring to Dominik.
"He felt like this is a team that started figuring out how to win at the end of the season," the general manager said.
To prepare for the draft, Dominik spent time studying other successful franchise. He took a look at Pittsburgh Steelers drafts dating back to the 1970's; examined Bill Polian-led drafts in Buffalo, Carolina and Indianapolis, as well as the recent success of the New England Patriots.
Closer to home, he's tried to draw from what former Bucs GM Rich McKay's staff did in the '90s while accumulating players like Warren Sapp, Derrick Brooks, John Lynch, Ronde Barber, Mike Alstott and Warrick Dunn.
He's even taken a look more recent draft-day decisions by former coach Jon Gruden and GM Bruce Allen, who despite not drafting particularly well, did bring in several current starters, including Cadillac Williams, Davin Joseph, Aqib Talib and Tanard Jackson.
"From our perspective, starting in 2009 we evaluate draft classes differently than any time I've been here," Dominik said. "I've looked at all the general managers and tried to incorporate a different way."
Despite being well under the salary cap, the Bucs have not been big spenders in free agency and they were not major players in trade discussions that led to a couple of high-profile receivers, Brandon Marshall and Santonio Holmes, changing teams this spring.
Dominik and Morris launched Tampa Bay's rebuilding project with last year's drafting of quarterback Josh Freeman. They retained their jobs following the Bucs' worst finish since 1991, with ownership reaffirming a commitment to use the draft to reassemble a championship contender.
Priorities include giving Freeman more options to work with at receiver, although Morris said any selection essentially is support for the young quarterback.
"Everything that you add to the football team is going to protect Josh Freeman. If it's a defensive player that can get the ball back ... and give him more opportunities, or an offensive player that can get the ball from him and be more productive," the coach said.
Suh or McCoy figures to be a good start.
"You're talking about two dynamic guys, and two guys who bring dynamic aspects to the game. You're talking about two guys who are slightly different but are both dominant," Morris said without tipping his hand on which he likes more.
"When you can add players to your football team like that, you like those opportunities. In my opinion as a coach, you go out and do what those guys do particularly well. You let those guys go out and play and be productive. I don't want to make a zebra a horse. I want to let that zebra be a zebra and be his best self. I'd like having the opportunity to coach either one of them."