Head Coach Jon Gruden found a busier draft room more enjoyable than the slow Saturdays of recent years
Jon Gruden chuckled as he said it, near the end of Round Three of the 2005 NFL Draft, but he wasn't insincere:
"This is the best first day of the draft that I've ever had."
The joke, of course, is that Gruden was thrilled simply to be busy on Saturday. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach had sat through three previous drafts that were hamstrung by missing choices in the early rounds. This year, with four picks in the first three rounds including top-five selections in the first and second, his Buccaneers were in the game.
But Gruden was also serious about his approval of Saturday's selections. The Buccaneers clearly addressed need, drafting players at four positions that hadn't been addressed with a first-day pick in some time.
First-round running back Carnell Williams was the Bucs' first back in the top three rounds since Warrick Dunn in 1997. Second-round linebacker Barrett Ruud was the highest drafted player at his position by Tampa Bay since Derrick Brooks in 1995. Alex Smith is the first opening-day tight end for the Bucs since Harold Bishop in 1994. Tackle Chris Colmer? You guessed it – the first shot at that position in the opening rounds since Kenyatta Walker in 2001.
The Bucs know they had depth concerns, and they are determined to use this draft as the means to replenish the team's young talent. They think they made a great start towards that end on Saturday, and believe that they are well into their second strong draft in a row. Last year, first-round wide receiver Michael Clayton made an enormous first-year impact in the NFL, and several of his draft-mates are in positions to contribute quickly to the team's turnaround.
"I've been criticized for not liking young players and that's hogwash," said Gruden. "I take a lot of pride in this time of year. I had a lot of young players play for us in Oakland, and I haven't had that luxury here. Hopefully, Mike Clayton was a great start for us last year. We expect Will Allen and Jeb Terry to make contributions this year, with Marquis Cooper and hopefully the four guys we selected here today don't hang around on the bench very long. Hopefully, they can step in and give us something right away, because we need help."
The Bucs' most notable deficiency in recent years has been in the running game, where they have ranked no higher than 24th for the last four seasons. That concern was clearly evident on the first day of the draft, which included three offensive players who could significantly help the running attack.
"Alex Smith is a big part of the running game, too," said Gruden. "Sometimes we have been known to be a two-tight end team. With the addition of Anthony Becht and Alex Smith, it will make us different in our two-tight end sets. Certainly, Cadillac Williams is a guy that can carry the ball, with (Michael) Pittman and (Mike) Alstott, and a guy like Chris Colmer, when healthy, has been tremendous. We feel good about where he is now, physically, and we are very excited to add him, too."
The Buccaneers have eight more picks to make on Sunday, including two each in the fifth and sixth rounds and three in the seventh round. The Bucs could very well find eventual starters with some of those eight picks, as they did with Jermaine Phillips in the fifth round in 2002 and Sean Mahan in the fifth round in 2003. However, second-day players, on average, are more likely to become role players and spot starters. It's the first-day players who teams project to become starters at some point in the not-too-distant future.
Whether or not Williams, Ruud, Smith and Colmer all fulfill those projections is a question for down the road. On Saturday night, however, as the most active first day of the draft for the Buccaneers since 1977 was winding down, the team was already excited about the future.
"[We drafted] four players in the first day that we are very excited about," said Gruden. "They are great guys who are very competitive people who will come in right away and compete. We need that." **