The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are now, in a manner of speaking, on the clock.
For the first time in 27 years, the Buccaneers own the first overall pick in the upcoming NFL Draft. That became official on Sunday afternoon when Tampa Bay lost to the New Orleans Saints in the 2014 season finale to complete a 2-14 record.
Lovie Smith's Buccaneers had hoped to finish the season with a confidence-boosting victory over their division rivals, but with the loss ended up at the bottom of the league standings. Each year, the order of the NFL Draft is determined by the previous season's standings, with strength of schedule used as the tiebreaker for teams with identical records. The Tennessee Titans also finished 2-14 with a loss to Indianapolis on Sunday but the Buccaneers have an inferior strength of schedule and thus win the tiebreaker.
As a result, Tampa Bay is the one team in the NFL that can fully control at least one decision in the 2015 draft, and that's a rare position for any team to be in. The Buccaneers last picked first in 1987; since then, the highest choice the team has made overall was #3 in 2010, which landed prized defensive tackle Gerald McCoy. The Buccaneers were slotted second overall in the 1992 draft but had previously traded their first-round pick.
It is far too early to have a strong conviction on what player the Buccaneers will target with the first pick, but every option is on the table, including a trade. No matter how that pick is used, it is an extremely valuable asset for the franchise and thus something of a silver lining following a 2014 season that failed to meet expectations.
There are no sure things in the NFL Draft, even at the first overall pick, but the #1 selection has previously produced such cornerstone players as Troy Aikman, John Elway, Orlando Pace, Bruce Smith, Mario Williams, Andrew Luck and both Peyton and Eli Manning. Tampa Bay's first-ever NFL draft pick, in 1976, was Oklahoma defensive end Lee Roy Selmon, who went first overall and is now in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
In addition to Selmon, who is on the short list of possibilities for the greatest player in franchise history, the Bucs have picked three other player with the first overall selection: running back Ricky Bell in 1977, running back Bo Jackson in 1986 and quarterback Vinny Testaverde in 1987. Jackson never actually played for Tampa Bay due to a dispute with the team's former ownership and his own option to play Major League Baseball.
The Buccaneers will continue to pick either first or second in each round throughout the remainder of the draft, alternating between those two spots with the Titans. Tampa Bay currently owns its own pick in each round except the fourth, fifth and sixth. Thanks to prior trades, the team does have picks in each of those rounds, from the St. Louis Rams in Round Four, the Baltimore Ravens and New England Patriots in Round Five and the Rams in Round Six.