The 2012 NFL draft was expected to be one of the most exciting and unpredictable in recent years, and suffice it to say, the opening round did not disappoint.
After it became official that the Cleveland Browns had selected Alabama's Trent Richardson, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers traded down from fifth to seventh with the Jacksonville Jaguars and picked up a sorely needed fourth-round pick in exchange.
With the seventh overall pick, the Buccaneers selected Alabama safety Mark Barron. Although some fansâ"and mediaâ"were surprised by the choice, Bucs general manager Mark Dominik suggested Barron was their man all along, even had they stayed at No. 5.
The drafting of Barron provides the Bucs with a proven leader and a player who flourished in what is widely considered the toughest conference in college football, the SEC.
And just when it appeared the Bucs were content with staying put and waiting for Friday to make their next selection, they traded up five spots from 36th to 31st and drafted Boise State running back Doug Martin.
The drafting of Barron and Martin, along with their heavy free-agency involvement serve as clear signals that the Bucs are serious about improving the product on the field and making amends with their disenfranchised fanbase.
With no second-round pick due to the trade with Denver, the Bucs (currently) have only one choice on Day 2â"68th overall.
With that said, who should the Bucs target on Friday?
Here are three players the Bucs should keep an eye on with their third-round pick.
Linebacker Mychal Kendricks
The Buccaneers need help at linebacker and Mychal Kendricks may be available.
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Ideally, the Bucs would target someone like Lavonte David, but he is unlikely to be available with the 68th overall pick.
This leaves the Bucs looking at someone like Mychal Kendricksâ"5'11" 240 poundsâ"as a capable alternative.
Kendricks showed off his athleticism at the scouting combine, turning in the best 40 time (4.47), broad jump (127") and vertical jump (39.5") of all inside linebackers.
Last season at California, Kendricks racked up 88 tackles, three sacks, two fumble recoveries and two interceptions. In total, Kendricks started 29 consecutive games over his final three seasons at Cal and played in 51 total games in his collegiate career.
Although Mason Foster is the incumbent at middle linebacker, it is not his natural position. The potential addition of Kendricks would allow Tampa Bay to move Foster back outside and would give the Bucs a true Mike linebacker.
Linebacker Ronnell Lewis
Ronnell Lewis (56) would immediately boost a struggling Buccaneers linebacking corps.
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Ronnell Lewis is known as a tackling machine who, by the way, also happens to know how to put a lick on someone. As a result, Lewis has earned the nickname "Hammer."
An outside linebacker, the 6'1", 253-pound Lewis has the ability to bring down just about anyone he gets his hands on and is insanely strong, posting a combine best for linebackers of 36 bench press reps.
However, the overwhelming issue with Lewis is durability, as he has shown a tendency to miss games due to nagging injuries, in particular with his back.
With that in mind, if Lewis is available for the Bucs with the 68th overall pick, the risk is far outweighed by the reward of having a bulldog of a linebacker patrolling the field for Tampa Bay.
Tight End Orson Charles
Tight end Orson Charles has shown an ability to make big plays when it matters.
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Tampa native Orson Charles has heard the whispers about his character that have raised red flags.
But at the end of the day, the 6'2", 250-pound Charles had a productive career at the University of Georgia and is hopeful that his recent off-field incident won't hurt his draft stock too badly.
With veteran tight end Kellen Winslow (and his achy knees) creeping toward his 30s, the Buccaneers should look to invest in a young, athletic tight end like Charles.
Last season, as you may recall, the Bucs drafted Luke Stocker with that in mind. And while Stocker is still a work in progress, the addition of Charles would give the Bucs options moving forward and would provide Charles with the ability to learn the position from Winslow.
It's also worth noting that the Bucs brought Charles in for a private workout a few weeks ago, but we'll have to wait and see if Charles gets the opportunity to play professionally for his hometown team.
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