You may recall that in my last column I stated at the top how much I enjoyed when one of our Q&A topics became more of a back-and-forth between me and the readers.
That is, after I answer one of your questions, I get some feedback from another reader that either improves, expands or corrects some part of that answer. In the particular case I was discussing, a dude named Mike had sent me a link to the way the play-by-play from the Tampa Bay-Washington game last December was originally posted before the "fifth-down" confusion was corrected.
I also said at the time that I prefer the, "You ask…I answer…you add to the answer," model to the, "You ask…I answer…you rip me for a bad answer," model. I mean, I'll take my medicine when and if I mess up, but I'm not going to claim it's fun.
Ah, but now we have a third model, and this one might even be the most delicious. Let's call it, "You ask…I answer…you rip me for a bad answer…BUT YOU'RE DEAD WRONG!" Yes, that is fun. Without further ado, a little bit of feedback from a not-so-happy reader in Louisville, Colorado named Bernard:
I don't have a question for you. I just want to correct some information you put in your column about young quarterbacks in comparison to
Well, to be fair, Bernard is not dead wrong in his information, at least in the way he presented it. Mr. Griese did in fact have the stats and the great season in 2000 that is described above, and that was his second year starting in Denver. Note how I italicized "starting" back there. Bernard slips that word in near the start of his third sentence.
But here's the rub. In my Josh Freeman analysis, I was not referring to a quarterback's second year as a starter. I was talking about his second year in the NFL, period. That's the way the question was presented to me, and the way I answered it. Analyzing a quarterback's second year as a starter is a little more complicated, because of the variety of ways that a quarterback ascends to that position. Freeman, for instance, started nine games in his first NFL season; does that make 2010 his second year as a starter? How about Shaun King, who started the last four games of 1999 and then was the opening-day starter in 2000?
And, you know what, I did sort of cover that topic in Series 7, Volume 2 a few weeks ago. That wasn't the exact question, but I spent some time analyzing quarterbacks who made a big jump in their passer rating after their first, second or third year as a starter. Griese's 1999 and 2000 seasons, when he went from 75.6 to 102.9, were included in that analysis, as a matter of fact.
The thing is, Griese came into the league in 1998. He played in just one game that year. The following season – the one that I used in the table of stats that got Bernard riled up – Griese started 13 games and had a perfectly fine season for a young passer in his first year at the helm.
Following that table, I even made a point of dismissing those quarterbacks who weren't starters in their second NFL seasons. Griese wasn't one of those, as he did start in Season Two, but that probably should have been another tipoff that I was referring to a quarterback's second year in the league, not his second year as a starter.
All of which to say, the only mistake here is in the way Bernard interpreted the question and answer.
Editor's Note: Yes, but doesn't that indicate that your writing wasn't clear enough in the first place?
Hey, that's YOUR job, Mr. Editor. If it's not clear, edit it. (But, yeah, that's a valid point. Let's agree to share the blame, huh Bernard?)
One more thing…here's the link to the page where you can submit your questions to me, to be used either here or in one of my new-fangled video segments. I thought it would take months to get through the backlog of e-mails from my hiatus during the football season, but there wasn't as much of interest in there as I had first thought.
That's why we pointed out the question-submission page in my last video, and that has paid immediate dividends. The questions you'll see below from John, Bryce and Caleb were just sent in, and I'm told two more from a Russell in Zephyrhills and a Phillip in Cordele, Georgia have been set aside for my next video (they like to spring those on me).
That's great, and I appreciate it. Still, there's plenty of room for more, especially with me double-dipping in written and video form these days. Keep 'em coming, and we'll get some lively discussions going.
Okay, now let's get to this week's new questions.
1. Jake G. of Ishpeming, Michigan asks:
First of all Answer Man, I'd like to say welcome back. There was many a night during the season I sat and wept just wishing I could submit a question to you. Okay, that may not be true, but I did miss you. Now for a question. It's a common assumption that at some point in this upcoming draft the Bucs will select a DE. I was wondering what success the Bucs have had at drafting DEs over the years. I know Simeon Rice and Greg Spires were free agent acquisitions, and that Lee Roy Selmon is undoubtedly the best they drafted. But the rest is foggy to me. I would appreciate the history lesson A Man.
Answer Man: As you can tell, Jake has written in before. And yet, he still can't do me the common courtesy of putting a state after his hometown. So I have to have this whole inner monologue – "Ishpeming is in Michigan, right?" "Yeah, that's right." "Well, are you sure, because we can't get that wrong or somebody like Bernard is going to jump down our throat." "Uh…we better Google it just to be sure."
