LB Derrick Brooks is half of one of the most memorable first-round duos in NFL history
The National Football League released its annual draft-weekend information on Thursday, running down the dates, times and locations for this marquee spring event. It also felt compelled to make special notice of the six teams that had two picks in the first round, a list that, to Tampa Bay fans' delight, includes the Buccaneers.
Nothing gets the creative juices flowing on draft day like multiple first-round choices. The opportunities that are created by that leverage sometimes seem boundless, and the Bucs, Jets, 49ers, Seahawks, Ravens and Redskins are contemplating those options now. Of course, doubling up on your first-round opportunities also doubles your chance for disaster, as few first rounds go by without producing an eventually-famous 'bust.'
Fortunately, Tampa Bay and its shrewd general manager, Rich McKay, have a lot of recent practice at this double duty. If the Buccaneers do eventually make two first-round picks on Saturday, April 15, it will mark the fourth time in the last six years that they have left the draft with two first-rounders. No other team in the league has been that busy in the opening round in the last half-dozen Aprils.
Bucs fans know very well how those previous three draft days went. In 1995, the Bucs went into the weekend with just one first-round pick, the seventh selection overall, but used a variety of last-minute deals to end up with the 12th and 28th choices. Those two picks were spent rather wisely on DT Warren Sapp and LB Derrick Brooks.
In 1996, the trade of QB Craig Erickson to Indianapolis netted Tampa Bay an extra first-round choice, which they spent on DT Marcus Jones, 10 slots after using their own #12 selection on DE Regan Upshaw. A short while later, the Bucs surrendered a second-round pick to San Diego in exchange for the Chargers' 1997 first-round pick.
In '97, that additional third-round choice was used on WR Reidel Anthony at pick 16, while the Bucs' own selection was spent on RB Warrick Dunn.
Dunn and Anthony remain vital parts of Tampa Bay's offense, and Dunn was the only rookie to play in the Pro Bowl following the 1997 season. Upshaw was traded to the Jacksonville Jaguars last September, while Jones remains with the Bucs and had his best season in 1999 (seven sacks) as a super-sub and part-time starter.
However, the raging success story in that trio of duos is, of course, Sapp and Brooks. Sapp is coming off a dominant season in which he racked up 12.5 sacks and was named the NFL's Defensive Player of the Year. Brooks was no less dominant and was also a prominent vote-getter in Defensive Player of the Year balloting. Those two are at the heart of the only defense that has ranked among the NFL's top three for each of the past three seasons.
Sapp and Brooks are easily the most successful pair of first-round picks in team history, but such a distinction is selling them far too short. Though each player is just coming into his prime, Sapp and Brooks are already placing their names alongside the most recognizable success stories in NFL draft history.
Though multiple first-round picks may seem like a rare bonanza to any given team's fans, trades leave a few teams in that position every year. However, since the draft was instituted by the NFL in 1937, only 16 pairs of first-round picks have turned into dual-Pro Bowlers, including the Bucs' dynamic duo of Sapp and Brooks.
Of those 16 pairs, only nine, including Sapp and Brooks, can boast two players who have each played in at least three Pro Bowls. McKay and his crew practically stand alone in the last 20 years; only the 1988 Oakland Raiders with WR Tim Brown and CB Terry McDaniel can claim a similar drafting feat.
That type of sustained success is rare, and it puts the Bucs' duo into the company of such standard NFL names as Butkus & Sayers, Olsen & Gabriel, Robertson & Youngblood, Newsome & Matthews.
To be more specific, the only nine first-round pairs in which both players have made at least three Pro Bowls are (listed chronologically):
TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS, 1995 DT Warren Sapp (3) LB Derrick Brooks (3)
OAKLAND RAIDERS, 1988 WR Tim Brown (7) CB Terry McDaniel (4)
CLEVELAND BROWNS, 1978 TE Ozzie Newsome (3) LB Clay Matthews (4)
NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS, 1977 DB Raymond Clayborn (3) WR Stanley Morgan (4)
LOS ANGELES RAMS, 1971 LB Isiah Robertson (6) DE Jack Youngblood (7)
SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS, 1969 TE Ted Kwalick (3) WR Gene Washington (4)
CHICAGO BEARS, 1965 LB Dick Butkus (8) RB Gale Sayers (5)
KANSAS CITY CHIEFS, 1963 DT Buck Buchanan (8) G Ed Budde (7)
LOS ANGELES RAMS, 1962 DT Merlin Olsen (14) QB Roman Gabriel (3)
Buccaneer fans are hopeful, and confident, that Sapp and Brooks will be back in Honolulu next February for another Pro Bowl go-around. If so, there dual first-round company would be narrowed to just five pairs who have each made four Pro Bowl appearances.
More immediately, those same fans would like for the Buccaneers to strike first-round gold again with their two 2000 selections. It is a tough act to follow, of course, but it is certainly worth contemplating considering McKay's sterling April record.