Skip to main content

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Best-Case Scenarios: 4 Useful Buc Comps

As the Buccaneers get set to start training camp with dozens of eager roster hopefuls, it helps to compare some of this year's young players to successes from the past.

Check out photos of the Buccaneers' current roster.

Related Links





About a year ago, we compared then-second-year running back Mike James to Earnest Graham, one of the more popular Tampa Bay Buccaneers of the current millennium. That was (as intended) a compliment to James but also an invocation of the traits that allowed his predecessor to have such a fine NFL career. A former undrafted free agent, Graham lasted almost a decade in the league by first excelling on special teams and later proving his worth as both a blocker and a ballcarrier. Graham was hard-working, dedicated and team-oriented, and we saw the same things in James.

We don't know yet if James will end up with a playing career as satisfying as the one Graham put together. The 2014 campaign wasn't a huge step forward for the former Miami Hurricanes back, but then again Graham never had more than 28 carries in a season until his fourth year. We'll leave the jury out on that one.

We still like the comparison, however, and more so the idea of the comparison. What better way to consider the potential of a current Buccaneer player than to find a successful one from the past whom he resembles? That's our goal today: Find "comps" for four current Buccaneers from the team's past, in a purposefully optimistic manner. In other words, these are best-case scenarios. Would Mike James, right now, be happy to know he was going to duplicate Earnest Graham's career? We're guessing the answer would be yes. We also believe the following four players would be pleased to do as well as their connected predecessors.

(By the way, we stayed away from the Lavonte David/Derrick Brook and Gerald McCoy/Warren Sapp comps because 1) obvious! and 2) unfair, given the Hall of Fame status of Brooks and Sapp.)

1. Danny Lansanah/Shelton Quarles
There are very few NFL players who are going to match the origin stories of either Quarles or Lansanah, but those two do share some league-entry similarities.

Quarles was originally an undrafted free agent out of Vanderbilt with the Miami Dolphins, and when he didn't make the team in South Florida in 1995 he proceeded to bounce around a little bit. Not only did he play a couple seasons in the Canadian Football League, but he even spent some time working in a printing press in Tennessee. Lansanah was an undrafted free agent signee by the Green Bay Packers in 2008; he bounced around for a while in Green Bay, Miami and Detroit before trying out the UFL. The Bucs found Quarles through CFL tape; they grabbed Lansanah off the New York Jets' practice squad in 2013.

Lansanah's a bit bigger than Quarles was in his playing days, but they both are/were fluid athletes, with versatility as a calling card. Quarles started out as a strongside linebacker in a 4-3 scheme similar to what the Bucs are running now under Lovie Smith; that also seems to be Lansanah's best fit with the current team. However, Quarles moved to middle linebacker in 2002 and was so good at that job that he ended up in the Pro Bowl. Lansanah played in the middle, too, last season, in the process becoming the first Buccaneer linebacker ever to start at all three positions in a 4-3 set in the same season.

Both Quarles and Lansanah were sneaky playmakers. In 2001, Quarles recorded the longest touchdown of any kind in franchise history on a 98-yard interception return against Green Bay. In 2014, Lansanah finished second in the NFL among all linebackers with four interceptions, two of which he returned for touchdowns.

Quarles played a decade in Tampa (and is now the team's director of football operations), and is probably the best undrafted find in franchise history. That is obviously an awful lot for Lansanah to live up to, but he seems like the same sort of talented, driven and underappreciated athlete who could defy the odds.

2. Johnthan Banks/Brian Kelly
The Buccaneers drafted Donnie Abraham in the third round in 1996, Ronde Barber in the third round in 1997 and Brian Kelly in the second round in 1998. That's quite a bit of investment in a particular position, and on the whole it worked out splendidly.

Abraham was an interception machine from Day One, and while he never made a Pro Bowl he probably should have. Barber ended up outshining him (and every other corner in team history) but that doesn't diminish the amount of value the Bucs got out of that third-round choice in '97. If you were making the "all-time Buccaneers team" your starting cornerbacks would probably be Barber and Abraham.

Kelly was taken 15 picks into the second round in '98, so in terms of draft investment he was the biggest one the Bucs made during that period. The fact that he might have to play the nickel position (and fight Aqib Talib for that job) on the hypothetical all-time team is an indication of how good Barber and Abraham were and also how underappreciated Kelly most likely was.

