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The Nitschke Pick

Posted Mar 22, 2005

While most of the focus is on the Bucs’ first-round pick, the team’s next selection – number 36 – offers a strong history of good returns

Pro Bowl RB Tiki Barber was the 36th pick in the 1997 draft

What do Tiki Barber, Chad Johnson, Lawyer Milloy, Jimmy Smith and Ray Nitschke – yes, Ray Nitschke have in common.

For the answer, we rewind to 1958.

The Green Bay Packers, picking third in the first round, selected Michigan State linebacker Dan Currie. Picking second in the next two rounds, the Packers added LSU running back Jim Taylor and North Carolina State back Dick Christy. A nice enough haul – Currie and Taylor were top producers for the next seven to eight years while Christy didn’t make the team.

Then, in the fourth round, the Packers selected Illinois linebacker Ray Nitschke. Nitschke, one of the greatest defenders in NFL history, was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1978.

Green Bay took Nitschke with the 11th pick of that round, making him the 36th player chosen overall. And that’s how the Packer great is tied forever to the other NFL standouts mentioned above. No offense to Barber, Johnson or the rest, but if there was to be only one player associated with each draft slot, we’d have to give 36 to Ray.

Call it the Nitschke Pick, just like 82 is the Montana Pick, 117 is the Largent Pick and 186 is the Deacon Jones Pick.

So why are we fixated on 36 today? If you haven’t already guessed, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers will make the 36th selection in this year’s draft, picking fourth in the second round. If there is to be another quality addition to the Nitschke fraternity – a group that also includes such standouts as LB Mike Peterson, C Kevin Mawae, tackle Jumbo Elliot, WR Earnest Gray and WR Freddy Solomon – it will be up to the Buccaneers to make it happen.

Good news: The Bucs have some history with making the 36th pick count. That’s where they stood in 1987, when they tabbed Washington State cornerback Ricky Reynolds. One of the best defensive backs in franchise history, Reynolds started 103 games over seven seasons in Tampa and is the club’s ninth-leading all-time interceptor.

More good news: Recent history suggests the Buccaneers have a very good shot at getting a top-notch contributor at 36. You have to go back to 1995 to find a true bust at the position, and virtually every 36er taken since is either an NFL standout or a solid contributor. Here are the last 10 players drafted 36 overall.

YEARTEAMPLAYERNotes
2004Kansas CityT Junior SiaviiStarted 9 gms. as a rookie
2003New EnglandEugene WilsonInstant starter, 8 INT in 2 yrs.
2002BuffaloR Josh Reed3 yrs. – 111-1,250-4
2001CincinnatiR Chad JohnsonPro Bowler, 185 rec. in 2003-04
2000PhiladelphiaR Todd Pinkston4-yr. starter, 184 catches
1999IndianapolisLB Mike PetersonStarter in IND, JAX, 692 tackles
1998ArizonaT Anthony Clement69 starts in 7 yrs.
1997NY. GiantsRB Tiki BarberPro Bowler, 2,015 comb. yards in ‘04
1996New EnglandS Lawyer MilloyPro Bowler, 640 tackles, 21 INT
1995CarolinaDE Shawn KingOnly played 4 yrs. in CAR, IND

(* Other notables selected at 36 in the last 30 years include: Mawae by the N.Y. Jets in 1994, Smith by Dallas in 1992, Elliott by the N.Y. Giants in 1988, Reynolds by Tampa Bay in 1987, LB Buddy Curry by Atlanta in 1980, Gray by the N.Y. Giants in 1979, LB Keith Butler by Seattle in 1978 and Solomon by San Francisco in 1975.)

Any spot in the draft can produce a bust, of course, right up to the first player taken overall (Steve Emtman, anyone?). King, last one the list above, spent his short NFL career at odds with the league’s drug policy and never became a starter. San Diego never got much out of defensive tackle George Thornton, the 1990 pick 36, who spent two years with the Chargers and one with the Giants.

The Bucs have a fairly good recent history of picking in the second round. Courtney Hawkins, Errict Rhett, Mike Alstott, Jerry Wunsch, Brian Kelly, Shaun King and Cosey Coleman all worked out well for the team, to varying degrees. Notably, the player that stands out most on that list, Alstott, was a high second-rounder, number 35 overall.

The Bucs hope to make another selection along the caliber of Alstott and Kelly with this year’s second-rounder, especially since this is the highest they’ve been slotted in each round since 1992-94 (the Alstott pick came courtesy of the trade of TE Harold Bishop to Cleveland).

We have a chance, with the opportunity of having a high draft choice in each round,” said General Manager Bruce Allen. “The players that you pick at the top of the second and the top of the third round are better than the players that you pick at the bottom, hopefully. That’s the way it’s designed. We have a chance to add some impact players in the draft, which this franchise hasn’t been able to do for the last several years. So we look forward to it.”

The Bucs have a chance, technically, to get another Ray Nitschke. That’s a lofty goal, of course; the Bucs would be happy simply to land a player who belongs in the Nitschke Pick fraternity.

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