Like most of the Bucs' selections, fifth-round pick Jeb Terry is a versatile player, potentially able to land the long-snapping job
Let's get the traditional post-draft caveats out of the way early.
1) No draft class can be properly graded for years, until the selected players have had a chance to establish themselves or fail trying. 2) There are 32 draft rooms around the league feeling certain they nailed it this draft weekend, and history tells us that can't be so. 3) The lack of a second-round draft pick kept the Tampa Bay Buccaneers from taking full advantage of a ridiculously deep draft.
Most or all of that may be true, and yet it does nothing to change this simple fact: The Buccaneers are thrilled with their 2004 NFL Draft efforts. Elated, even.
The mood at One Buccaneer Place immediately following the first draft under aggressive new General Manager Bruce Allen? Relaxed, confident and very satisfied.
"I think the room is pleased," said Allen. "We've added a lot of players that not only will give us some depth, but some players that will help us get better this season."
From the first-day, high-profile selections of LSU wide receiver Michael Clayton and Washington linebacker Marquis Cooper through the late-Sunday pickups of such interesting prospects as Yale tight end Nate Lawrie and Tennessee WR Mark Jones, Tampa Bay's draft room consistently got the players it had targeted.
"It really flowed off of our board this year," said Allen. "The best players on the board were generally taken in each round. Sometimes there was a decision between two players that had the same grade, but generally we went right off the board."
To summarize, here is the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' 2004 Draft Class:
|1||15 (15)||WR||Michael Clayton||Louisiana State|
|3||16 (79)||LB||Marquis Cooper||Washington|
|4||15 (111)||S||Will Allen||Ohio State|
|5||14 (146)||G||Jeb Terry||North Carolina|
|6||16 (181)||TE||Nate Lawrie||Yale|
|7a||5 (206)||WR||Mark Jones||Tennessee|
|7b||27 (228)||FB||Casey Cramer||Dartmouth|
|7c||51 (252)||CB||Lenny Williams||Southern|
It started with Clayton, who was the fifth of seven receivers taken during a record-setting first round. The 2004 group of receivers was considered one of the deepest in league history, but rather than persuade teams to wait at the position, as some expected, it led to somewhat of a feeding frenzy. Tampa Bay knew that Pittsburgh's Larry Fitzgerald and Texas' Roy Williams would be off the board before they selected, but they had targeted Clayton for some time and were ecstatic when he made it through to number 15.
From there, it was a long wait for the Buccaneers, who had just one more pick to spend on Saturday. Still, the team believed it could find a linebacker that would fit its system in the third round, and felt justified when Cooper was available at pick 79.
"He gives us some versatility and depth at the linebacker position, where we have been depleted now in the last two or three seasons," said Head Coach Jon Gruden.
On Sunday, the team started out with another pick on defense, grabbing Ohio State safety Will Allen. A favorite of Defensive Backs Coach Mike Tomlin, Allen had a superb senior season in his only year as a true starter for the Buckeyes. Before he started at strong safety in 2003, however, Allen played extensively as a cover man in the Buckeyes' nickel package.
"We got a guy who was the starting nickel corner for the (Ohio State) Buckeyes two years ago," said Gruden, referring to the 2002 national championship squad. "He is not only an outstanding cover man, but he has the ability to be cross-trained to strong safety. He is also a very good special teams player.
"In the fifth round, we took Jeb Terry, a big offensive lineman out of North Carolina, who has also been a good short snapper and a guy we're going to look at to become a long-snapper. He's got athleticism and very good size."
After plumbing such high-profile programs as LSU, Washington, Ohio State and North Carolina, the Bucs gave a hint as to how they would spend the rest of the second day when they tabbed Lawrie in the sixth round. The Yale tight end was far from a household name, but he may be the most intriguing prospect in the Bucs' rookie class.
"He came to our facility 10-12 days ago," revealed Gruden. "He's a big tight end, a productive tight end from Yale. He is the son of a football coach. He is a very productive pass receiver and has real interesting range in terms of his growing potential.