Boom, 30 precious seconds down the drain. I'm shaving those 30 seconds off the end of this answer, just to make up for it.
Also, I'm not terribly fond of the nickname, "A Man." Just seems too open to interpretation, if you know what I mean.
All that said, you know how to pique my super-curiosity, Jake G. All my complainin', and yet here's your question right at the top. I guess I should say welcome back to you.
Alright, let's take a look at every defensive end the Bucs have ever drafted. Given that one can expect quite a bit more, on average, out of first-round picks than 12th-round picks, let's break them up by round.
Round One: Lee Roy Selmon (1976), Ron Holmes (1985), Eric Curry (1993), Regan Upshaw (1996), Gaines Adams (2007)
There's a reason I started with the first round and arranged them chronologically from Year One. As you say, Selmon, the first college draft pick in team history, remains the team's best hit ever at defensive end. When you set a Hall of Fame standard like that, it's going to be hard to ever match it.
The Bucs have tried four times since, with mixed results. Holmes and Upshaw were good players, though neither played more than half of their careers in Tampa. Holmes had 19 sacks over four seasons for the Bucs, then another 17.5 in four more years in Denver. It might have worked out better if a) He wasn't trying to replace the retired Selmon; b) He didn't have a contract holdout as a rookie; and c) He didn't lose a third of the 1988 season to injury. Upshaw had 18.5 sacks in his first three Buc seasons, starting all but one game, and was part of that defensive turnaround under Tony Dungy and Monte Kiffin in the mid-'90s. He was traded to Jacksonville early in his fourth Buc season, however, and went on to play for four more teams through the 2004 season.
Curry and Adams did not work out. Curry was the sixth overall pick but he finished his NFL career with just 12.5 sacks, five of which came in his rookie campaign. Adams was the fourth overall pick in 2007 and though he had 12.5 sacks in his first two seasons, the Bucs felt they were better served swapping him to Chicago for a second-round pick during the 2009 season. Tampa Bay turned that pick into promising receiver
Round Two: Booker Reese (1982), Dewayne White (2003).
In contrast, the Buccaneers' first attempt at a defensive end in the second round went very badly and they didn't try again for more than two decades.
The Booker Reese story has been told many times; the key is that, during the 1982 draft, the Bucs traded their first-round pick in the following year's draft to Chicago for a second-rounder right then because they coveted Reese highly and he was still on the board. That 1983 pick – you remember that first round, right? – might have come in handy for a team that suddenly had a big need at quarterback. Reese would play in 24 NFL games and amass all of two sacks.
White was significantly better, and overall a good value for the last pick of the second round the year after the Bucs won the Super Bowl. His playing time increased only gradually over his four Tampa Bay seasons, though, to a high of eight starts in his last year before he signed a big contract with Rod Marinelli and the Detroit Lions.
Round Three: Charley Hannah (1977), Reggie Lewis (1979), John Cannon (1982).
You're going to start seeing fewer recognizable names as we move down through the rounds, which is good because if we spend as much time on each round as we did on the first we'll be here all day. Soon, we'll just start hitting the highlights.
Here in the third, though, the list is still short and the returns were pretty good. Hannah is an interesting case, of course, in that he was good enough at end that he was the team's primary starter at left end by his second season but just a year later he was starting on the offensive line at right tackle. Hannah's conversion to offense went well, not only in Tampa where he started 47 games at tackle over the next four seasons, but also during a six-year stint with the Oakland Raiders.
It's interesting that the Buccaneers got a very useful end in Cannon one round after the Booker Reese disaster in 1982. Cannon was more solid than spectacular during his nine-year run as a Buccaneer, but 121 games, 73 starts, 335 tackles and 22.0 sacks is a very good career return for a third-round choice.
In contrast, Lewis played in just 22 games, without a start, and produced all of one sack. Not good returns for a third-round choice.
The Answer Man can say unequivocally that Kyle Moore is the greatest fourth-round defensive end in franchise history.
Pretty weird that it took until 2009 for the Bucs to hit that position in the fourth round, huh? Anyway, Moore won a starting job to open the season in 2010 and the team had high hopes for him, but he never really got untracked due to a shoulder injury. Hopefully, he has better luck in 2011 and can actually start up some good fourth-round DE history for the Buccaneers.
Round Five: John McLaughlin (1999), Julian Jenkins (2006).
Not much here, either. McLaughlin was essentially a super-sized special teams player (though a pretty good one, at that). Jenkins was versatile and hard-working, but never really panned out.
Round Six: Chidi Ahanotu (1993), Ellis Wyms (2001), John Stamper (2002).
