Yardbarker Horiz

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Let Expectations Grow for Rookies in 2010

With OTAs heating up and the 2010 season on the distant horizon it seems many are looking forward and who can blame them?  Buccaneer fans, fanatical about their defense, have two young defensive linemen coming in.  And Buccaneer fantasy fans have two young wide receivers to watch.

Then Pat Kirwan shows up on NFL.com a couple weeks ago to apply water to the flames the blowtorch known as the 2010 draft put into the Buccaneer fan base with his article about having too high of expectations for the rookie defensive linemen.  Just a flat out harsh to the love. I understand why Kirwan said it.  I just wish he would have used a bigger sample size.  Namely, a six foot two inch three hundred ten pound sample called Roy Miller.

Kirwan makes a pretty good case about first round defensive linemen not producing incredible numbers during their first season.  I think Buccaneer fans get it -- it takes time for younger players to work well with the players around them, they make mistakes, they think too much, etc.  But I don't think Buccaneer fans have to lower their expectations.

Here's a Tampa-sized sample of why:  Roy Miller was the second Tampa Bay draft pick in the 2009 Draft class (arriving in the 3rd round).  He was touted as a strong, stout interior line presence.  Miller was one of 37 rookie defensive linemen last year.  He dove into the regular season war and nobody heard much about him.  Such is life when the TV only shows your back just before a play begins. But he emerged with a solid, impressive season behind him.  Quietly.

Miller was the third most productive rookie defensive linemen in 2009 (according to NFL.com statistics) recording 27 total tackles, better numbers than 25 of 26 defensive ends drafted in 2009.  Only Kansas City Chiefs defensive end Tyson Jackson had better numbers from a standing start.  Only Terrance Knighton (also a 3rd rounder selected by Jacksonville) had better rookie numbers from the defensive interior.

Miller also had two sacks (only four other rookies had two or more) and was even credited with one pass defensed.  For comparison, Warren Sapp had three sacks and an interception for a touchdown as a rookie in 1995.  Not exactly comparable (the NFL did not keep individual tackles until the 2001 season), but not that far off either.

So no matter how you look at the numbers, Roy Miller brought it to the table in 2009.  He reached the field in 15 of 16 games and even started one.  And there is no doubt he will be improved for 2010.  Clearly he has the right stuff.  And what have you heard from him since?  Nothing but a quiet mouth and more hard work.  This is the kind of leadership the new Buccaneers management was hoping for.

The real reason why the Kirwin article can be easily dismissed by Tampa Bay fans is the same guys who found Miller in the third round were evaluating McCoy and Price in 2010.  Many still do say they do not think the new front office has it figured out in Tampa.  I could not disagree more with that opinion and I look forward to the 2010 season as proof.  Will any of the rookies from 2010 go to the Pro Bowl this year?  Probably not.  Will they be impact players?  Will they be productive?  Will they get the Buccaneers back to the playoffs?  Those questions get the excitement rolling for the 2010 season and it's well deserved.

Don't let a national media wonk ruin it!!

Perhaps Mr. Kirwan should have looked a little deeper into the draft -- his analysis is based on 17 players from the first two rounds between 2006 and 2009.  Sadly, he has overlooked some of the best performers by going to sleep on the third round.

Thank goodness the Buccaneers did not!!

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