He's a little bit over 6-6 and he has some work to do in the weight room with Garrett Giemont, but he carries 263 pounds easily. He runs around 4.8 (seconds in the 40-yard dash) and he's a very productive pass receiver and a guy we need on the line of scrimmage and as a blocker. We need that considering Ken Dilger and Rickey Dudley are coming off injuries and we will see where Dave Moore is in the pads this fall. We felt like we needed to add a young tight end to the mix."
The Bucs traded less frequently than they do on most draft weekends, particularly considering that the league as a whole was almost frantically swapping picks throughout the seven rounds. Allen might have been more active in that regard had he been playing with a full deck of picks.
"Not having a second-round choice really prevents you from moving up or moving down and acquiring more picks for the second day," he said. "The second round draft choice has become the 'move pick' in this league that allows you to have more flexibility."
Tampa Bay did swing one pick late after targeting a player that it felt would come off the board early in the seventh round. Tampa Bay had three picks in that round, but none in the first 14 selections, so it shipped third-year fullback Darian Barnes to Dallas in order to move up 10 spots. The target was Jones, who was one of the more intriguing players left on the board, given his excellent speed and versatile skills.
"We thought in the seventh round, Mark was absolutely the kind of player that would come up early," said Allen. "He's got such rare speed and flexibility. From talking to people in the league, certain people were going to play at him at corner, others were going to play him at wide receiver. We felt confident we were going to get Casey Cramer later in the draft and that's why we made that move."
While Jones started at both safety and wide receiver during his collegiate career, he was most attractive to the Buccaneers as a punt returner. With the depth the team had built up at fullback with free agents Greg Comella and Deon Dyer – and believing they would get Cramer a few picks later – the Bucs felt comfortable spending Barnes to insure a shot at Jones.
"It was an opportunity to give Darian a chance to be reunited with Sean Payton, continue his career and move up and get a guy that we feel like we need here, a punt returner," said Gruden. "We feel like we must try to create playmaking from that aspect of our football team."
The pick of Cramer, added to that of Lawrie, gave the Bucs a rare Ivy League duo.
"He's a 245-pound tight end/fullback, who we will use as an H-Back player," said Gruden. "We will place him in a three-point stance in the backfield. He will also work on the line of scrimmage as a tight end. He was a very productive player from the Ivy League and he left a real good impression at the East-West Shrine game earlier this year."
After two trips to the Northeast, the Bucs swung back to the south – Southern, in fact – to finish its draft with cornerback Lenny Williams. The SWAC Defensive Player of the Year award winner in 2003, Williams is another lesser-known player with enough skills to potentially make the roster.
"He is a very good cover corner," said Gruden. "He is built very similar to Dwight Smith. He's got unique play-making ability, among other things."
As confident as the Bucs are in their choices in the flattering afterglow of the draft, history indicates that not every player selected will make the team. That being said, five of the Bucs' six picks from a year ago are still with the team, including fifth-round G Sean Mahan and sixth-round CB Torrie Cox. With a starting lineup that has a lot of sure things, the Bucs don't necessarily need enormous contributions from each of these eight men. Still, Allen made it clear before the draft that the Bucs hoped to come out of this weekend with some players who could make a difference in 2004.
"We pick these guys because we feel like they have the ability to make this team," said Gruden. "But we have to be realistic, and if you have five rookies come in and start for you, well, you're probably not going to be that good of a team. You have to develop players and teach them your system of football. You have to get them acclimated to the grind and maybe they can one day become starters here."
Gruden also concedes that the Bucs couldn't fill every need they had going into the weekend with their eight picks. A small, post-draft free agent class will follow on Monday, but the construction of the roster is far from complete.
"You never get everything quite accomplished," said Gruden of draft weekend. "We're still working on some interesting things and I'm sure that will continue to the opening kickoff."