S David Gibson represents one of the eight draft choices the Buccaneers have spent on defensive backs during Tony Dungy's first five years
As it does each year before the NFL draft, Buccaneers.com has spent several weeks analyzing the team position-by-position in order to set the table for the team's weekend selection process.
In each case, the assistant coach assigned to that position has spoken specifically about each player in his crew, sharing his feelings on their 2000 efforts and what he expects from them in 2001. You can review those assessments by clicking on any of the following positions: defensive linemen, offensive linemen, tight ends, wide receivers and running backs.
At quarterback, linebacker and defensive back, however, the Buccaneers have new coaches this spring. While Jim Caldwell, Joe Barry and Mike Tomlin, respectively, have hit the ground running with their units during voluntary workouts, they were not on hand for an evaluation during the 2000 campaign. As such, we've spared that trio the pre-draft assessments.
However, that does not preclude us from taking a look at the numbers and draft options at each of those three positions.
Tampa Bay had such a surplus of quarterbacks after signing Brad Johnson and claiming Ryan Leaf off waivers that it was able to trade the team's #2 man for the past two years, Eric Zeier, to the Atlanta Falcons. With those two plus Shaun King, the Bucs now have three passers on board who have started at least 20 NFL games each, plus a pair of young hurlers in Joe Hamilton and Ted White that intrigue the coaching staff.
Where does that leave the team in regards to this weekend's draft? First, let's look at the raw numbers:
Quarterbacks Under Contract: 5 Pending Free Agents: 0 Typical Training Camp Quarterbacks Total: 4 NFL Passing Offense Ranking: 26 NFL Offensive Scoring Ranking: 6 Bucs Among NFC Leaders: Shaun King, 10th in passer rating, 8th in touchdown passes 2000 Passing Yardage Leader: Shaun King, 2,769 First-Round Picks Spent on Quarterbacks, 1976-2000: 3 (Doug Williams, 1978; Vinny Testaverde, 1987; Trent Dilfer; 1994) Total Picks Spent on Quarterbacks, 1996-2000: 2
That last number is the most interesting. After Tony Dungy took over as head coach in 1996, the Buccaneers stayed off the quarterback market for three years as they remained committed to the development of Trent Dilfer. However, the Bucs tabbed King in the second round in 1999 and he was the starter by the end of the season.
The following spring, the Bucs continued a youth movement at the position by taking a shot with Hamilton in the seventh round and picking up the 24-year-old White after the Chiefs had let him go. They also added the 24-year-old Leaf this spring before bringing on seasoned veteran Brad Johnson to lead the troops a few days later.
As such, Tampa Bay already has more quarterbacks under contract than it took to training camp last year, so it would appear a good cast is in place. However, the Buccaneers have 10 picks in this weekend's selection meeting, and many observers expect most of this year's quarterback crop to go after the first round, many on the second day.
Will a highly-rated player remaining on the board tempt the Bucs to pump their QB crew up to a half dozen? These are a few of the draft-eligible players drawing the most attention by media evaluators: Virginia Tech's Michael Vick, Purdue's Drew Brees, Florida State's Chris Weinke, Oklahoma's Josh Heupel, Washington's Marques Tuiasosopo, Rutgers' Mike McMahon, Western Carolina's David Rivers, Georgia's Quincy Carter and Florida's Jesse Palmer.
Keep this in mind as the draft develops for Tampa Bay. The Buccaneers have drafted a total of 18 quarterbacks in 25 years. Of those 18, all but two have been drafted in either the first and second rounds or the seventh round or later. While you can find defensive linemen or receivers taken all over the board in Buc annals, the team has almost never gone for a quarterback that wasn't either a well-known, highly-rated prospect or a sleeper, late-round development type. The two exceptions, by the way, were Penn State QB Chuck Fusina (fifth round) in 1979 and Miami QB Craig Erickson (fourth round) in 1992.
By contrast, the Buccaneers have often spent third to fifth round picks on linebackers with good success, particularly in recent seasons. Alshermond Singleton (5th), Jamie Duncan (3rd) and Nate Webster (3rd) all fall into this category.
That trio also makes up a good piece of the Buccaneers very deep and very talented current corps of linebackers. Strong linebacking play has been a constant under Dungy and Barry's predecessor, Lovie Smith, who not coincidentally is now the defensive coordinator in St. Louis. From Hardy Nickerson to Lonnie Marts to Derrick Brooks to Shelton Quarles, the Buccaneers have succeeded in stocking this position with talent since the mid 1990s.
