The first mock draft I looked at after the 2018 season ended, posted by Eric Edholm of Pro Football Weekly on January 3, had the Tampa Bay Buccaneers selecting LSU cornerback Greedy Williams with the fifth overall pick. The Buccaneers would go on to choose a different LSU player, linebacker Devin White, while Williams fell to the 14th pick in the second round.
The second mock draft I looked at, posted by NJ.com's Ryan Dunleavy on January 4, had the Buccaneers selecting Alabama safety Deionte Thompson, who would actually end up as the first pick of the fifth round. The third mock I found, the work of Bleacher Report's Ryan McCrystal, paired the Bucs with Michigan defensive end Rashan Gary. Gary eventually went to the Packers at the 12th-overall spot.
Since there as many online mock drafts as there are blades of grass on a football field (here's ours!), I surely missed many of them, but the first one I have recorded from last year that suggested the Devin White selection was posted by NJ.com's Mike Kaye on January 18th. And even he had the Buccaneers trading down six spots before making that pick.
Nobody expects much accuracy from January mock drafts, and sure enough the collective mock-drafting universe eventually started to zero in on White as the Bucs' likely target. I have 30 mock drafts recorded from April 3 on last year, and 16 of them though Tampa Bay would go after the supremely athletic LSU linebacker.
All of which is to say, it wasn't a huge surprise when that's the name the Bucs turned in when they were on the clock last April. It's fair to say that the selections right before and after Tampa Bay's turn – Clelin Ferrell to Oakland at number four and Daniel Jones to the Giants at number six – were far more unexpected.
View photos of Maurice Jones-Drew's first mock draft. Photos by AP Images
This year, the Buccaneers are slated to pick 14th, which means there's likely to be less agreement on who they are going to target, even when we get to April. I've looked at exactly 50 mock drafts so far (I'm going to need a bigger football field), through Friday, February 14, and they have pegged 15 different players at the Bucs' spot. The most common guesses have been South Carolina defensive lineman Javon Kinlaw (12 predictions), Iowa tackle Tristan Wirfs (seven), LSU safety Grant Delpit (four) and Louisville tackle Mekhi Becton (also four).
Will that variance lessen as we reach April, as it did last year? I doubt it. The results of free agency – particularly in regard to Jameis Winston, Shaq Barrett, Jason Pierre-Paul and Ndamukong Suh – may help mock drafters guess the positions the Bucs are most interested, but the actual players available at number 14 will still be difficult to predict.
So prepare for a potential surprise on the evening of April 23, as the Buccaneers could potentially call a name no one outside of the AdventHealth Training Center was expecting. It's happened before.
In fact, that's what I'm looking at today: The eventual "Surprise Factor" of some of the Buccaneers' recent first-round draft picks. I'm going to rank all of the team's first-round picks over the past 20 years by how unexpected they seemed at the time. I'm not going back through the franchise's full 44-year draft history because, frankly, I wasn't there for all of it and thus I don't feel qualified to judge how surprising some of those older selections were in the moment. The legend of the Bucs' 1982 draft suggests that the announcement of guard Sean Farrell as the team's first-round pick was surprising to the people in the Bucs' own draft room, thanks mostly to a bad speaker phone, but that's well before my time.
The Bucs made 17 first-round picks from 2000-19. They did not have a first-round selection in 2000, 2002, 2003 or 2013 but they picked twice on opening night in 2012. Below, I rank them from what seemed most to least surprising at the time; the ranking has nothing to do with how well the pick actually turned out.
1. G Davin Joseph, 2006
There were fewer mock drafts at the time, but the Mel Kipers that did exist never linked the Bucs up with Joseph, the barrel-chested guard from Oklahoma. Many analysts did believe Tampa Bay needed O-Line help but were more likely to name a tackle. USC tackle Winston Justice, who eventually went to the Eagles in the second round, was a common prediction for the Buccaneers. Joseph, in fact, was left out of most first-round mock drafts, and thus he was seen by some as a "reach" on draft weekend. Joseph went on to play in two Pro Bowls and is one of the best offensive linemen in franchise history.
2. RB Doug Martin, 2012
This one was surprising not because the Buccaneers picked a running back but because it looked like their night was already over hours earlier. Tampa Bay began the night in the fifth slot and actually picked seventh (more on that below), and thus had exercised their only pick of the first round within the first hour. The Bucs had a crew at the Radio City Music Hall to interview safety Mark Barron after he left the stage as the seventh pick, but those folks had packed up and were headed back to their hotel as the first-round was winding down. Then, out of the blue, the Buccaneers were on the clock with the 31st pick. Then-General Manager Mark Dominik had traded up from the 36th overall pick, due to be made the next night in Round Two, to number 31, giving the Patriots a swap of 25 spots in the fourth round for the privilege. Speculation since suggests the Bucs felt they needed to get ahead of the New York Giants, who would go on to take running back David Wilson with the next pick.
