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Michael Johnson signing alters Buccaneers' draft plans a bit


The Tampa Bay Buccaneers' signing of Michael Johnson -- the No. 1 free-agent defensive end and the No. 3 overall player on the market -- adds even more intrigue to the team's eventual selection with the No. 7 pick in the draft.

The Bucs were in dire need of a pass rusher, but Johnson presumably fills that hole. Offensive tackle also is a glaring hole, while wide receiver, quarterback and -- with the presumptive loss of Darrelle Revis -- cornerback also are possibilities.

With the No. 7 pick, the Bucs should be able to choose from one of the top three offensive tackles, one of the top three quarterbacks and one or even both of the top outside linebackers. Would the Buccaneers' new leadership double-up on pass rushers and select one of the top two outside linebackers -- Buffalo's Khalil Mack or UCLA's Anthony Barr? That would give them four players with solid pass-rushing skills: ends Johnson, Adrian Clayborn and William Gholston and one of the linebackers. The issue is that three of those four are rather unproven: Clayborn has underachieved a bit, Gholston has played just one season and Mack or Barr would be rookies.

Still, all those pass rushers probably would appeal to new coach Lovie Smith, a defense-minded guy, especially in a division with stud quarterbacks Drew Brees, Cam Newton and Matt Ryan.

Speaking of quarterbacks, whether the new brain trust is confident in Mike Glennon remains a question. He took over the starting role at quarterback as a rookie, but he doesn't have as much upside as any of the top three signal-callers available in the 2014 draft: Blake Bortles, Teddy Bridgewater and Johnny Manziel. Then again, it's possible that none of those three will be available at No. 7, which would mean that if the Bucs don't like Glennon, they would either need to trade up or get comfortable with the idea of taking a quarterback in the second or third round.

Offensive tackles Taylor Lewan, Jake Matthews and Greg Robinson are highly touted, and Lewan probably will be there at No. 7. Matthews and Robinson could be off the board by that point; if either one is there, though, that creates a conundrum for the Bucs, who need an upgrade at left tackle especially. Passing on Matthews or Robinson would be harder than passing on one of the outside linebackers.

There's also the enticing possibility that Clemson wide receiver Sammy Watkins could be there. Pairing Watkins with Vincent Jackson would give the Bucs an exciting receiver duo and let them lessen their reliance on Mike Williams, who has been inconsistent on and off the field.

Revis' seemingly inevitable departure means there will be an opening at cornerback, but it would be a reach to take one at No. 7. If the Bucs do want a corner, trading down in the first round makes a lot more sense.

The Bucs need help at every position but running back and safety, and any other free-agent signings obviously will change their draft board a bit. But with Johnson in the fold, offensive tackle now looks like priority No. 1 in the draft, especially if Matthews and/or Robinson is there; a pass-rushing outside linebacker would be priority No. 2. The caveat: If Matthews and Robinson are gone, picking Mack makes more sense than taking Lewan.

Mike Huguenin can be reached at You also can follow him on Twitter @MikeHuguenin.



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