Where does it stand on the eve of the first draft in the new century? The numbers:
Linebackers Under Contract: 7 Pending Free Agents: 0 Typical Training Camp Linebackers Total: 11 NFL Rushing Defense Ranking: 9 NFL Passing Defense Ranking: 13 Bucs Among NFC Leaders: Jamie Duncan, tied-15th in interceptions 2000 Tackles Leader: Derrick Brooks, 179 2000 Sacks Leader (among linebackers): Shelton Quarles, 2 2000 Interceptions Leader (among linebackers): Jamie Duncan, 4 First-Round Picks Spent on Linebackers, 1976-2000: 4 (Hugh Green, 1981; Broderick Thomas, 1989; Keith McCants; 1990; Derrick Brooks, 1995) Total Picks Spent on Linebackers, 1996-2000: 3
None of the team's remaining 2000 linebackers is in the market for a new deal, but there has already been offseason movement at that position by the Buccaneers. Don Davis, an outside 'backer primarily known for his special teams work, joined Smith in St. Louis as an unrestricted free agent. Jeff Gooch was later traded to the Rams, also, but returned when he failed to pass a physical on his rehabbing shoulder.
Thus, this is an area of depth for the Buccaneers, even though the team has not spent a first or second-round pick on the position during Dungy's tenure. Of course, that's partially because the last draft before he arrived yielded Tampa Bay Brooks, arguably one of the best two or three linebackers in the league. Brooks' outstanding career (four Pro Bowls already) has helped reverse a not-so-sparkling first-round history at that position for the Buccaneers.
Still, one would expect the team to continue to keep that position deep, as its non-starters are traditionally some of the team's leading special teams players (think Gooch, Singleton, Quarles before he became a starter). That means it could be an interesting position on draft day, if the Bucs' best-player-available strategy matches up with the linebackers at the right time.
If so, the Bucs may keep an eye on one or more of these highly-touted linebackers: Miami's Dan Morgan, Georgia's Kendrell Bell, Florida State's Tommy Polley, Oklahoma's Torrance Marshall, North Carolina's Sedrick Hodge and Brandon Spoon, Fresno State's Orlando Huff and Nebraska's Carlos Polk.
This is another area that has seen much mid-round attention during Dungy's tenure with quite good success. The team's starting cornerbacks – Donnie Abraham and Ronde Barber, are a pair of third-rounders, while nickel back Brian Kelly was a second-round pick and S Dexter Jackson was taken in the fourth round.
Three-time Pro Bowl safety John Lynch was also a third-round choice, but not of Dungy's. Lynch joined the team in 1993 and slipped somewhat in the draft because it was not known whether he would be willing to give up his professional baseball career with the Florida Marlins to play in the NFL.
On the other hand, defensive back has been a position virtually ignored by the Buccaneers in the first round. Tampa Bay has only once selected a cornerback in the opening round (Rod Jones in 1986) and has never reached that high for a safety. Kelly was the first second-round cornerback picked up by the Bucs since Ricky Reynolds in 1997.
That makes the position particularly interesting in the draft, as the Buccaneers clearly believe value can be found throughout the weekend. First, let's set the stage with Tampa Bay's raw numbers at the position:
Defensive Backs Under Contract: 8 Pending Free Agents: 3 Typical Training Camp Defensive Backs Total: 14-15 NFL Passing Defense Ranking: 13 NFL Interceptions Percentage Ranking: 5 Bucs Among NFC Leaders: Donnie Abraham, tied-3rd in interceptions; Damien Robinson, tied-5th in interceptions 2000 Tackles Leader (among defensive backs): John Lynch, 110 2000 Sacks Leader (among defensive backs): Ronde Barber, 5.5 2000 Interceptions Leader: Donnie Abraham, 7 First-Round Picks Spent on Defensive Backs, 1976-2000: 1 (Rod Jones, 1986) Total Picks Spent on Defensive Backs, 1996-2000: 8
As you can see, the Buccaneers have not forgotten cornerbacks and safeties on draft weekend since Dungy's arrival, as eight of the team's 40 selections in that span have been spent on defensive backs. And, while Tampa Bay's apparent disdain for the position in the opening round may be coincidental, it is not an attitude shared by the league as a whole.
While only three defensive backs went in the top round last April, the 1997-99 drafts featured an average of almost six first-round corners and safeties. It should also be noted that most of those picks have panned out very well for the drafting teams, including Duane Starks, Terry Fair, Heisman Trophy-winning Charles Woodson, Shaun Williams, Bryant Westbrook, Shawn Springs, Champ Bailey, Chris McAlister and Antoine Winfield.
Is there another Heisman champ or just plain Champ on the board this year? Among cornerbacks, most draft pundits give high-round mention to such talents as Mississippi State's Fred Smoot, Syracuse's Will Allen, Minnesota's Willie Middlebrooks, Wisconsin's Jamar Fletcher, Mississippi's Ken Lucas, Ohio State's Nate Clements and Baylor's Gary Baxter.
Traditionally, safeties have less of a presence in the first round than cornerbacks, but the hot reads in this year's pre-draft analyses seem to be Florida State's Derrick Gibson, Kansas State's Jarrod Cooper and Arizona State's Adam Archuleta.
Quarterbacks, linebackers and defensive backs. Ponder these positions as they relate to the Bucs' draft, if you wish, but realize that you don't have much time to think about it. All the answers will be revealed over the next 48 hours.