3. TE O.J. Howard, 2017
I have a coworker who predicted this pick in a mock draft contest on NFL.com, and he still has the printout taped to his wall, three years later (you know who you are). That's an indication of how surprising this pick was, not when the Buccaneers finally got on the clock but in the hours that led up to it. Most mock drafts had Howard going in the top 10, and nothing had happened before the draft to hurt the Alabama tight end's stock. The Jets, Panthers, Bengals and Bills had all been commonly predicted landing spots for Howard in the top 10 but New York went with a safety, Carolina took a running back, Cincinnati landed a receiver and the Bills traded down. As team after team in the top 18 went in different directions, Howard fell further than expected (at least outside of the Bucs' draft room and my one coworker's office) and the Bucs were thrilled to pounce at number 19.
4. S Mark Barron, 2012
Safe to say the 2012 draft didn't go as many expected, at least in terms of the Bucs' picks. Picking fifth meant there was much less variance to the predictions for the Bucs, particularly since the top two selections were universally expected to be Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III. By far the two most common predictions that spring for the Buccaneers were LSU cornerback Morris Claiborne and Alabama running back Trent Richardson. The fact that new Head Coach Greg Schiano had just hired Ron Cooper from LSU to coach the Bucs' DBs fueled the belief that Claiborne would be the choice. And Claiborne was available at the fifth pick after the first four went as many expected: Luck, Griffin, tackle Matt Kalil and wide receiver Justin Blackmon. However, that wasn't the Bucs' plan, as they traded down two spots, acquiring the pick they would later flip to New England, and Claiborne went to Dallas at pick number six. Another common prediction for the Buccaneers at the time was Boston College linebacker Luke Kuechly, but Tampa Bay had its eyes set on Barron, 'Bama's hard-hitting safety.
5. T Kenyatta Walker, 2001
The Buccaneers have not traded up in the first round very often in franchise history, but they did so in 2001 when they felt they had to address the left tackle position. Stalwart Paul Gruber had retired after the 1999 season and Pete Pierson had been the stopgap in 2000 but the Bucs wanted another franchise player at that position. It's more difficult to find mock drafts from 2001, but the three I did come across all had Walker off the board by the sixth pick. Two of the three had the Buccaneers going with Michigan T Jeff Backus instead. So there were two elements of surprise to this pick, first that Walker slipped to the middle of the first round and second that the Buccaneers then pulled off a fairly dramatic trade upward. The Bucs were slated to pick 21st but they gave up their second-round pick (#51) to move up seven spots to where Buffalo was originally slotted and picked Walker 14th overall. That remains the biggest jump upward the Buccaneers have ever made in a swap of first-round picks.
6. DT Vita Vea, 2018
This was the draft in which those rooting for the Buccaneers' best interests were hoping that the top six picks would include four quarterbacks: Josh Allen, Sam Darnold, Baker Mayfield and Josh Rosen, in some order. If that happened, the Buccaneers, at the seventh pick, would be guaranteed a shot at one of the three non-quarterbacks widely considered to be a cut above the rest of the field: running back Saquon Barkley, defensive end Bradley Chubb and guard Quenton Nelson, in some order again. Three of the five mock drafts posted on this site had that optimistically happening and the Bucs landing Nelson. In fact, only two of those QBs went in the top six, with Rosen slipping to ninth. There was a moment of optimism when the Browns surprised the experts by taking cornerback Denzel Ward with the fourth pick, but the Broncos and Colts then picked off Chubb and Nelson with the next two selections, leaving the Bucs out of the picture by one. Notably, in the two Buccaneers.com mock drafts in which this scenario unfolded, we had Tampa Bay trading back with a team that wanted to get a quarterback, and that is what happened in the real thing. The Bucs agreed to slide back five spots so that Buffalo could move up and grab Allen. The majority of mock drafts that year agreed that Tampa Bay would be looking for defensive help but usually hit on players for the secondary, particularly safeties Derwin James and Minkah Fitzpatrick. Later, General Manager Jason Licht said that the Buccaneers had identified Vea as one of their top targets "very early in the process," but that clearly was kept well under wraps as that was not a common mock pick for the team. There were some very good reasons for the general consensus being a defensive back, including the fact that the Buccaneers had allowed the most passing yards in the league in 2017. Also, prior to the 2018 draft the team had already signed defensive linemen Beau Allen, Vinny Curry and Mitch Unrein and traded for Jason Pierre-Paul.
