Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Few Dominik draft picks have made impact for Bucs
TAMPA - According to the most recent media guide of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, general manager Mark Dominik has "already gained a reputation as one of the league's top talent evaluators.'' Through three seasons, many of Dominik's best personnel decisions have come after the draft, plucking running back LeGarrette Blount off waivers from Tennessee and signing wide receiver Dezmon Briscoe after he was cut by the Bengals. Yet, Dominik still is waiting for many of his draft picks to blossom. The failure to draft impact players has been a long-term problem for an organization that hasn't won a postseason game since the star-studded 2002 club that routed the Oakland Raiders in the Super Bowl.The Bucs haven't drafted a Pro Bowl defensive player since selecting cornerback Ronde Barber in 1997. That same draft class also boasted running back Warrick Dunn – the last offensive skill player chosen by Tampa Bay to earn a Pro Bowl invitation. Dominik is determined to change those fortunes in the 2012 draft as the Bucs head into Thursday night's opening round with the fifth overall pick. "I truly feel like I've learned a lot from some of those selections that have not panned out for our team,'' said Dominik, who joined the Bucs in 1995 as a pro personnel assistant. "If you don't learn from your mistakes, you're bound to create them again.'' Tampa Bay's initial draft pick under Dominik was Josh Freeman, who had the look of a franchise quarterback in 2010, his first full season as a starter. Freeman threw 25 touchdown passes and only six interceptions that year while leading the Bucs to the brink of an NFC playoff berth with a 10-6 mark. But Freeman appeared to regress last season, forcing throws during a 10-game losing streak that closed out a 4-12 season and prompted the dismissal of head coach Raheem Morris. The rest of the 2009 draft class, which played its third season in 2011, failed to produce a starter on offense or defense. Dominik has been working closely with new coach Greg Schiano in evaluating prospects, while Butch Davis is also expected to have significant input in the selection process. The Bucs focused on their defensive line in the past two drafts, doubling up at defensive tackle (Gerald McCoy, Brian Price) and defensive end (Adrian Clayborn, Da'Quan Bowers) with their top picks. Although Clayborn enjoyed a solid rookie season, those premium selections up front haven't resulted in an improved pass rush. Tampa Bay's run defense ranked last in the NFL in 2011 and McCoy and Price have struggled to stay healthy. "We don't have much more time, nor do the players,'' Dominik said of a 2010 group that includes cornerback Myron Lewis, a third-round pick who has seen limited playing time, and punter Brent Bowden, who didn't even make it out of training camp. "I'll be my harshest critic. "I know we have a lot of them out there, but I'll be my harshest critic to look at that class and see what they do. I still have a lot of hope for that class. Time will tell, but the clock is certainly ticking – there's no debate about that.'' Dominik entered the past two drafts clearly determined to beef up Tampa Bay's defensive line. He will continue to balance need and talent in an effort to land a dynamic draft class, but Texans general manager Rick Smith issued a warning at the February scouting combine. "We stay true to our board and that's not a philosophy we're going to alter because I think it gives you the best chance to have success,'' Smith said. "If you follow the value of your board, you don't stretch for need, and I think that's where people make mistakes.'' Even the NFL's premier talent evaluators miss on draft choices every year. Dominik keeps looking for clues to why some of Tampa Bay's 2009 selections washed out. "Our fourth-round pick was (defensive end) Kyle Moore,'' he said. "Kyle's still playing (Buffalo), but you would want more, let's be honest. (Tackle) Xavier Fulton didn't make it for us. "You have to learn why are those two players not on your team anymore.''