Tampa Bay Buccaneers

20/20 Hindsight

A look at the last 20 years' worth of #20 overall selections in the NFL Draft, where the Buccaneers are scheduled to pick this year

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Over the last two decades, there have been some curious patterns regarding the 20th overall pick in the first round of the NFL Draft.

From 2004-06, for instance, three different teams occupied that spot but all of them used it to pick a defensive end.  Over the next four seasons, three different teams all picked cornerbacks.  Looking over the last 20 years as a whole, it's interesting to note that 13 of the picks were either cornerbacks or defensive linemen, and only five of them were offensive players.  There's nary a quarterback, running back or interior offensive lineman in the bunch.

In 1992 and then again just two years later, the 20th overall pick emerged as the NFL's Defensive Rookie of the Year that fall.  In 1994 and 1996, the same team (Miami) used the 20th pick to grab two players at the same position (defensive tackle).  Another team (Dallas) did the same thing with a different position (defensive end) in both 1999 and 2005).  Between them, Miami, Dallas and Detroit combined to make just under half of all #20 picks from 1991-2010.

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have one spot on that 20-year list, having grabbed Kansas cornerback Aqib Talib at #20 in 2008.  They could extend several of those patterns mentioned above by taking another cornerback in this year's draft, as they once again own the #20 pick heading into draft weekend.  There is only one trend the Buccaneers are actually interested in establishing this April, however: Talib was the first 20th-overall pick Tampa Bay had ever made, and they would like to continue their perfect tradition at the spot.

After finishing with a 10-6 record that left them just barely out of the postseason field in 2010, the Buccaneers drew the 20th position in the first round of the 2011 NFL Draft.  As the draft progresses, the Bucs will alternate with the New York Giants between the 19th and 20th slot in each round.  Of course, it is entirely possible that Tampa Bay will not end up picking 20th overall; just two years ago, for instance, the Bucs went into the draft scheduled to pick 19th but actually grabbed Kansas State quarterback Josh Freeman at #17 after a small trade up.  While at the NFL Scouting Combine a few weeks ago, Buccaneers General Manager Mark Dominik posited that the 20th spot is a position that often opens up the possibility of trading both up and down.

If the Buccaneers stay put at #20, however, they will be adding to a list that has been, frankly, pretty up-and-down over the past two decades.  Here's a look at the last 20 #20s:

YEAR

TEAM

PLAYER

Notes

2010

Houston

CB Kareem Jackson

Struggled as a rookie in a porous secondary

2009

Detroit

TE Brandon Pettigrew

Emerged as rising star in '10 w/71-722-4 line

2008

Tampa Bay

CB Aqib Talib

Top young CB with 15 INTs in first 3 seasons

2007

N.Y. Giants

CB Aaron Ross

Just 2 starts and no INTs last 2 seasons

2006

Kansas City

DE Tamba Hali

41.5 sacks in 5 seasons, excelled in 2 different defenses

2005

Dallas

DE Marcus Spears

Overshadowed by DeMarcus Ware; just 8 career sacks

2004

Minnesota

DE Kenechi Udeze

Forced from NFL after 5 seasons by leukemia battle

2003

Denver

T George Foster

57 unremarkable career starts, now playing in UFL

2002

Green Bay

WR Javon Walker

Career 267-4,011-31 line but only 41 recs. since '2007

2001

St. Louis

S Adam Archuleta

3 teams, 86 starts, 4 INTs in 7 years, considered a bust

2000

Detroit

T Stockar McDougle

56 starts, just 2 in 2005-07

1999

Dallas

DE Ebenezer Ekuban

31.5 sacks in 9 yrs. with DAL, CLE, DEN

1998

Detroit

CB Terry Fair

48 starts, out of NFL since '06

1997

Minnesota

LB Dwayne Rudd

Started strong but faded quickly, out in 7 seasons

1996

Miami

DT Daryl Gardener

6 strong seasons in Miami before back injury

1995

Detroit

DE Luther Elliss

10 seasons, two Pro Bowls, 29 career sacks

1994

Miami

DT Tim Bowens

2-time Pro Bowler, 1994 DEF Rookie of the Year

1993

New Orleans

TE Irv Smith

Just 183 career receptions in 7 seasons

1992

Kansas City

CB Dale Carter

4-time Pro Bowler, 1992 DEF Rookie of the Year

1991

Dallas

DT Kelvin Pritchett

Solid 14-year career, mostly in DET; 31.5 sacks

We'll set aside Talib for now to avoid any bias.  And it is probably too early to make a call either way on Pettigrew (who looks like a fantastic pick so far) and Jackson (who will need to improve on his rookie season to come out on the good side of the ledger).

Beyond that, the biggest hits to come out of the 20th overall pick over the last 20 years are probably Hali and Bowens.  Carter had a fantastic first six seasons with the Chiefs but was less productive in the second half of his career with three other teams due to substance-abuse issues and one year-long suspension.  Walker looked like a star early on as well but injuries helped derail his career and he never really justified a ballyhooed trade and big contract in Denver or another subsequent big contract with Oakland.

Ellis, Ekuban and Pritchett had long and productive NFL careers, perhaps not with the same highs as the three mentioned above.  Rudd and Gardener had some very good peaks but their careers were a bit shorter than their early successes indicated they would be.  Ross and Spears might still have bigger days ahead but so far haven't produced returns worthy of the 20th overall pick.  Udeze looked as if he would have a long career on par with Ellis or Ekuban, but battled with acute lymphoblastic leukemia in 2008 and was unable to complete a return to the game in 2009 due to complications from his chemotherapy.  He is now an assistant coach at the University of Washington.