Apparently the middle rounds are not where teams expect to find a lot of defensive end value. The prized prospects get snapped up in the early rounds and then the projects go much later.
However, the Bucs might want to think about checking out the position in the sixth round more often, because they've got a nice success rate at that spot. Stamper didn't make it, but both Ahanotu and Wyms proved to be worth much more than a sixth-rounder. Ahanotu ended up playing both end and tackle, as needed, and appeared in 121 games with 109 starts for the Buccaneers. He ranks fifth in team history with 34.5 sacks. Wyms didn't quite pile up statistics that impressive, but he was an increasingly valuable reserve and occasional starter over his six years with the team.
Round Seven: Harry Swayne (1987), Donnie Gardner (1990), Jeffrey Rodgers (1995), Chance McCarty (1998), Joe Tafoya (2001), Charles Bennett (2006),
As mentioned above, this is when teams start taking flyers on defensive line prospects who may not scout out as all-around studs but may have one outstanding quality that coaches will try to build around, such as speed. The Bucs have certainly tried this idea, but interestingly their only real successes have come with players that have converted to other positions.
Swayne converted to offensive tackle in 1989 and gave the Bucs some nice depth at that position, though that only hinted at the success he would find in the NFL on that side of the ball. From 1991 through 2001, Swayne started 110 games for the Chargers, Broncos, Ravens and Dolphins, amazingly playing in four Super Bowls along the way.
Lorig converted from defensive end to fullback early last season and proved very valuable to the Bucs when
None of the other players listed above panned out for the Buccaneers, though Tafoya did manage to stick in the league for six seasons in Chicago, Seattle and Arizona.
Round Eight: Fred Robinson (1984).
The draft was shortened to seven rounds in 1994, so it's not surprising this list is short and meaningless. Robinson didn't make it in Tampa, though he did play three years in the NFL in San Diego and Miami.
Round Nine: Hasson Arbubakrr (1983), Terry Cook (1990).
Arbubakrr only played that first season in Tampa, but he did appear in all 16 games and made one start, so at least that's something for a ninth-round pick. He also played briefly for Minnesota in 1984. Cook never played a down in the NFL.
Round 10: Ken McCune (1981), Ben Reed (1986).
No diamonds in the rough here. Neither player made it in the NFL, beyond a few 1987 replacement games for Reed.
Round 11: Willie Griffin (1989).
See Round 10.
Round 12 and Beyond: Scott Cooper (1987).
I had to say "and beyond" because there were 17 rounds in 1976, the Bucs' first year in the draft. Still, Cooper, a small-school flyer out of Kearney State, didn't make it in the NFL and that's the entire list. The Bucs did strike gold with defensive tackle David Logan in the 12th round in 1979, but that's another discussion.
So, there you have it, Jake. Overall, it's fair to say that the Buccaneers have never matched the success of their first-ever defensive end pick (not surprisingly) or, unfortunately, even come particularly close to that success again in the draft. The team's early-round track record at defensive end is hit-and-miss, but there have been some nice middle-round finds with the likes of Cannon and Ahanotu. Of course, the most important thing to remember is – oops! Can't finish that. I needed 30 more seconds but I ran out of time. Pity.
2. Mike Gartrell of San Jose, California asks:
Answer Man: I'd say yes, you're right that the majority of third-and-one plays are runs, and that's because it usually works.
That run at the end of the Atlanta game certainly wasn't one of my favorite moments of the season, but I didn't question the decision (and I don't think you are, either…not putting words in your mouth.) It just didn't work. For anyone who doesn't quite remember the details, the Buccaneers were trailing the Falcons, 27-21, at the Georgia Dome last November 7 with a little less than three minutes to play. A Blount run on third-and-three had just put the ball on Atlanta's two-yard line, and the Bucs called their final timeout with the clock at 2:44. It was fourth-and-one, so the Bucs could get a first down with one yard or a go-ahead touchdown (assuming the extra point) with two yards. However, safety Thomas DeCoud stopped Blount for no gain and the Falcons took over and were able to run out the clock.
Overall in 2010, however, the Buccaneers were a very good third-down team, on all plays in general and even specifically on third-and-one.
The Bucs' third-down conversion rate of 42.2% last year was their second-best mark ever for an entire season and just a bit behind the record of 42.9% set by the 1984 team. (Not surprisingly, that '84 squad was very proficient at running the football.) On third-and-one specifically, the Buccaneers were 19 of 26, for a success rate of 73.1%. That was tied for 11th-best in the NFL and was well above the overall league average of 65.4%.