7. CB Aqib Talib, 2008
We are turning the corner into the picks that were not terribly surprising at the time. This one ranks a little higher than the rest on the surprise scale because, at number 20, it's lower than most of them and thus there was more variance in the predictions at the time. I looked at the first 15 2008 mock drafts I could find and only one of them gave Talib to the Bucs. By far the most popular prediction was a wide receiver, including three guesses of DeSean Jackson, coincidentally. Five different receivers were paired to the Bucs on a total of nine of those 15 mocks. There was also some thought that the Buccaneers would look for their quarterback of the future after one season with 37-year-old Jeff Garcia at the helm, and Brian Brohm was the popular pick. There also wasn't a lot of consensus on Talib, who appeared as high as seventh on one of those 15 mocks but also was as low as the second round on several others. The Buccaneers did need cornerback help at the time, so this wasn't a particularly shocking choice at the moment it happened. It was difficult to predict in the months beforehand, though.
8. DE Adrian Clayborn, 2011
This is a similar story to the one above, with the Bucs' pick in the 20s and thus subject to less predictive clarity, but in this case there was a strong feeling Tampa Bay was interested in a defensive end. Since this was a very deep class at that position, the question was which pass-rushers would still be available at the 20th pick. I started perusing mock drafts from that spring and stopped after 10 because all of them gave the Bucs an edge-rusher of some kind. Only two of those hit on Clayborn, however. One hilariously suggested Von Miller could still be on the board at the 20th pick, but the most common prediction in those 10 was Aldon Smith. Sports Illustrated's Peter King said the Buccaneers would pick Aldon Smith, should pick Clayborn but were really hoping Da'Quan Bowers would fall this far. The Bucs would eventually take Clayborn and then get Bowers in the second round. Miller, Smith, J.J. Watt, Robert Quinn and Ryan Kerrigan were all drafted before Tampa Bay's pick, leaving the Bucs with the most likely targets of Clayborn, Cameron Jordan and Muhammad Wilkerson.
9. WR Michael Clayton, 2004
The trade for Joey Galloway convinced some analysts that wide receiver less of a need for the Buccaneers, but that deal had also sent Keyshawn Johnson away and Keenan McCardell wanted a new deal after his 2003 Pro Bowl campaign. This was viewed as a very deep class of receivers, and there were still plenty who thought the Bucs were looking for one with the very first first-round pick of Gruden's career. Of the 10 mock drafts from 2004 that I viewed, three had the Bucs dipping into that pool, but only one tabbed LSU's Clayton. There was not a consensus that Clayton would go as high as the Bucs' 15th pick; only one of those 10 had him off the board by that point and seven of the 10 had him at the 27th pick or lower, including three out of the round entirely. Clayton was the fifth of seven receivers drafted in that first round, after Larry Fitzgerald, Roy Williams, Reggie Williams and Lee Evans and before Michael Jenkins and Rashaun Woods.
10. QB Josh Freeman, 2009
We are fully into the non-surprising half of this list now. This was the first draft run by Dominik and newly-promoted Head Coach Raheem Morris, and they had moved on from Gruden's veteran passer, Jeff Garcia, bringing in Byron Leftwich (now the Bucs' offensive coordinator) to be the bridge to the next franchise (hopefully) quarterback. Also, Morris had spent the 2007 season as the defensive coordinator at Kansas State, so he knew Freeman well and was believed to be high on the Wildcats' passer. The analysts were basically split into two camps, half believing the Bucs would land Freeman and half thinking he would already be off the board by the 19th pick. I glanced at 10 mock drafts from that offseason and four of them paired the Bucs and Freeman. Of the six others, four had Freeman going to the New York Jets at the 17th spot. In fact, Freeman was the 17th pick in the draft, but not to the Jets, who by that time had made their own huge trade up to the fifth spot to get quarterback Mark Sanchez. The Bucs made a small deal to move up two spots, leap-frogging the Broncos (or a team that might be trading with the Broncos) and making sure they got their man. Freeman to Tampa wasn't a surprise in the end but not everyone was convinced it was going to be possible.
11. LB Devin White, 2019
The details of the consensus on the pick are in the introduction above. Suffice it to say, this was a very unsurprising pick. Virtually every mock draft predicted a defensive player for the Buccaneers at number five, which made sense as the team wasn't in the market for a quarterback and this draft was loaded with pass-rushers at the top. Those who weren't sold on White mostly predicted one of those edge rushers to Tampa, though Greedy Williams remained an occasional April prediction.