The two offensive linemen on the list, Foster and McDougle, combined for 113 starts but it's fair to say that neither became the sort of franchise cornerstone at tackle that their drafting teams had hoped for.  To some degree or another, the remaining players on the list could be considered first-round misses: Archuleta, Fair and Smith.  All, however, at least nailed down starting jobs in the NFL for three to five years, so they don't necessarily belong in the Akili Smith/Vernon Gholston epic-bust category.

Hali started his career strong with eight sacks as a rookie and another 7.5 in 2007.  Despite the Chiefs' recent switch to a 3-4 defense, and thus his own move to outside linebacker, Hali has kept his career trajectory moving upward.  He already owns 41.5 sacks through five seasons – a little more than eight per year – and last year he garnered his first Pro Bowl bid with a career-best 14.5 sacks.  Draft reviews in the spring of 2006 suggested that Kansas City might have reached for Hali at #20, but he has more than justified the pick since.

Bowens was the Defensive Rookie of the Year in 1994 and he went on to make the Pro Bowl following the 1998 and 2002 seasons.  He was eventually forced out of the game early in 2004 with a back injury but not before playing 10 previous seasons and missing just five games and seven starts over the entire decade.  Bowens wasn't a big sack-man, with just 22 in his career and a single-season high of 3.5, but he controlled the middle for an often-dominant Miami defense and is considered one of the best players in team history at his position.

Like Bowens, Carter was the NFL's Defensive Rookie of the Year after coming in as the 20th-overall pick, in 1992 with the Chiefs.  Carter went on to make four Pro Bowls and be named an AP All-Pro second-team selection twice.  His first six seasons in Kansas City were so productive, including 19 interceptions, that the contract he signed with Denver in 1999 made him the highest-paid defensive back in the game.  That move didn't pay off for the Broncos, however, as he started out poorly in Denver and then sat out his second season on the aforementioned suspension.

Walker started with two middling years in Green Bay and then exploded in 2004 with 89 catches for 1,382 yards and 12 touchdowns.  He missed all but one game due to injury in 2005 and then was traded to the Broncos the next year, perhaps in part due to a threatened holdout in '05.  His first year in Denver was another strong one – 60-1,084-8 – but more injuries followed and he played in just 19 games over the next three years.  Walker was not in the NFL in 2010, though he briefly signed with Minnesota following an injury to Vikings wide receiver Sidney Rice.

Spears has been a starter since he was drafted in 2005, but while fellow '05 draftee DeMarcus Ware has emerged as perhaps the top pass-rushing threat in the NFL, Spears has gotten to the quarterback just eight times in 88 games.  He is considered a strong run-stopper, however, and if he returns from his 2010 knee injury he could still have quite a few productive years left, whether in Dallas or elsewhere.  He is due to become a free agent before the 2011 season.

Ross had two good years to start his career with the Giants and was a strong performer during the 2007 playoff run that concluded in New York's most recent Super Bowl win.  He was injured and/or ineffective for much of the 2009 and 2010 seasons, however, so there is evidence that Ross's career could go either way in the long run.  There is less evidence so far about Jackson, the most recent #20 pick, but plenty of time for him to turn it around after an underwhelming rookie season.  Houston had the league's worst pass defense in 2010 and will obviously be trying to remedy that in 2011; perhaps a stronger secondary around Jackson will put him in position to thrive.

Archuleta and Fair, on the other hand, are two defensive backs on this list who it's fair to say never lived up to their high-round billing.  Comparison's to John Lynch accompanied the hard-hitting Archuleta into the league but he never developed into anything approaching that level of all-star. Archuleta did start 86 games over seven seasons with St. Louis, Washington and Chicago but had just four career interceptions. Fair was a starter for most of his four seasons in Detroit, but the seven interceptions he had during that span is close to his entire NFL legacy. He signed with Carolina in 2002 and played three games for the Panthers. Fair played just five games after that, all in 2005 for the St. Louis Rams.

The first time the 20th pick in the draft came in the opening round was in 1967, when the NFL and AFL drafted together for the first time, putting 26 teams in the mix. The first player with the honor of going 20th in the first round was Michigan running back Jim Detwiler, who was picked by the Baltimore Colts. Detwiler never played a regular-season game in the NFL due to a knee injury he had suffered in college, which flared up again during the 1967 preseason and required additional surgery.

Coincidentally, Detwiler's successor at Michigan, running back Ron Johnson, went 20th overall two years later, to the Cleveland Browns. Johnson, however, played seven seasons in the league, six with the Giants, and rushed for 4,308 career yards.

Two years after that, perhaps the most successful 20th overall pick ever was executed by the Los Angeles Rams, who used it on Florida defensive end Jack Youngblood. Youngblood, who is famous for playing the 1979 playoffs with a broken fibula, was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2001.

Other notable players taken with the 20th pick of the first round include tight end Billy Joe Dupree (Dallas, 1973), tackle Doug France (St. Louis, 1975), tackle Mark May (Washington, 1981), wide receiver Mike Quick (Philadelphia, 1982), running back Gary Anderson (San Diego, 1983), tackle Will Wolford (Buffalo, 1986), wide receiver Haywood Jeffires (Houston, 1987), safety Steve Atwater (Denver, 1989) and running back Steve Broussard (Atlanta, 1990).

Just from that overview, it appears as if teams have had some good luck selecting wide receivers and offensive tackles at the 20th overall spot, at least until it became such a defense-heavy slot over the last 20 years. Still, if we dubbed pick #36 the "Nitschke Pick" in 2005, in honor of 1958 36th pick Ray Nitschke, then gave the #23 pick to Ozzie Newsome in 2006, we'd have to conclude that pick #20 is the "Youngblood Pick."

Perhaps Hali, Talib or Pettigrew will one day take that honor away from Youngblood.  Or maybe the best #20 pick of all time is still to come.  The Buccaneers hope it comes very soon.

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