Interestingly, where the Buccaneers excelled the most, relative to the other NFL teams, on third downs was on the longest ones. On all third-down attempts of 10 or more yards in 2010, only the New Orleans Saints converted a higher percentage than the Buccaneers. The Saints were 20 of 53, or 37.7%, while the Buccaneers were 22 of 65, or 33.8%. The NFL average was just 21.9%, and even the NFL average of playoff teams only was just 23.9%.
That doesn't really address your question, Mike, and to be honest I didn't really get to it with the previous paragraphs, either. I kinda felt the need to defend the Bucs' offense (even though you didn't explicitly rip the team), but when it comes down to it, your question is more about run-pass ratio in play-calling when it comes to various third-down lengths.
As I said at the top, most third-and-one plays are runs because they do work more often than not. The Buccaneers ran on 81.5% of their third-and-one plays last year, and they finished with good conversion numbers. The rates don't change much whether the Bucs were in their own territory or the opponents' – 81.8% for the former, 81.3% for the latter – although the tendency to pass went up in the red zone. There, the Bucs ran on 71.4 of their third-and-ones.
So, how quickly does the strategy turn to pass? Almost immediately, as it turns out. After running on more than four out of five third-and-ones, the Bucs went to just 24% runs on third-and-two. That percentage actually went up in the red zone (it's tighter in there, less field to throw) to 33.3% run calls.
On third-and-three, in what is probably a meaningless statistical blip, the run percentage went back up a bit to 27.3%. However, the Bucs ran on none of their third-and-fours last year and just 7.1% of their third-and-fives. For some reason, that number jumps back up to 18.8% runs on third-and-six, but after that the numbers stay in the single digits, as you would expect.
So, third-and-one, expect the run. Otherwise, there's a strong chance it's going to be a pass.
3. Brandon Brown of Sarasota, Florida asks:
Why did the Bucs not re-sign Jermaine Phillips instead of signing
Answer Man: Now, normally I wouldn't touch a question like this because I don't like to speak for our player personnel department's reasoning, and I also won't put myself in the position to make value judgments about current Buccaneer players.
That said, I think the answer here is straightforward enough that it can be discussed without getting into your contention about who is better, Phillips or Jones.
It seems fairly clear to the Answer Man – and this is my own theory, not anything team officials said in 2009 or thereafter – that the decision not to retain Phillips after the 2009 season was based on injury history. The Buccaneers had shown they valued Phillips' talents as a player after the 2008 campaign when they re-signed him as a free agent. They even spent a portion of the offseason working on converting him to weakside linebacker after the departure of Derrick Brooks.
The previous year, Phillips had ended the season on IR as well after the second of two forearm fractures. Something similar happened to him in 2004, as well, and overall he had missed 30 games due to injury over a six-year period. You could spin a similar tale about Torrie Cox, another Buc defensive back who was a very good player on special teams but had poor luck when it came to injuries.
The Bucs got quite a bit younger between 2008 and 2010. They only got a little younger at strong safety, as Jones is three years younger than Phillips, who would have been 31 in 2010. But Jones did play in all 16 games and was quite productive, with 89 tackles plus a sack and an interception. Tampa Bay's secondary, furthermore, ranked seventh in the NFL in pass defense.
So I'm not going to engage in your exercise of comparing Phillips to Jones as players, but it does appear as if the move worked out just fine for the Buccaneers. The Answer Man remembers some of Phillips' best moments fondly, and he was a very good player for the Bucs for eight season, but I also enjoyed watching Jones at work in 2010.
4. Chris Hill of Ft. Myers, Florida asks:
It was fun watching the draft last year when the Bucs had two picks really close to each other in the second round –
Answer Man: Sometimes with questions like these I like to take a guess at the answer before I look it up. I usually get pretty close (and you can't prove otherwise), but I have to admit I whiffed on this one.
What I would have said, before doing the research, is that it has happened a couple times in the last 15 years ago, but only due to compensatory picks. Otherwise, I suspected that it was an unlikely occurrence – maybe it happened once somewhere along the way, flukily.
I was right on that first part of it. The NFL has been awarding compensatory picks since 1994, the year after the first free agency period following the institution of the original CBA in 1993. Compensatory picks are designed to, well, compensate teams that suffered a net loss in free agency the year before. The procedure is kind of complicated, and we've discussed it before so I won't get into the details. In the end, it produces a total of 32 picks that are distributed among the teams with net free agency losses and placed at the ends of rounds three through seven. The majority follow Round Seven, and it's not at all uncommon to see a single team awarded back-to-back compensatory picks in that part of the draft. That happened to both the Eagles and Patriots last year, and the Seahawks in 2009.
(By the way, the NFL should be announcing this year's compensatory picks soon, maybe as soon as next week. The entire draft order will be set after that.)
