Todd McShay and Joe Lunardi to seemingly have the best jobs imaginable at the World Wide Leader. Lunardi just projects the NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament field for a handful of months each year, while McShay's work really only heats up between the end of the Super Bowl and the first week of May. Well, not exactly. At least in McShay's case, the mocking never stops. Less than a week may have passed since the completino of the 2011 NFL Draft, but he's already released his initial 2012 mock draft.
Now, the exercise is essentially just a conversation starter rather than any sort of concrete set of predictions, and McShay will be the first one to tell you that. Draft order, injuries, arrests, how the upcoming college football season shakes out -- all must sort itself out before the '12 NFL mock draft season can really begin in earnest. But with no news yet on the Lockout front, let's take a quick gander at what Mel Kiper Jr.'s better half had to say about who the Tampa Bay Buccaneers might eventually target in the first round of next April's draft.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
2010 record: 10-6 | Needs: CB, OLB, OT, RB, OG
Zach Brown, LB, North Carolina
Brown is your prototypical weakside linebacker. He's slightly undersized with room to improve at the point of attack, but he is a smooth athlete who can flat-out fly all over the field.
FYI, McShay has the Buccaneers selecting in the middle of the round as a non-playoff team. The Bucs and their fans might take issue with that, but it's certainly a reasonable assessment considering how stout Tampa Bay's two primary divisional rivals -- the Atlanta Falcons and New Orleans Saints -- promise to be, at least on paper, in 2011.
Anyway, regardless of the Buccaneers' record next year, I don't think the play at linebacker will either lead them to greatness or be the primary source of their problems. Geno Hayes, the team's weakside linebacker in '10, is heading into his contract year. His play has been inconsistent during his four years with the Bucs, and his actions off the field have been less than stellar as well. But Hayes did record four sacks, return an interception for a touchdown, and defend six passes during his 82-tackle season.
Frankly, I think it's unfair to judge his shortcomings in '10 too strongly considering the front four playing in front of him and the Bucs' backers along the defensive line. The Buccaneers spent their top two picks in this year's draft on improving the DL, and for every bit that Adrian Clayborn and Da'Quan Bowers help the line, there will be a trickle down effect to the next levels of the defense beginning with the LBs.
Don't forget also that Tampa Bay drafted LB Mason Foster in round three of last weekend's draft. Living in Seattle the past few years, I've seen quite a bit of Mason and I think he's going to really be a productive NFL player. Forget if he's neither the fastest guy on paper nor as strong as you might ideally like. His instincts are second to none, he's a natural leader -- both verbally and with his work ethic -- and having played in the pass-happy Pac 10, he's fairly well seasoned defending the pass, something that's required of LBs in a division with Drew Brees and Matt Ryan.
When's football going to start?!?