I think we all know that the Buccaneers need a defensive end more than any other position, and by a fairly wide margin. Based on everything we've been hearing from those who make Mock Drafts around the Internet, and those who are privy to some inside information, that seems to be the direction they will go in the first round of the 2011 NFL Mock Draft.
But before we focus on the defensive ends who might be available to them, let's quickly address the other positions that the Bucs could consider instead. With the Aqib Talib situation, it would make sense for the Bucs to go after a cornerback in the first round; but Mel Kiper has said that the Bucs will not go that route. The Bucs do have some other needs (linebacker, free safety, some offensive line) but based on the prospects that will be available to them in the first round, there likely aren't any that would be good value picks at that spot. It also helps that this draft is particularly deep in defensive lineman. So based on their overwhelming need for the position, and the dearth of good prospects who should be available to them, I think it is safe for us to assume that they will go in that direction. So let's take a look at the first round defensive end prospects who could be available to them.
Cameron Jordan, Cal
There are a few reasons that Jordan probably won't be the pick for the Bucs in the first round. First of all, I think that he will be off the board when they pick. They aren't the only team that needs a defensive end, and he had a great offeseason in terms of raising his value. At this point, I think that he goes somewhere between 10-15; possibly as high as No. 10 to the Redskins.
The other reason that I don't think the Bucs will look at Jordan, even if he is available, is because of fit. They need someone who can generate a lot of sacks from a 4-3 scheme; a pure pass-rusher. Jordan is more a 3-4 defensive end who can do a little bit of everything. He just isn't the kind of defensive end the Bucs need.
Adrian Clayborn, Iowa
Clayborn has a lot of the same issues that Jordan does in terms of fit for the Bucs. He is probably a little bit closer to a 3-4 DE than a 4-3 DE, and so he is not a great fit. Unlike Jordan however, he should be available, so it it will be interesting to see if the rest of these prospects are off the board and Clayborn is the only guy left for the Bucs. I'm not sure they would pass, but I also don't believe he is their first choice.
Da'Quan Bowers, Clemson
Bowers is an interesting prospect for the Bucs. A few months ago he was seen as arguably the best prospect in the entire draft, but a knee injury has caused him to slip. If teams are scared of that injury, he could drop all the way down to the Bucs. He's not the pure pass-rusher the Bucs need, but I think that he would be too good, at a position of need, for the Bucs to pass up if he is still on the board when they pick.
Aldon Smith, Missouri
Aldon Smith might be the dream scenario for the Bucs, but I also don't think he'll be on the board when they pick. He represents so much upside that I believe a team ahead of the Bucs will take him purely based on not wanting to miss out on a prospect who could be as good as Smith. He doesn't have the same kind of production as the other guys on this list, but he could turn out to be much better. I think the Bucs will pull the trigger if Smith is on the baord, but that is a big if.
Ryan Kerrigan, Purdue
Kerrigan brings up the rear on this list because he might be the most plausible player for the Bucs in the first round. He should be on the board when they pick and he is similar to the type of player that the Bucs really need. Our Bucs blog Bucs Nation broke down the DE class recently and they reached the same conclusion.
In the end, I think the Bucs will draft Ryan Kerrigan. He's the most likely to fall to them, and he's the kind of high-effort, high-character players the Bucs (claim to) love.
Mel Kiper currently has Kerrigan as the 26th best player in the class, so it is safe to assume that he will be available. He might also be the only defensive end available for the Bucs. At this point, I expect Ryan Kerrigan to be the pick.
For more coverage leading up to next week's NFL Draft, check out the latest 2011 NFL Mock Draft at SBNation.com and visit our blog, Mocking The Draft.