The Bucs have been awarded back-to-back compensatory picks on two occasions, in 2007 and 2002. In '07, Tampa Bay selected Virginia cornerback Marcus Hamilton at #245 and Alabama running back Kenneth Darby at #246. In 2002, the Bucs took Kansas State wide receiver Aaron Lockett at #254 and Stanford center Zack Quaccia at #255.
Not much to write home about there, though late seventh-round draft picks don't have a very high success rate overall. Both of those 2007 picks made it in the NFL, at least, and Darby has stuck for the last three seasons with the St. Louis Rams as a backup to running back Steven Jackson. Hamilton bounced back and forth between the Bucs and Bears from 2007-09 but wasn't in the league last year. Neither Lockett or Quaccia made it in the NFL.
Where I whiffed was on the second-half of that prediction. There have actually been five instances of back-to-back picks in team annals, including several that involve some very recognizable names from Buccaneer history. In fact, it happened not once but twice in the very first draft every conducted by the team. Let's start with the most recent (which really isn't that recent) and move backward.
In 1987, the Buccaneers drafted roughly one million players, the result of a bunch of trades and an obvious desire to rebuild the roster under new Head Coach Ray Perkins, after the unsuccessful two-year run under Leeman Bennett.
I exaggerate a little, but that was an enormous draft class, and considering it started with quarterback Vinny Testaverde at #1 overall, it was obviously meant to be a turning point in franchise history. You can tell the same thing by some of the people the Bucs traded away to get extra picks, quarterback Steve Young and guard Sean Farrell among them. That draft also produced Ricky Reynolds, Winston Moss, Mark Carrier, Bruce Hill, Ron Hall, Curt Jarvis and Harry Swayne.
The Young trade gave the Bucs a second-round pick from San Francisco (among other things), which proved to be the 50th selection overall. That swap took place just days before the draft; way back in February the Bucs had sent Farrell to New England for second, seventh and ninth-round picks. That second-rounder proved to be #51.
With those back-to-back selections, the Bucs took Moss out of Miami and Mississippi State running back Don Smith. Call that 50/50 on the success-o-meter. (Success-o-meters have unorthodox measurements.)
Smith had all of 83 rushing yards for the Bucs over three seasons (one spent on injured reserve). He was kind of a running back, kind of a wide receiver, not really much of an impact player in the long run. He did manage to score a touchdown for Buffalo in Super Bowl XXV – in Tampa, coincidentally.
Moss, though, had four solid seasons for the Bucs and another seven for the Raiders and Seahawks, and he just got a Super Bowl ring as an assistant coach with the Packers this past February. He started 52 games as a Buccaneer, all but two from 1998-90, and was a pretty effective pass-rusher his last two seasons in Tampa.
Before that draft, you have to rewind to 1979 to find the previous time the Bucs made consecutive selections in a draft. That year, the Bucs traded nose tackle Dave Pear, who had been Tampa Bay's first Pro Bowl selection the year before, to Oakland for second and third-round picks. The second-rounder was #33 overall, right in front of where the Bucs were due to pick at #34.
After using that traded pick on Oklahoma guard Greg Roberts, the Bucs followed with their own selection of Pittsburgh wide receiver Gordon Jones. Each of those two players would contribute to the team's first-ever division championship as rookies, and each would eventually turn in four solid seasons as a Buccaneer.
Roberts stepped right in at right guard for that '79 team and would eventually play in 45 games with 42 starts from 1979-82. Quarterback Doug Williams, who Roberts was charged with protecting back then, once told me that the addition of the rookie's athleticism to the line really opened up the running game with plays that put the linemen on the move. Jones was a primary starter in both 1980 and 1982 and he finished his Buccaneer career with 86 catches for 1,230 yards and eight touchdowns. His high-water mark came in '80 when he led the team with 48 catches for 469 yards and five touchdowns.
In 1977, the back-to-back picks happened much farther down in the rounds. Early in April of '77, the Bucs traded safety Cedric Brown to the Oakland Raiders (they would get him back that very season, thankfully, when Oakland released him) for sixth and ninth-round picks. That ninth-round pick was #251 overall, and the Bucs used it to select wide receiver Larry Mucker. With the very next selection, the team grabbed running back Robert Morgan.
This was a 50/50 success rate, too, but that's not bad in the ninth round. Morgan didn't make it in the NFL, but Mucker stuck, playing four seasons for the Buccaneers and catching 33 passes for 635 yards and five touchdowns. He even made 11 starts along the way.
