The Bucs went after a player who could make an instant impact in Kansas CB Aqib Talib
In the weeks leading up to the 2008 NFL Draft weekend, draft analysts produced one mock draft after another, most of them expecting the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to go after either a cornerback or a wide receiver early in the draft.
On Saturday, the Buccaneers proved both camps right, using their two Day-One picks to address those very positions. Which cornerback and which receiver Tampa Bay would end up with was harder to predict, but at the end of the day the draft unfolded well for the Buccaneers, who nabbed two of their targeted players.
By selecting Aqib Talib, Kansas cornerback, and Dexter Jackson, Appalachian State wide receiver, the team added an explosive playmaker on each side of the ball.
Talib, taken with the 20th pick in the first round, has excellent size at 6-1, 202 pounds and has flashed a knack for getting his hands on the ball, picking off 13 passes in his three-year career as a Jayhawk.
In addition, he possesses the quickness and smarts that allowed him to also play wide receiver at times in college, and he may even get a chance to return punts in the NFL.
The multi-talented Talib has Head Coach Jon Gruden excited about the playmaking possibilities he brings to the field, precisely the trait the Bucs were looking for entering the draft.
"You're going to meet a guy that has tremendous confidence, he's got a real passion to play," Gruden said. "It's a contagious vibe. He's a leader at [KU], and when you watch him practice or when you see him play, you know who No. 3 is. You just can't help but walk away feeling his presence on a football field. He's that kind of competitor and playmaker."
Physical attributes aside, Gruden said he was also impressed with the mental makeup of his newest defensive addition, saying Talib sports a fiery love for the game that drives his play on the field.
"He's a guy that sits on the edge of the chair and he just wants to go out and play," Gruden said. "He wants to be in the yard playing ball, it's just what he does. We need that. We need some juice here, certainly some playmaking, and we need some confidence. Sometimes when he plays there's a little arrogance, honestly. I like this guy a lot. He's a great kid. Football means the world to him, and I think he'll represent us well."
Talib played in 34 games while at Kansas, starting 32, and racked up 162 tackles, 13 interceptions, 43 passes defensed, two forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries. His 13 picks rank him second in school history, and his 322 career interception return yards easily shattered the previous school record of 180.
Both Gruden and Defensive Coordinator Monte Kiffin expressed the expectation that Talib would immediately step in and compete for playing time in the Bucs' already-talented secondary.
"I expect him to come in here and full-force compete," Gruden said. "He's in a competitive situation. We feel like we've got two very good corners here, Ronde [Barber] and Phillip Buchanon, and Eugene Wilson gives us some real versatility, a guy that can play the nickel, play either safety position. It's good to have some ball-hawking guys back there that can cover man-to-man and instinctively play the football when it's in flight."
Added Kiffin: "We always let guys come in and compete, especially first-round or second-round picks. They are going to come in and compete, but that doesn't mean that we just start them. They have to earn it because we like who we have right now. But you can't have enough corners."
Come the first day of practice later this summer, Talib may very well be lining up in across the line of scrimmage from Jackson, the Bucs' other first-day selection.
After swinging a trade with Jacksonville to drop down to the 58th pick from the 52nd, the Bucs picked up Jackson, a speed demon who could provide an immediate boost in the return game as well as develop into a dangerous open-field threat.
The 5-10, 182-pound Jackson snagged 110 receptions for 1,846 yards and 17 touchdowns in his four-year Mountaineer career, including a whopping 22.9 yards-per-catch average in 2007. He also averaged 6.6 yards per punt return, and his blazing 4.37-second 40-yard dash time has the Bucs' brass excited about the speedster's prospects of stepping in and making some big plays next season.
Gruden said that while Jackson may need some seasoning and some tutelage from veterans such as Joey Galloway in order to make an impact at receiver, he could prove to be an instant shot in the arm in another important aspect of the game.
"He's a quick-strike guy," Gruden said. "You see him catch balls down the field, you see him catching quick screens, if he can make one guy miss and find a crease he is capable of hitting it. Special teams really makes him a valuable guy for us. He'll give us some depth at the receiver position while he's progressing and he'll also give us a real kick, I think, in the return game.
"He returns punts and kickoffs and that's an area at the end of the day that accumulates a lot of yardage. We feel like we got fast, we got a guy that has versatility and he'll have a good guy to learn from in Joey Galloway. We're excited to have Dexter."
As for Jackson, it was a surreal moment when he received that fateful phone call and learned that he'd be donning a pewter and red jersey for his rookie campaign in 2008.
"I know that when I came down for my visit to Tampa, Jon Gruden told me that they were looking for a speed receiver to really give them a deep-threat guy in the slot," Jackson said. "Coach got me on the phone and said, 'Dex, would you like to be a Buccaneer?' I was like, 'Coach, I would love to.' I was very overwhelmed, and this is just a blessing."
The excitement is mutual. With the first day of the draft in the books, the Bucs are thrilled about the two new players the team has been able to add, and with another full day of selections ahead on Sunday, the team will hope to add even more playmakers along the lines of Talib and Jackson.