DT Anthony McFarland (left) and DE Simeon Rice are a pair of former first-round picks who came to the Bucs in different ways
Thanks to the deal that brought Jon Gruden to Florida – and, 11 months later, the Lombardi Trophy to Tampa – the Tampa Bay Buccaneers haven't made a first-round selection since the 2001 draft.
Throw in the Keyshawn Johnson trade in 2000 and some shrewd downward dealing in 1998, and the Bucs have only made two first-round picks in the last six years, Anthony McFarland in 1999 and Kenyatta Walker in 2001.
And yet, the Buccaneers' current roster is far from lacking in first-round talent.
In fact, of the 85 players on the roster as of the beginning of April, 12 originally entered the league as a first-round pick. They will almost certainly be joined by a 13th on April 24, the first day of the 2004 NFL Draft.
Former First-Round Picks on Tampa Bay's 2004 Roster
|**Overall Pick**||**Name**||**Selecting Team**||**Year**|
|28||LB Derrick Brooks||Tampa Bay||1995|
|9||TE Rickey Dudley||Oakland||1996|
|8||WR Joey Galloway||Seattle||1995|
|9||CB Tom Knight||Arizona||1997|
|15||DT Anthony McFarland||Tampa Bay||1999|
|21||WR Sylvester Morris||Kansas City||2000|
|2||DT Darrell Russell||Oakland||1997|
|19||T Todd Steussie||Minnesota||1994|
|18||G Matt Stinchcomb||Oakland||1999|
|14||T Kenyatta Walker||Tampa Bay||2001|
|14||DE Reinard Wilson||Cincinnati||1997|
|3||DE Simeon Rice||Arizona||1996|
Three of those 12 were picked by the Buccaneers (McFarland, Walker and Derrick Brooks in 1995), but other former first-rounders have found their way to Tampa in a variety of ways. Galloway (Seattle, 1995) just arrived in a trade in March, while Rice (Arizona, 1996) was a key free-agent pick-up in 2001. Almost all of them have been starters through the majority of their NFL careers, with the exception of Morris, who has been beset by injuries since a strong rookie season.
Of course, the Bucs haven't made a specific push to fill the roster with former first-round picks. It would be disengenuous to suggest that players taken in the first round don't arrive with higher expectations and just maybe a little extra margin for error, particularly with their drafting teams. But by the time a player like, say, Knight arrives in Tampa, his original draft position is of no consequence. To varying degrees, these players have proven their worth at the NFL level and are expected to make significant contributions in 2004.
It would not be surprising to see two-thirds of those 12 players starting for the Bucs this fall. Brooks, McFarland, Steussie and Rice are virtual locks to start, and Dudley, Galloway, Russell, Stinchcomb and Walker figure to be either front-runners or strong competitors for starting jobs.
Obviously, the more years one goes back in the draft, the more free agency is a factor. First-round picks often sign longer initial contracts than the average, and the ones who play like the gridiron saviors they are touted to be are usually re-signing priorities. Still, free agency can eventually free almost everyone, so even the most successful first-rounders often wear more than one uniform in their careers. The recently-departed Warren Sapp, now an Oakland Raider, would be a fine example.
Go back just three years to the 2001 draft and you'll find that all but one of the 31 players taken in the first round are still with their original teams. The exception is cornerback Jamar Fletcher, recently traded from the Miami Dolphins to the San Diego Chargers in the David Boston deal.
Go back seven years, however, to the 1997 draft and you'll find an almost total reorganization of talent. Of the 30 players taken in the first round that year, only seven are still with their original teams: St. Louis' Orlando Pace, Seattle's Walter Jones, the New York Giants' Ike Hilliard, Kansas City's Tony Gonzalez, Indianapolis' Tarik Glenn, Pittsburgh's Chad Scott and Denver's Trevor Pryce. Notably, four of those seven are offensive or defensive linemen; perhaps that underscores the positions that teams most like to lock up if possible. Only eight of those 30 are out of football, even though the average NFL career is less than four years long.
Why did we specifically pick 1997 and not '96 or '98? Because that draft, in present time, is particularly interesting regarding the Buccaneers. That's the last year that Tampa Bay made two picks in the first round, and the team's current roster includes three players from those 30...and we're talking about five different men.
That year, the Bucs selected running back Warrick Dunn 12th overall and wide receiver Reidel Anthony 16th, and the former is an Atlanta Falcon while the latter is out of football. Meanwhile, Russell went to Oakland with the second pick, Knight joined the Cardinals at pick nine and Wilson became a Bengal at pick 14. All are now Buccaneers. In addition, pick number 20, linebacker Dwayne Rudd by Minnesota, spent the 2003 season with Tampa Bay before being waived in March.
What's the relevance for the Buccaneers heading into the 2004 draft, in which it appears they will finally get back into the first-round action? Not much in the short run, besides a talented roster that will make it difficult for rookies to win playing time. In the long run, perhaps the message is that, no matter how important the draft is, core talent can be accumulated in many different ways.