Then there was that 1976 draft, where back-to-back Buc picks were downright common, for a reason that has obviously never been duplicated in franchise history…and something I forgot when making my original prediction. The NFL awarded the Bucs and Seahawks extra picks in the draft at the ends of Rounds Two through Five. It proved wholly inadequate to level the playing field for the two new expansion teams, who were given few other breaks, but it did produce a pair of back-to-back drafting situations for Tampa Bay.
At the end of Round Two, the Buccaneers used their extra pick to take Oklahoma linebacker Dewey Selmon, the brother of their first overall pick, Lee Roy Selmon. That was pick #60. To start Round Three, the Bucs made Steve Young pick #61. No, not that Steve Young. This was an offensive tackle out of Colorado.
Later, with the last selection of Round 4, #124 overall, Tampa Bay tabbed Houston guard Everett Little. At #125 at the top of Round 5, the Bucs chose West Texas State defensive back Mishael Kelson.
So, how did those pairs work out? Good and bad. Or, pretty good and really not good at all.
Young started at left tackle as a rookie, opening all 11 games in which he played. However, that was his only year with the Buccaneers, and his 14-game, no-start stint with Miami in 1977 represented the rest of his NFL career. Selmon, on the other hand, remained teammates with his brother for five seasons and eventually played in 72 games with 65 starts. The linebacking corps emerged as a strength for the Buccaneers in those early years, and Selmon teamed with Richard Wood to make a nice pair of inside players in the Bucs' 3-4 front.
On the other hand, neither Little nor Kelson made much of an impact. Little managed to make the team and appear in 10 games, but he only started one. Kelson never played a down in the NFL.
So that's a total of seven pairs of back-to-back picks in franchise history, though none since 2007 and none that didn't involve compensatory picks in 24 years.
5. John Schrage of Sebring, Florida asks:
This is a question about football, not just the Bucs. It seems like the safeties and defensive backs are usually 5'9" to 6'0" tall. There seem to be many wide receivers who are 6'5" or close to that height. This seems like a terrible disadvantage to the defensive side. Why don't we see taller defensive backs? I would appreciate your thoughts on this subject. GO BUCS!!! We just bought our first season tickets to the BUCS games. Thank you John Schrage
Answer Man: That is a great question, John. And congratulations on the new tickets…I think we're in for a pretty exciting season in 2011!
I would only disagree slightly with part of your premise. There certainly are not many particularly tall cornerbacks in the league, but I think you see some pretty big men playing safety. In fact, it's not uncommon to see tall college cornerbacks moved to safety in the NFL, particularly if they're hard-hitting types, for many of the reasons we'll discuss below. Maybe there aren't a lot of 6-5 safeties, but there are a number of guys like Adrian Wilson and Kerry Rhodes who are a very solid 6-3. (I find it interesting that while John's way of abbreviating height is correct – 6'0" – we totally get away with the easier-to-type 6-0 in the NFL.)
So let's focus mostly on cornerbacks, who are usually more directly in coverage of these monster receivers anyway. I can tell you one thing that is definitely NOT a reason for the lack of tall cornerbacks in the NFL: Teams don't want tall corners.
Oh, believe me, any NFL team would love to have a pair of corners that could match sizes with the brothers Johnson. (Note: Andre and Calvin are not brothers, but they are both quite tall.) Everybody loves Nnamdi Asomugha right? Best corner in the league, they said, before Revis Island was located. He's 6-2. There isn't a G.M. in the league who would doesn't covet a corner like Asomugha.
The problem is, there just aren't very many of them. If you turned the 6-5 Calvin Johnson or the 6-3 Andre Johnson around and played them on defense, it's highly unlikely that they would be able to play cornerback at an NFL-caliber level (not many people can). The issue here is the specific skill set a corner needs to have.
Cornerbacks make a lot of their movements with their knees bent. They have to backpedal smoothly and quickly; if you can't do this, you won't be playing corner in the NFL. They have to have smooth and swift hip movements. They have to be able to put on a burst of speed in one direction, change directions on a dime and put on another burst of speed. The receiver knows the route he is running and actually benefits if he can make his cuts without going too low, because that dip is a tipoff to the defensive back that a cut is coming.
This just happens to be harder for a football player the taller he happens to be. For most football players, that is. There are some tall cornerbacks, like Asomugha or Antonio Cromartie or the 6-3 Sean Smith in Miami. Lenny Walls, who was 6-4, was the tallest cornerback in the league for years in the 2000s, playing four seasons in Denver and one each with Kansas City and St. Louis.
