Five Buccaneers' players who out-performed their draft pick.
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The Tampa Bay Buccaneers own the first pick in the 2015 NFL Draft, just as they did in 1976 when they selected future Hall-of-Famer Lee Roy Selmon. Selmon isn't the only player to go from pole position on draft night to Canton; others include John Elway, Bruce Smith, Ron Yary, O.J. Simpson, Terry Bradshaw, Paul Hornung, Chuck Bednarik and Charley Trippi, with Orlando Pace and Peyton Manning sure to follow along soon.
A team deserves credit for nailing the #1 pick, but in some ways it's more impressive when a later pick turns into a star player. There's a reason everyone knows that Tom Brady was a sixth-round choice.
And that's our list for today: Buccaneer picks that returned far more value than what has generally been produced at their respective draft positions. Defensive tackle Gerald McCoy, the third-overall pick in 2010, need not apply. Defensive tackle David Logan, who was picked 307th overall and appears on the team's all-time top-10 sack list, is right in our wheelhouse.
Actually, we won't be considering Logan, or anyone else from the franchise's early days, because our reference point will be a draft value chart produced by FiveThirtyEight.com that covers the 20-year period from 1994-2013. This chart uses as its evaluation method the catch-all "AV" statistic from Pro Football Reference and restricts it to the first five seasons in each player's career.
The FiveThirtyEight chart demonstrates that NFL drafts are, for the most part, pretty efficient, in that there is "strong relationship between the performance of a player and where he was picked in the draft." You end up with a curve that descends rapidly from #1 overall and then flattens out over the later rounds. The #1 overall pick has an average AV of about 38 over his first five years; Selmon's was 48 at that point. Meanwhile, 2001 #14 overall pick Kenyatta Walker is not considered one of the better picks in Buc history but he had a 31 AV total after five years, which his almost exactly on point for his spot in the draft.
Here are five Bucs from the past 20 years whose value on the field exceeded what one would expect from their draft positions:
5. S Tanard Jackson, fourth round, 2007
• Overall Draft Pick: 107
• Average AV after five years at #107: ~11
• Jackson's AV after five years: 26
• Difference: ~15
The Buccaneers' coaching staff got to know Jackson at the 2007 Senior Bowl in Mobile, Alabama. The Syracuse standout came in as a cornerback but the Bucs, who were chosen as the North team's coaching crew after a down year in 2006, thought he would be better suited at safety. Raheem Morris, then the Buccaneers' defensive backs coach, worked Jackson at that spot for a week and the team came away convinced they could get a mid-round steal for the back end of its secondary.
And, indeed, Tampa Bay used a fourth-round pick, #107 overall, on Jackson, who performed well in Mobile and continued right on impressing when he got to Tampa. Jackson stepped right into a starting spot in his rookie campaign and opened all 32 games over the next two years. His issues with the league's substance-abuse program are obviously a significant part of the story, but in 2009 Jackson intercepted five passes and forced two fumbles in just 12 games. While his Buccaneer and professional career was eventually derailed, Jackson was far more impactful for five years in Tampa than most fourth-round picks prove to be.
4. OL Jeremy Zuttah, third round, 2008
• Overall Draft Pick: 83
• Average AV after five years at #83: ~12
• Zuttah's AV after five years: 27
• Difference: ~15
If there was one thing that defined Zuttah's six years in Tampa it was the lack of definition in his role on the Bucs' offensive line.
That's not an insult. Zuttah surely could have settled in at any of the three spots on the Bucs' interior line – and he played tackle in college as well – but he found himself repeatedly plugged into whatever hole had been created by injuries to his teammates. In the process, he logged dozens of starts at both guard spots and at center, which many believed to be his most natural position.
Zuttah spent six years in a Buccaneer uniform (2008-13) and in every single one of those seasons he started at least one game at two different positions. It is notoriously hard to determine the value of offensive linemen, and just being in the lineup for so long does not prove that Zuttah was an impact player. Still, he never complained about his moves around the lineup and, all things considered, gave the Buccaneers outstanding value from the 83rd overall selection.
3. C Jim Pyne, 1994
• Overall Draft Pick: 200
• Average AV after five years at #200: ~4
• Pyne's AV after five years: 22
• Difference: ~18
The fun note surrounding Jim Pyne in his early days with the Buccaneers was that he was a very rare "third-generation" NFL player. In fact, Pyne was just the second man to complete that trifecta and the first in which both cross-generational relationships were father-son.
That's neat, but it wouldn't have meant much to the Bucs in the long run if Pyne had been the typical sixth-round pick. Instead, after a year spent on the inactive list, Pyne became a regular starter for the Buccaneers for three years, including the breakout 1997 campaign.
Pyne mostly played left guard from 1995-97, and that's obviously not a position that racks up a ton of statistics. Still, he was a stalwart on the front line for a team that put a premium on running the ball. In this particular case, we're counting his AV from a fifth season in Detroit, where he started every game at center, but that seems fair since he had a zero AV total in his rookie campaign.
2. CB Ronde Barber, 1997
• Overall Draft Pick: 66
• Average AV after five years at #66: ~15
• Barber's AV after five years: 35
• Difference: ~20
Are you surprised to see Barber anywhere but the top of this list? After all, sure-fire Hall-of-Famers don't often come along in the third round. In the roughly 70-year history of the draft, only 21 third-round picks have ended up in Canton, only seven since the 1970 AFL-NFL merger. The Bucs got Barber at #66 and he proved to be the biggest "steal" in franchise history.
Barber's career AV is 155, second in franchise history only to Derrick Brooks. In terms of overall value in relation to draft position, he probably tops the Buccaneers list, although John Lynch (#88 in 1993) would have an argument. However, Barber barely played in his 1997 rookie season, ending up with a zero AV. As such, his AV over his first five years is "only" 35, which is a fantastic return from #66 but not the best the Buccaneers have seen.
1. CB Donnie Abraham, 1996
• Overall Draft Pick: 71
• Average AV after five years at #71: ~14
• Abraham's AV after five years: 42
• Difference: ~28
Again, Ronde Barber is probably the best Buccaneer draft pick in terms of returned value against the spot in which he was taken. Over the first five years of their respective careers, however, that honor goes not to Barber but to the criminally-underrated Donnie Abraham.
Abraham was the Buccaneers' third-round pick in 1996 and he stepped right into a starting spot as a rookie. He also began picking off passes with regularity as an NFL newcomer and barely slowed down over six years in Tampa. In fact, Abraham tallied at least five picks in five of his six seasons with the Buccaneers, the last of which does not count in this analysis.
Abraham peaked in 1999 and 2000, when he picked off a total of 14 passes and recorded consecutive seasons of 10 AV. He would play just one more season in Tampa before finishing with three campaigns with the New York Jets, Abraham might not be the best player in franchise history, but he's easily one of the most valuable draft selections the team has ever made.