By Bucs Nation
The 2009 season marked a new beginning for the Bucs. The 2008 season had started out promisingly but ended with a series of blowout losses because of a defensive collapse, including an embarrassing season-ending loss to the Raiders. Jon Gruden and Bruce Allen were fired, and in-house youngsters Raheem Morris and Mark Dominik were hired to replace them. The years of poor drafting had caught up to Gruden and Allen, and Monte Kiffin leaving the Bucs certainly didn't help matters.
Morris and Dominik immediately set out to clean up the roster. They released franchise icon Derrick Brooks in unceremonial fashion, along with RB Warrick Dunn, WRs Joey Galloway and Ike Hilliard as well as LB Cato June. They were rebuilding the roster in their own way, and the direction they'd take was aggressive. They brought in Kellen Winslow Jr. for a second-round pick and a 2010 fifth-rounder to fit in as a pass-catching tight end, a very succesful move. Then they added Derrick Ward in free agency to take the starting job from the again injured Cadillac Williams, a move that failed miserably. Then they took the mind-boggling decision to give Michael Clayton a big contract - a decision I can't understand to this day, and that predictably didn't work. At all. The Bucs were also left with a lot of holes to fill in the draft, as defensive tackle was a clear weakness with a declining Chris Hovan and a poor Ryan Sims starting there. Quarterback was a need as always, as was linebacker where they tried to move Jermaine Phillips, another failed move. Wide receiver was a big need, although 2008 stand-out Antonio Bryant was expected to continue to shine. So with all those needs, the Bucs entered the 2009 draft in an effort to re-build the team.
First Round: The Bucs had a need for a franchise quarterback, and had targeted Josh Freeman. Not that they had much choice after Matt Stafford and Mark Sanchez went off the board early. Freeman started to fall to number 17, and when that pick rolled around the Bucs traded up 2 places, giving up a sixth-round pick in the process. While the pick was criticized early on, Freeman proved that he can be a true franchise quarterback in 2010. His progression has been remarkable, and at 23 he's still very young. And with Matt Stafford's injuries and Mark Sanchez's lackluster play he looks to be the best quarterback out of the draft class as well.
What were the other options: Bucs fans were clamoring for the Bucs to select Ole Miss DT Peria Jerry, but he missed his rookie season with injury, and didn't play all that well in his second season either. The Bucs could have selected a number of other good players, though, including C Alex Mack (Pro Bowler for the Browns), WR Percy Harvin (2009 Offensive Rookie of the Year), OT Michael Oher (up and down so far), CB Vontae Davis (very talented), LB Clay Matthews (destructive talent and a runner up in the 2010 Defensive Player of the Year vote) or WRs Hakeem Nicks and Kenny Britt (both excellent receivers).
Third Round: We come now to the third round, since the Bucs traded away their second-rounder for Kellen Winslow. It hasn't caused them to miss out on many good players, though, as the second round wasn't filled with talent. The best player of the bunch may have been RB LeSean McCoy, or DT Sebastian Vollmer. The Bucs have ended up with a player selected in that range in the form of Alex Magee, though, who they traded for in 2010. In any case, in the third round of the 2009 draft the Bucs picked up DT Roy Miller. A solid contributor in 2009, Miller seemed to regress a little in 2010, getting pushed out of plays a little too easily. He won't ever make an impact as a pass rusher, but he's been a decent nose tackle against the run. This is a decent but not great result for the Bucs. If he can improve in 2011, though, this could turn out to be a good pick. Instead of Miller, the Bucs could've picked up WR Mike Wallace, a speedy wide receiver who would look good on the Bucs' roster now.
Fourth Round: In the fourth round, the Bucs selected DE Kyle Moore out of USC. A talented but underachieving player, who hasn't changed that profile in the NFL so far. He's played just 15 games in two season, starting 7. Moore is a decent player against the run, but he adds absolutely nothing as a pass rusher. Unless Kyle Moore steps it up, this is a waste of a pick. Instead of Kyle Moore the Bucs could've picked up, well, not a lot of players actually. D.J. Moore has been a decent nickel corner for the Bears, and could've helped the Bucs. WRs Louis Murphy, Johnny Knox or Austin Collie would've improved the Bucs' passing game, but overall not a lot of players from this draft have stepped up yet. That's hardly a surprise, since we're only 2 seasons removed from this draft anyway. That makes the evaluation harder than for previous drafts.
Fifth Round: Here the Bucs selected OT Xavier Fulton. The offensive lineman missed the entire 2009 season with an injury, and was released before the 2010 season having made no contirbution to the team. A waste of a pick. The best player the Bucs could've selected with that pick is P Thomas Morstead, now with the Saints and a very solid player. He's also the one who handled the 2009 kickoffs for the Saints, and who kicked the crucial onside kick in Super Bowl XLIV. Other than that, not a lot of players have made much of an impact. Chris Clemons started most of the 2010 season at safety for the Dolphins, but I really don't know how well he did.
Seventh Round: Can it be? Is it....a very succesful seventh round? I can scarcely believe it. The Bucs selected CB E.J. Biggers and WR Sammie Stroughter here. Stroughter contributed as a decent slot receiver in 2009, although he declined in 2010, in part because of injuries. Still, getting any kind of contribution from a seventh-rounder was a nice change of pace. E.J. Biggers has been an even greater success, though, despite missing the 2009 season with injury. In 2010 Biggers was asked to step in as the nickel corner and occasional starter in place of a suspended and injured Aqib Talib. And he didn't disappoint in any way, grabbing an interception in his first game and generally playing well during the season. He got abused by Calvin Johnson, though, but that was his only bad game of the season.
With Josh Freeman, Roy Miller and E.J. Biggers alone the 2009 draft has to be considered a huge success. Even if Miller, Moore and Stroughter don't improve in the future, the presence of Freeman alone redeems this draft. The Morris/Dominik regime started out with a very succesful draft.