But those guys are the exceptions, not the rule. Really, at any position except maybe quarterback, too much height can be a detriment. (Maybe even quarterback. Dan McGwire, anyone?) You want your offensive linemen big, but you still don't see a lot of 6-9 blockers. The reason is, playing in the trenches in the NFL means a never-ending series of collisions, and collisions are usually won by the player who can get lower at the point of contact and still keep his balance and proper footwork. There have been really tall offensive linemen who could still get low – Jonathan Ogden was an excellent example – but not everyone can do it. The same is true on the defensive line. In fact, when former Cowboy great Ed "Too Tall" Jones visited One Buccaneer Place last week, that's exactly what Bucs G.M. Mark Dominik said about him – Jones was so good because, despite being 6-9, he could still get his pad level down.
I've gotta believe this is a consideration when young athletes head off to college. If you recruit a 6-3 defensive back with speed and good hands, there's a good chance you're going to want to see if he can play wide receiver. Unless he shows uncommon footwork and knee-bend and backpedal and change-of-direction skills, you're probably going to believe his future is on offense. And you're probably going to be right.
You might be thinking, "Okay, I get that in most players you're going to lose a little agility if you go for the taller player, but you'll make up for it with their ability to match up with taller receivers and what is likely a more physical style of play." Decent point, but there's a flipside. This skill set that might make you a better defender against Randy Moss on a jump ball in the end zone, but it will make you less effective against DeSean Jackson on a slant-and-go. There are still plenty of receivers of Jackson's size in the NFL, and there always will be.
You'd love to have it all, of course. If you could find the 6-3 cornerback with the fluidity of a typical 5-11 guy, you'd take him in a heartbeat. If he can cover both Steve Smith and Vincent Jackson, then you'll say, "Yes, please." And make no mistake about it, just like every position in the NFL, cornerbacks are gradually getting bigger. An ESPN article I came across referred to a study by the Elias Sports Bureau (the official stat-keepers of the NFL) on cornerback height. The study said that 31% of cornerbacks in the NFL in 2004 were 6-0 or taller; by 2008, the number had increased to 41%.
And bigger IS better in many ways. Not only can a taller cornerback keep a huge receiver from using his size as an advantage when the ball arrives, but he is more likely to be a strong tackler when the receiver does catch the ball. That is obviously valuable, too.
So why aren't there more tall cornerbacks in the NFL to match up with the new generation of Megatrons at wide receiver? The same reason there aren't that many catchers who can win batting titles in MLB or centers who rain threes in the NBA. There just aren't many of them in existence. In the case of football, that's because there aren't many tall players who possess the necessary and rare skill set to cover receivers in the NFL.
By the way, the cornerback the Bucs' drafted out of Vanderbilt last year,
6. Bryce J. of Fairfax, Virginia asks:
Hey Answer Man... I recently noticed that our PTS was 21.3 and that was ranked 20th in the NFL. We also have the 20th pick in the draft. I would like to know if having your pts rank the same as your draft pick is a common thing and if it has happened before.
Answer Man: No offense, Bryce, but it took me awhile to figure out just what you were asking here. I thought PTS was an acronym for something because of the way your first sentence was worded. I thought you might mean "points scored," but initially dismissed that because of the wording.
Well, I couldn't find anything football-related that PTS stood for, so I went back to points, and sure enough that's what you meant. The Buccaneers scored 21.3 points per game in 2010, and that ranked 20th in the NFL. And, yes, we are scheduled to pick 20th in the draft.
I can't see how those two things are related, except by the most tenuous of connections. I suppose you could say the higher-scoring teams are likely to be among the more successful teams in the standings (in reality, only five of the top 10 scoring teams made the playoffs last year) and therefore picking lower in the draft. But even if it went from top to bottom, with the highest-scoring team having the best record (and the lowest draft pick, assuming it also won the Super Bowl) on down to the lowest-scoring team having the worst record (and the highest draft pick), you'd have two lists heading in opposite directions. That is, the team ranked first in points would be #32 in the draft. They would only really meet in the middle.
So it's kind of a random connection and even if it's happened many times before or never at all, I can't see what that would tell us.
But, hey, since when has randomness and meaningless stopped me from running the numbers? I do love me some stats (I know, Coach Ra, I'm a loser). First, let's see if the Bucs are the only team with that points-scored-ranking=draft position connection in 2010.
The closest ones were Dallas (7th in points scored, 9th pick), Houston (9th, 11th), Detroit (15th, 13th), Jacksonville (18th, 16th) and Seattle (23rd, 25th).
Last year? Bingo!
In 2009, the Tennessee Titans finished 16th in the NFL with an average of 22.1 points per game. They then picked 16th in the 2010 NFL Draft, selecting Georgia Tech defensive end Derrick Morgan.