12. CB Vernon Hargreaves, 2016
After the Buccaneers spent 12 of their 13 picks in the 2014-15 drafts on offensive players, it was pretty obvious the attention would turn to defense in 2016. Though there was an occasional mock drafter giving the Buccaneers an offensive tackle, the vast majority predicted a defender and the most common pick was Hargreaves, the Florida cornerback who had been compared to Joe Haden. That's a pretty good consensus for the ninth pick. Licht actually traded down two spots from nine to 11 before making the pick.
13. DE Gaines Adams, 2007
There were three camps when it came to predicting what the Buccaneers were going to do with the fourth overall pick in 2007. One camp believed that Gruden was salivating over wide receiver Calvin "Megatron" Johnson, so that would be the pick. A second camp believed the Gruden rumor but thought the first camp was clinically insane to believe Johnson would be available at the fourth pick. The third camp agreed with the second camp but also though the first camp's Gruden point was salient and thus predicted a trade for the Bucs with Detroit at the second pick. Oakland was correctly believed by almost every analyst to be targeting LSU quarterback Ja'Marcus Russell with the first pick. Those who did not delude themselves into finding a way to put Megatron on Gruden's team almost universally expected the Bucs to address their other glaring need: defensive end. Adams was their pick. If not for this splitting of camps, this one would probably be two or three spots higher on the list. As it is, none of the picks in these final seven were even remotely surprising at the time.
14. RB Cadillac Williams, 2005
The Buccaneers were picking fifth; their main running back, Michael Pittman, was still productive in 2004 but was pushing 30; the draft was loaded with highly-regarded running backs who were expected to be picked early. All of this made it not terribly difficult to predict the Buccaneers would go with the Auburn tailback with their first-rounder. However, there was some uncertainty regarding this pick because Head Coach Jon Gruden had done a good smokescreen job of making analysts believe he was targeting USC wide receiver Mike Williams. Even though the Buccaneers had used a first-round pick on wide receiver Michael Clayton the year before, it wasn't clear how much they would get out of Joey Galloway after Galloway's first season in Tampa was limited by injuries. Still, the experts weren't fooled; six of the first eight 2005 mock drafts I found had the Bucs taking Cadillac Williams, and a seventh gave them fellow Auburn running back Ronnie Brown. Brown actually went second and Texas running back Cedric Benson went fourth before the Bucs were on the clock. One side note: The one mock draft I found that did not give the Bucs a running back gave them…Aaron Rodgers. Wow.
15. WR Mike Evans, 2014
I wouldn't argue with a ranking of these last three entries on this list in any order. When I originally made this list I had Evans at the very bottom, even less surprising than Winston. This was a very widely predicted pick in another season that featured good receiver depth. The Buccaneers were fortunate that Clemson's Sammy Watkins was considered by almost all observers to be the best of the bunch because Watkins went to Buffalo at the fourth pick, allowing Evans to fall to Tampa Bay at the seventh spot. Lovie Smith said that the scenario of Evans falling to seven was the one he most hoped would unfold when the night began. Absolutely no one was surprised after the Falcons took tackle Jake Matthews at the sixth spot that the Bucs immediately followed with Evans. However, I must admit that upon reviewing the mock drafts from that year there wasn't quite the complete consensus as I thought. Evans was still the most popular pick but there was a real belief that the Bucs would instead go with the man who threw Evans the ball at Texas A&M, Johnny Manziel.
16. DT Gerald McCoy, 2010
By the time April rolled around in 2010, a very clear consensus had been reached on the top three picks in this draft, with the Bucs picking third. The Rams were widely expected to make Oklahoma the first pick, and after that the DT duo of Oklahoma's McCoy and Nebraska's Ndamukong Suh were considered the next best prospects. Most mock drafts ordered it Bradford-Suh-McCoy. The only contrarians either thought the Rams would pass on Bradford, thus taking Suh and McCoy off the board before the Bucs' pick, or though Detroit would take an offensive tackle at the second spot giving Tampa Bay its choice of the two DTs. Peter King's mock draft included this write-up after his McCoy-to-Bucs' prediction: "Easiest pick in the draft. For Bucs, value of McCoy is twice any other player left."
17. QB Jameis Winston, 2015
The Buccaneers had the first pick in the draft, which obviously makes the prognostication game a lot easier. As is often the case with the team picking first, Tampa Bay needed a quarterback and it was clear that the only two prospects in consideration for the first overall pick were Florida State's Winston and Oregon's Marcus Mariota. The Bucs studied both of them very thoroughly and never did officially reveal before draft night that they had landed on Winston as the pick, though the press certainly had a strong guess. The only reason I originally didn't have this one last on the list – that is, the least surprising of all these picks – is that there were still a few who believed Head Coach Lovie Smith would prefer the very even-keeled Mariota. I had to click on 16 mock draft links to find one of these people, but they were out there. They were just lonely.