Last week, we noted that a growing number of NFL Draft analysts had begun to believe the Buccaneers would take West Virginia wide receiver Tavon Austin with the 13th overall pick. At first, that was a radical departure from group-think, as most of the mock drafters through January, February and early March had paired the Bucs with a cornerback or a linebacker.
Obviously, compiling a mock draft is just making a series of guesses, hopefully bolstered by as much research, roster analysis and inside information one can gather, so there’s no way to really know if the Bucs would be interested in Austin in the first round. If they did make that pick, however, that would be a departure from the norm of another sort – it would mark the highest the Buccaneers had ever drafted a wide receiver (if only by a slim margin). Currently, Michael Clayton, the 15th overall pick in 2004, holds that distinction, just barely over Reidel Anthony, the 16th pick in 1997.
What would make that Austin pick particularly interesting is that it would actually be the second year in a row, and the fourth time in the last six years, that the Bucs have used their highest pick ever on a specific position. Last year, Mark Barron went seventh overall and became the first safety ever drafted by Tampa Bay in Round One. In 2010, Gerald McCoy came aboard as the #3 pick; previously Warren Sapp, at #12 in 1995, was the highest-drafted defensive tackle in team annals. In 2008, Aqib Talib bumped Rod Jones (25th in 1986) from the top of the cornerback list when he was selected 20th overall by the Buccaneers.
Just for the fun of it, here’s a full 22-man lineup (plus a punter and a kicker) made up only of the players the Buccaneers have drafted the highest at each position:
|Pos.: Player||Pick #||Year|
|QB: Vinny Testaverde *||1||1987|
|FB: Mike Alstott||35||1996|
|T: Paul Gruber||4||1988|
|T: Charles McRae||7||1991|
|G: Sean Farrell||17||1982|
|G: Ray Snell||22||1980|
|C: Randy Grimes||45||1983|
|TE: Harold Bishop||69||1994|
|WR: Michael Clayton||15||2004|
|WR: Reidel Anthony||16||1997|
|DE: Lee Roy Selmon||1||1976|
|DE: Gaines Adams||4||2007|
|DT: Gerald McCoy||3||2010|
|DT: Warren Sapp||12||1995|
|LB: Keith McCants||4||1990|
|LB: Broderick Thomas||6||1989|
|LB: Hugh Green||7||1981|
|CB: Aqib Talib||20||2008|
|CB: Rod Jones||25||1986|
|S: Mark Barron||7||2012|
|S: Melvin Johnson||43||1995|
|P: Monte Robbins||107||1988|
|K: Martin Gramatica||80||1999|
* Steve Young was also drafted first overall in the USFL dispersal draft in 1985, but this chart refers only to the actual NFL Draft.
That’s definitely a team of ups and downs. Though he still holds many of the team’s career passing records, Vinny Testaverde blocks several other first-round quarterbacks (Josh Freeman, Doug Williams, Trent Dilfer) who probably would have a better claim on the all-time starting job. Even more so, Bo Jackson, who never played a down as a Buccaneer, keeps such other deserving backs as Cadillac Williams, Warrick Dunn and Doug Martin off the squad. [UPDATE: As noted in the comments, Ricky Bell, also picked first overall in 1977, should have been originally listed above and would give the team a strong running back option, rather than Bo Jackson.]
The offensive line is fairly strong, though weakened a bit by Charles McRae at right tackle. Paul Gruber remains the team’s all-time top blocker at this point, and Farrell, Snell and Grimes were all at least respectable. It’s amazing that Harold Bishop is still the highest-drafted tight end in team history, and while he was a total bust, the Bucs recouped that pick by trading Bishop to the Browns a year later for a second-round pick in 1996…that amazingly became another player on this list, FB Mike Alstott.
The Bucs have found their most successful receivers via either free agency/trades (Vincent Jackson, Joey Galloway, Keyshawn Johnson, Keenan McCardell, Joe Jurevicius, Ike Hilliard) or draft picks in the second-to-fourth-round range (Mark Carrier, Kevin House, Lawrence Dawsey, Courtney Hawkins, Mike Williams). They’re all blocked on this squad, though, by the occasionally prolific but mostly underwhelming duo of Clayton and Anthony.
On defense, the front line is close to superior, but for the unfortunate story of the late Gaines Adams. Still, if Adams had not taken the DE spot opposite Hall of Famer Lee Roy Selmon, it would have gone to Eric Curry, who went sixth overall in 1993 and proved to be a bust. With Selmon, Warren Sapp and Gerald McCoy filling out the rest of the line, it should still be quite imposing.
One might expect Derrick Brooks to appear in that linebacker group, but he was an absolute steal at #28 in 1995, while Keith McCants (1990), Broderick Thomas (1989) and Hugh Green (1981) went fourth, sixth and seventh, respectively, in their draft years. Since McCants didn’t really work out and Thomas faded quickly after a good start, those two are blocking quite a few intriguing candidates in the roughly 25-75 pick range, including David Lewis, Scot Brantley, Barrett Ruud, Winston Moss, Lavonte David, Quincy Black and Ervin Randle.
As with the receivers, the Buccaneers have historically found their most successful long-term cornerbacks in the second and third rounds (Ronde Barber, Brian Kelly, Donnie Abraham, Ricky Reynolds, Dwight Smith). Aqib Talib clearly was one of the more talented cornerbacks the Bucs have had during his four years with the team, but his abbreviated tenure and the presence of Rod Jones makes cornerback a problem on this squad. At safety, Mark Barron could have a star-caliber career ahead of him but Johnson’s presence most notably keeps John Lynch off the team.
The kickers are 50% pleasing. Martin Gramatica was quite good for four or five years and is among the team’s all-time leaders in many kicking categories. Monte Robbins, however, did not make the team. Among the punters who were actually drafted by the Buccaneers, 1986 ninth-rounder Tommy Barnhardt is the only one to make an impact for Tampa Bay, but not before he had spent a solid decade playing for other teams.