CB Travis Fisher, the 64th player taken overall last year, moved almost immediately into the Rams' starting lineup and long-range plans
(Editor's Note: Buccaneers.com kicks off its 2003 draft coverage with a look at the team's current position in the selection order. In the coming weeks, we will analyze the team's draft history, take a separate look at each position on the roster as it relates to the draft and share the pre-draft thoughts of the team's personnel masterminds.)
Barring a trade, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers will make their first selection of the 2003 NFL Draft at pick number 64, probably a good six or seven hours into the weekend proceedings.
Chances are, the newest Buccaneer will be worth that wait.
Tampa Bay is one of just three teams (also Atlanta and Miami) that does not currently own a pick in the first round. Thirteen months ago, the Bucs swapped that selection, plus a first and second-rounder in 2002 and a second-rounder in 2004, for the rights to sign Head Coach Jon Gruden. About six weeks ago, Gruden lifted the Lombardi Trophy over his head to celebrate the Bucs' Super Bowl XXXVII victory, bringing the debate over the wisdom of that deal to a rather emphatic end.
So the Bucs can pass the first half of April 26 comparing Super Bowl rings, or – and this is a bit more likely – plotting strategy for the moment they finally do go 'on the clock.' Even if it seems like the Bucs are outside the game when it comes to this year's draft, the truth is they are still sitting on a very valuable commodity with the 64th overall pick.
Looking at the last 10 years of the NFL draft, the 64th pick has been much more boom than bust. Seven of those 10 players saw action in the league in 2002 and five were regular starters. One, Chicago center Olin Kreutz, started in the Pro Bowl for the NFC.
NFL Draft, Pick #64 Overall, 1993-2002
|2002||St. Louis||CB Travis Fisher||Central Florida|
|2001||Arizona||S Adrian Wilson||North Carolina State|
|2000||Washington||CB Lloyd Harrison||North Carolina State|
|1999||Philadelphia||G Doug Brzezinski||Boston College|
|1998||Chicago||C Olin Kreutz||Washington|
|1997||Baltimore||RB Jay Graham||Tennessee|
|1996||Arizona||TE Johnny McWilliam||USC|
|1995||Jacksonville||LB Bryan Schwartz||Augustana (SD)|
|1994||Buffalo||LB Sam Rogers||Colorado|
|1993||San Diego||G Joe Cocozzo||Michigan|
Fisher, Wilson, Brzezinski, Kreutz and Rogers (now in Atlanta) all started at least 10 games for their respective teams last season, while Harrison saw action in two games with Miami (and has subsequently been re-signed by Washington) and Graham had a brief stint in Green Bay.
Cocozzo played five seasons in San Diego, starting 48 games at guard, but has been out of the league since the end of 1997. Schwartz, the fourth player ever drafted by Jacksonville, was a mainstay in the middle of the Jaguars' defense from 1995-99 before injuries cut his career short. McWilliams played four seasons in Arizona and one in Minnesota, was a starter for a good portion of his career as a Cardinal and has 73 career receptions for 690 yards and nine touchdowns.
Only one player on that entire list – Harrison – failed to play at least three seasons with the team that drafted them (barring, of course, 2001 and 2002 draftees Wilson and Fisher, who are already starters), and only two – Harrison and Graham – were not starters for those teams at some point.
Before several rounds of expansion and the addition of compensatory picks for free agency losses, that 64th pick was well into the third round. Even now, it is the last selection of the second round (before compensatory picks are added), the pick generally exercised by the Super Bowl champs. You might reasonably think of the pick as a third-rounder, but either way that is a position in the draft where teams expect to get a starter, sometimes a player who will start quite soon.
"You're hoping a third-rounder becomes a starter," said General Manager Rich McKay. That's the in-between round where you should, if you draft in an area of need, get a player that will become a starter. That doesn't necessarily mean a starter that first year or the year after, but at a need that you've planned for down the road."
McKay has been the main man behind the Bucs' drafts since 1995, when he was promoted to his current post. In the eight drafts since, Tampa Bay has made seven second-round picks and eight third-round picks. All seven of the second-round picks became starters for Tampa Bay, five by their second season. FB Mike Alstott, CB Brian Kelly and G Cosey Coleman were still starters last year.
Of the eight third-round picks in McKay's tenure, five became starters if one gives K Martin Gramatica that designation. The other three, those most recently selected – LB Nate Webster, CB Dwight Smith and WR Marquise Walker – could still earn starting roles. CB Ronde Barber and Gramatica were still starters for the Super Bowl champs in 2002.
You could make a good portion of a viable starting lineup from the Bucs' second and third-round picks of the last eight years, which means the Bucs have done exactly what they needed to do in the hours after the marquee first round.
"What the mid-round picks do for you is supply replacement starters," said McKay. "If you continue to miss on those, you're going to have to replace from somewhere, and it's probably going to be free agency, which means it's going to be much more expensive, from a salary cap perspective. Your formula for success will definitely suffer."
As the Bucs further reduce their wiggle room by re-signing valued veterans such as LB Shelton Quarles to much bigger contracts, McKay's point becomes even more salient. The NFL's salary cap virtually forces a team to be frugal at some positions, particularly if they're far up on the league scale at several others. The draft, particularly after the first round has passed, is the best way to exercise that frugality while still putting excellent players on the field.
That's exactly what the Bucs hope to do at number 64 overall in about six weeks. Last year's 64th man, Fisher, has been an instant hit in St. Louis and appears to be part of the Rams' long-range plans on defense. All around Fisher in the draft were other players who have already made a strong impression on the league or appear poised to do so, such as WR Antwaan Randle El at number 62, WR Antonio Bryant at number 63 and WR Deion Branch at number 65.
It may not generate the pre-draft excitement that a first-round pick would, but number 64 could find a place in the Bucs' lineup for years to come.