Lucky Number 13?

Over the last decade or so, over on Buccaneers.com, we’ve frequently engaged in a little NFL Draft research project at this time of the year.  Taking the spot at which the Buccaneers are slated to pick in the first round, we’ve looked back at the history of that specific draft spot to see how the league as a whole has fared with that pick over the years.

A few Aprils ago, for instance, we noted that the third overall pick had yielded such players as Matt Ryan, Joe Thomas, Larry Fitzgerald, Andre Johnson, Gerard Warren, Simeon Rice, Barry Sanders, Cortez Kennedy, Ray Childress, Carl Banks, Curt Warner, Freeman McNeil and Anthony Munoz during the previous two decades.  (And Vince Young, Joey Harrington, Akili Smith, Andre Wadsworth, Heath Shuler, Bruce Pickens, Alonzo Highsmith and Jack Thompson, FYI.)  The Bucs ended up with DT Gerald McCoy, who just made his first Pro Bowl this past season.  In 2006, we looked at pick #23 and dubbed it the Ozzie Newsome Pick in honor of the eventual Hall of Famer that Cleveland grabbed their in 1978.  And so on.

Well, the Bucs are scheduled to pick 13th in the first round this year, but you won’t find that corresponding article on Buccaneers.com this time around.  The current sentiment is that it doesn’t really offer much predictive value, for several reasons.  1) Since each draft has different positional strengths and weaknesses, the fact that, say, a receiver went 13th last year and also in 2004 and 2002 doesn’t mean much for what will happen in 2013, when the class at the position is not considered particularly top-heavy.  2) The fact that the Bucs are slated to pick 13th right now doesn’t mean they will actually be the team on the clock at that point on the 25th.  Tampa Bay went into the first round of last year’s draft expected to pick fifth overall in the first round but eventually made the seventh and 31st selections.  In 2010, when DE Brandon Graham went 13th overall to Philadelphia, it was after the pick had already belonged to both San Francisco and Denver.  3) Every one of our previous lists has shown a fair amount of both home run and bust picks.  It becomes more and more clear every year that no pick in any draft is a sure thing.

Howeeeeever, even if these Ozzie Newsome and Ray Nitsche pick lists haven’t provided any true draft forecast in the past, they have been entertaining to put together (and hopefully to peruse).  Thus, here in the CB we’re still going to offer up the last 20 years of 13th overall picks, as well as a handful of notable selections at that spot from before 1993 for your enjoyment.

Year Player Drafting Team
2012 WR Michael Floyd Arizona
2011 DT Nick Fairley Detroit
2010 LB Brandon Graham Philadelphia
2009 LB Brian Orakpo Washington
2008 RB Jonathan Stewart Carolina
2007 DE Adam Carriker St. Louis
2006 LB Kamerion Wimbley Cleveland
2005 T Jammal Brown New Orleans
2004 WR Lee Evans Buffalo
2003 DT Ty Warren New England
2002 WR Donte’ Stallworth New Orleans
2001 DT Marcus Stroud Jacksonville
2000 DE John Abraham N.Y. Jets
1999 WR Troy Edwards Pittsburgh
1998 LB Takeo Spikes Cincinnati
1997 TE Tony Gonzalez Kansas City
1996 CB Walt Harris Chicago
1995 LB Mark Fields New Orleans
1994 DE Joe Johnson New Orleans
1993 T Brad Hopkins Houston

Should we call #13 the Tony Gonzalez Pick, considering he’s a stone-cold lock for the Hall of Fame if he ever chooses to retire?  Not so fast.  When Gonzalez is elected to the Hall, he’ll actually be the fourth player selected 13th overall to get a bronze bust.  Cowboys DT Bob Lilly (1961 draft), Steelers RB Franco Harris (1972 draft) and Chargers TE Kellen Winslow (1979 draft) all beat Gonzalez to the Hall after going 13th.

It might be time for some team to use that pick on a tight end again, as it produced a standout about once a decade into the 1990s.  Winslow was drafted 13th overall in 1979, Keith Jackson 13th overall in 1988 and Gonzalez 13th overall in 1997.  Now, Jackson isn’t going to join the other two in the Hall, but he did rack up more than 5,000 receiving yards and nearly 50 touchdowns in his career.

It’s interesting to note that the Saints have been the team to pick 13th in four of the last 20 years.  The returns have been pretty good for New Orleans overall.  DE Joe Johnson had a solid nine-year career (52.5 sacks), most of it for the Saints.  Similarly, LB Mark Fields was a starter for most his nine NFL years, six of them in New Orleans, and he was occasionally a very effective pass-rusher.  WR Donte’ Stallworth had four pretty effective years in New Orleans, topping out at 945 yards in 2005, but his career has been rocky since he left.  T Jammal Brown played four seasons in New Orleans and went to two Pro Bowls, but he is a free agent this year after missing last season with a hip injury.

Perhaps the most notable thing about the above list – and again, it’s more for entertainment value than anything predictive – is that it is relatively bust-free.  DE Brandon Graham had some injury struggles his first two seasons but finally played a 16-game campaign last year for Philly and got 5.5 sacks; it’s too early to make a call on him.  WR Lee Evans might not have had quite the NFL career some expected, but he did have two 1,000-yard seasons in Buffalo and nearly 50 career TDs.  Probably the closest thing this list has to a bust is WR Troy Edwards, the Steelers’ pick in 1999.  He began his career with a 61-catch campaign and later had a 50-reception season in Jacksonville in 2004.  However, he played only three seasons for the Steelers, averaged a little less than 30 catches a year and finished with 11 career touchdowns.

On the flip side, there are a lot of standout careers on that list – Brad Hopkins, Tony Gonzalez, Takeo Spikes, John Abraham, Ty Warren and Jonathan Stewart jump out, and Brian Orakpo is off to an impressive start despite losing most of last year to injury.  Other #13s from before 1993 who had great NFL careers include RB/KR Eric Metcalf (1989, Cleveland; DE Keith Millard (1984, Minnesota); DE Fred Dryer (1969, N.Y. Giants) and the aforementioned Hall of Fame trio of Winslow, Harris and Lilly.

So, take it with a grain of salt, but the 13th overall pick in the NFL draft has had a nice history of producing solid to great NFL players.  Numerical stigma aside, the Bucs may be lucky to be picking 13th this year.

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