Ever since the selection of Derrick Brooks in the first round in 1995, the Bucs have been on a roll with their linebacker decisions
In the weeks prior to the 2003 NFL Draft, Buccaneers.com will analyze each position on the team in regards to the draft, looking at depth, selection history and available players. Much of the focus will be on the Bucs' second and third-round history, as the team does not currently own a first-round pick. As usual, this look at the draft is not intended to reflect the intentions or strategies of the Buccaneers' personnel decision-makers. Next up is a position that has been a strength in Tampa for the better part of a decade: linebackers.
Since 1999, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have spent as many draft picks on kickers as they have on linebackers: one. They've selected five safeties and three tight ends in that same span.
|**Linebackers Drafted in the Last Five Years**|
|**Year**||**Round**||**Player**||**School**||**Still on Team?**|
|2000||3rd||Nate Webster||Miami (FL)||Yes|
Given that, you might expect the Bucs to be a bit thin in the middle of their defense but, of course, Tampa Bay linebackers have made a combined six Pro Bowl trips in those same four years, and a total of 11 such trips since 1996. Over the last seven years, the Bucs have kept their linebacker position well-stocked by making the most of the few picks they have devoted to the spot, and by retaining their own standouts.
As we roll into 2003, however, it might be time for the Bucs to dip back into the draft pool at linebacker. The 2002 starter on the strong side, Alshermond Singleton, has departed for Dallas via free agency and the most obvious internal replacements are Nate Webster, who has played in the middle his first three years, and Ryan Nece, who has a total of eight NFL games under his belt. Webster is also currently an unsigned, restricted free agent, as is Jack Golden, another potential replacement.
The finest intersection ever of Tampa Bay's draft efforts and the linebacker position came on April 22, 1995, when the team traded up with Dallas to take Florida State's Derrick Brooks at the end of the first round. Brooks has since tied a team record with six Pro Bowl visits and was recently named the 2002 NFL Defensive Player of the Year. Including Brooks, the Bucs have drafted just five linebackers since 1995, and four have made outstanding contributions in Tampa. Brooks, Singleton and Jamie Duncan all became starters and Webster has helped on both special teams and in the middle of the defense. Only 1995 sixth-rounder Wardell Rouse failed to make an impact.
That trend is a reversal of the Bucs' draft fortunes in their first 19 seasons, during which they spent a lot of high picks on linebackers but had hit-and-miss results. The team, in fact, used back-to-back high first-rounders on Broderick Thomas and Keith McCants (a LB/DE hybrid) in 1989 and 1990 and failed to land a cornerstone player either year.
Of course, the Bucs do not own a first-round pick in this year's draft, having surrendered it along with three other high picks to the Oakland Raiders to bring Head Coach Jon Gruden aboard last February. The Bucs first two picks are in the second round (64th overall) and third round (97th) this April. No matter. The team's draft history is rich with successful and unsuccessful examples of second and third-round linebackers, as well.
Linebackers Drafted by Tampa Bay in the Second and Third Rounds