I found one, and I'm going to stop there because, as I said, I don't see the point in finding out how often it has happened. Considering we only had to rewind one year to find another example, and we found a whole handful of near misses, it's probably a relatively common coincidence.
7. Caleb Martinez of Tampa, Florida asks:
Hey Answer Man, which Buccaneer running back holds the franchise record for the most rushing yards in a game? Thanks Answer Man.
Answer Man: No problem, Caleb. This is pretty much a softball, anyway. Why don't we list the top 10, just for the heck of it? (All numbers below are for regular season only.)
MOST RUSHING YARDS, SINGLE GAME, BUCCANEERS
at Minnesota, Nov. 6, 1983
vs. Dallas, Dec. 3, 2000
vs. Washington, Dec. 4, 1994
vs. Green Bay, Sept. 30, 1984
vs. Green Bay, Oct. 21, 1979
at Chicago, Sept. 8, 1985
vs. Seattle, Dec. 26, 2010
at Green Bay, Sept. 25, 2005
vs. N.Y. Giants, Nov. 18, 1979
vs. Atlanta, Dec. 24, 2005
Since that was so easy, let's tease a few extra notes out of that list.
That's exactly 10 games of 150 rushing yards or more by an individual in team history, which means it has happened, on average, approximately once every 55 games. That's about once every three-and-a-half seasons. Of course, it hasn't really happened as regularly as that. The Bucs had five of them in their first 10 seasons (we've discussed the changing nature of the NFL game, in terms of run-pass play-calling ratio, in the past), but then went nine seasons without one before Errict Rhett's breakout game in 1994.
As you can see, James Wilder is the only one who appears on the list three times, with both Ricky Bell and Cadillac Williams popping up twice. Bell and Williams each got both of their 150-plus-yard games in the same season, while Wilder spread his out over three different campaigns.
The most recent addition to the list, of course, is the superb game LeGarrette Blount put together against the Seahawks last December. He got his 164 yards on just 18 carries, leading to an average of 9.1 yards per tote. That is actually not the best per-carry average among those 10 games, however; Warrick Dunn got 210 on just 22 carries against the Cowboys in 2000, which works out to 9.5 per tote. By the way, the Answer Man remembers that game very well, and Dunn didn't waste any time getting his big game started. On his very first carry of the game he burst over left tackle and ran 70 yards for a touchdown. The Bucs won, 27-7.
Dunn got one-third of the way to his final total on that first run. Who grinded it out the most on that list above? Errict Rhett has the third-highest total on the list, at 192, but he did it without a single carry longer than 23 yards.
Blount didn't score a touchdown during that 164-yard game against Seattle, and I thought that might be unusual among the games on this list, but it actually was not. Four of those 10 individual performances did not include a touchdown – Blount's, Williams' 158-yarder against the Packers and both of Bell's entries on the list.
You probably noticed that seven of those 10 games occurred at home…not too surprising. Also not surprising: The Bucs won nine of those 10 games. The exception is Wilder's 166-yard outing at Chicago in 1985, as the Bucs lost that game, 38-28.
And that leads me to a weird note that has absolutely nothing to do with your question, Caleb. The Bucs lost both of their games to the Bears in 1985, which isn't surprising given that Chicago went 15-1 in the regular season and then plowed through the playoffs toward their very memorable win over New England in Super Bowl XX. That team was known for its stifling defense, and indeed the Bears gave up a league-low 12.4 points per game in 1985 (the average drops to 10.9 if you include the playoffs). And yet, there are the Bucs, scoring 28 and 19 points in their two games against Chicago, or 23.5 per game, despite having the 21st-ranked scoring attack that season.
Like I said, weird.
8. Anastasia Dahir of Orlando, Florida asks:
What year did the Bucs' colors change from orange?
Usually I would put this question in a segment at the end of the column I call "Quickies" – questions that don't need much elaboration or that I have answered in detail before. But I only have one of them this week, so there's no point in really setting it apart. Though I kind of just did. Whatever.
The Buccaneers wore their Florida Orange, White and Red uniforms from their inaugural season of 1976 through the 1996 campaign, or a total of 21 seasons. In 1997, they adopted new colors, a new logo and new uniforms, based on a scheme of Buccaneer Red, Pewter, Black and Orange. They have now played 14 seasons in those uniforms.
And that will do it. I know this one's a bit shorter than usual for me (though still roughly 8,000 words), but I'm guessing you all are going to fill up my mailbag again and we'll have more to work with soon. Again, click here if you want to go to my question-submission page right now. Otherwise, have a great weekend and I'll be back soon with more video and written answers.