(This is the first of an ongoing series examining the Bucs’ draft picks and how they fit into the team as currently constructed.)
OTAs kicked off this week at One Buc Place, and for the rookies, it was a first chance to work with their new veteran teammates. For us, it’s a chance to ponder how the Bucs’ newest additions will factor into the depth chart and impact the team’s play on the field.
The Bucs surprised fans and media members alike on draft night when they selected safety Mark Barron out of Alabama after trading down from five to seven, especially with LB Luke Kuechly still on the board. After all, they seemed to have a strong need for linebacker, and Kuechly appeared to be the kind of player you plug into the middle of your defense and not worry about for a decade.
That said, there was a need for a playmaking safety on a team with only four under contract. Tanard Jackson’s release and Cody Grimm’s uncertain health with two serious lower body injuries in two seasons left the safety position as paper thin as any on the team.
Leave it to Mark Dominik and Greg Schiano to try to address both positional groups with one player.
Watching Barron’s performance at Alabama, it’s clear he is a strong hitter and was a special player on a physical defense. His aggressiveness as a tackler and his ability to get outside and finish off ball carriers was second to none on a college level. At 6’2, 213 lbs, he has the stature and frame to develop into a headhunting safety in the NFL.
Barron would also remind you that his coverage skills should not be overlooked. He told the media after being drafted that he was only responsible for three defensive touchdowns in his four years at Alabama. Believe or doubt that, whichever you may, but Barron’s productivity in coverage is hard to question. He totaled 12 interceptions at Alabama, including 7 during the Tide’s 2009 championship season, and always seemed to be in the right place to make a play on the football.
Although Schiano has been mum on what he will specifically be implementing as far as a defensive scheme or system, Barron’s array of skills should make him a useful tool for Schiano to move around the field at different spots if he chooses. He could even conceivably fill a similar role to what fellow safety Grimm handled at Virginia Tech as the team’s “whip linebacker”—a hybrid who filled the roles of an outside linebacker and a safety. He could be moved up as a sort of fourth linebacker in run support, he could blitz, or he could man up against a slot receiver or tight end.
Covering the tight end has become an increasingly complex and important responsibility for linebackers and safeties in this league, and given the Bucs face Jimmy Graham, Tony Gonzalez, and Greg Olsen in their division, it can’t be understated how important it is to find a safety who can cover.
Barron’s productivity will always be tied to that of Morris Claiborne, and even Kuechly. However, Barron might not be stepping into a better position to show off his skills than he is in Tampa Bay, given the roster as currently constructed and his versatility. Barring injury, he should be this team’s strong safety for years to come, and quite possibly more.