We still don’t know what the Raiders will do with the No. 1 overall pick and the draft is a mere 12 days away. Will they select the best quarterback on the board (Brady Quinn or JaMarcus Russell) or will they pick the best player in the draft (WR Calvin Johnson)?
This much we do know: The worst-kept secret in the league these days is the Buccaneers’ infatuation with Johnson. Specifically, Jon Gruden’s infatuation with the athletically-gifted 6-5, 239-pound receiver who runs a 4.35-second 40.
If the Raiders pass on Johnson — and with their plethora of pass catchers and no one to throw the ball to them, it seems like Russell will be wearing Silver and Black — then the Bucs will be at the head of the line to swing a deal with Detroit for the No. 2 pick to secure Johnson’s services. Sure, the Bucs would prefer to stand pat and let Johnson fall to them, but he is the best player in the draft and you can’t rule out Matt Millen using another first-round pick on a wideout.
So the Bucs will most likely have to part with the extra second-round draft pick that they added when DT Booger McFarland was dealt to Indianapolis last fall. They could pair that pick with their first-rounder from this year and any combo of Rod Marinelli’s former protégés — Marinelli was the Bucs’ D-line coach for a number of years before taking his current post in Detroit — to land Gruden's man.
Why is Gruden so enamored with Johnson? Because he hopes Johnson will save his job. Another losing season and Gruden could be out of work. Johnson should make an impact right away and along with new QB Jeff Garcia (or Jake Plummer or Chris Simms), he should dramatically improve a passing game that ranked 26th in the league last season.
No. 1 WR Joey Galloway is still productive at age 35, but he is bound to break down any day now. And Tampa’s other starting receiver Michael Clayton, a first-round pick in 2004, has turned into an injury-prone bust after his terrific rookie campaign.
Adding Johnson and inserting him into the starting lineup from Day One should also help RB Cadillac Williams, the No. 5 pick in 2005, break out of his sophomore slump. Williams ran for one score last season after rushing for six scores as a rookie.
With Johnson and Galloway as the starting receivers, Garcia at quarterback, Cadillac back to his ’05 form and an improved offensive line, the Bucs could be contenders in the NFC South in 2007. Without Johnson, the Bucs' offense will again be in the bottom half of the league's rankings.
The message around One Buccaneer Place is clear: It's Johnson or bust.