Kelly played a decade with the Buccaneers. It took him a couple years to become a starter – basically, he took over for Abraham – but he played in the nickel before that and subsequently had several seasons in which he led the team in interceptions. Fun fact: Brian Kelly was the leading interceptor on Tampa Bay's legendary 2002 defense.

Johnthan Banks was the 11th pick of the second round in 2013. Like Kelly, he was a decorated college player. Unlike Kelly, he landed in a situation that gave him an immediate opportunity to start. Banks has, in fact, started 30 games over his first two NFL seasons.

Still, there is a perception, likely accurate, that Banks is still growing into the job. He improved noticeably over the course of the 2014 season, his second and his first in Lovie Smith's defense, and might be ready to have the kind of breakout stretch of seasons that Kelly began in 2000. Both players are/were bigger cornerbacks who could match up with the league's growing ranks of outsized receivers.

Kelly had just three interceptions over his first four NFL seasons, which likely has a lot to do with him being an underappreciated performer. Banks already has seven picks through two pro campaigns. If he can take his game to another level, as Kelly did, he might join the conversation of the best cornerback draft picks in team annals.

3. Ali Marpet/Greg Roberts
Right off the bat, there is one major difference between Marpet and Roberts. While Marpet was the first Division III offensive lineman to be drafted in nearly two decades, Roberts played his college ball with the powerhouse Oklahoma Sooners.

In this case, we're thinking less about origins and more about impact. In 1979, Roberts joined a Buccaneers team that had a rapidly improving defense, a young but impressive quarterback and a sketchy offensive line. He stepped immediately into the starting lineup at right guard and made a huge difference. Not only did the Buccaneers' running game improve from 19th in the league to eighth, but Roberts proved to be a master of blocking on the run, excelling on plays on which he "pulled" from his side to the left.

The 2015 Buccaneers appear to be in a similar place. The offensive line was a serious problem in 2014, leading the team to invest significantly in its improvement. That line will most likely be blocking for a rookie quarterback with a huge amount of promise. The running game, while problematic in 2014, features a stable of talented runners that could explode with better blocking upfront. Marpet is expected to be a part of that answer.

In fact, Marpet's target is the starting right guard spot, just as it was for Roberts in 1979. Marpet may not have the same big-school origins as Roberts, but he's a similarly nimble big man who could give the Buccaneers' front line a lot of new options in its blocking scheme. One note on this comparison: As strong as Roberts was from the outset, his Buccaneers and NFL career lasted just four years. The current team obviously hopes to have Marpet around a lot longer than that.

4. Donteea Dye/Karl Williams
This one is admittedly the most speculative of the four, by a long, long shot. Lansanah and Banks have already succeeded in the NFL and Marpet is a strong bet to do the same. Dye, on the other hand, is an undrafted free agent out of Heidelberg, a school in Ohio with 1,000 undergraduates and a total of four NFL draft picks, ever. Dye would seem to be a tough call to even to make it in the NFL for a single season.

However, that's why we're comparing him with Karl "The Truth" Williams. We're talking best-case scenarios here, after all. In 1996, Williams arrived in Tampa as an undrafted free agent out of Texas A&M-Kingsville, a Division II school with about 8,000 students. NFL teams had descended upon the campus in large part to scout offensive lineman Jermane Mayberry, but the Bucs walked away with good information on Williams and offensive linemen Jorge Diaz and Kevin Dogins. All would make it in the NFL with Tampa Bay.

Williams was far down the depth chart when he got to the University of Tampa for the Bucs' 1996 training camp, but he made a quick impression with his precise route-running. He made the team and, near the end of that season, took over as the primary return man on special teams. While he never really ascended to primary starter status, Williams did enough right to play in 100 games for the Buccaneers and set franchise records for punt return yards and touchdowns.

Again, such an outcome would be wonderful for Dye, who will face the type of steep odds that all undrafted free agents must overcome. But he's already made a good first impression during the team's OTA days in May and June, and it's fair to say that the receiving corps is unsettled behind the starting duo of Vincent Jackson and Mike Evans. Dye also will likely have a tough time unseating Kaelin Clay and Kenny Bell in the battle for the return job, but it's a long season and perhaps he'll get the kind of late-season opportunity on special teams that put The Truth on the path to a long NFL career.

This article has been reproduced in a new format and may be missing content or contain faulty links. Please use the Contact Us link in our site footer to report an issue.

Latest Headlines