RB Cadillac Williams represents the only top-five pick the Bucs have made in the first round of an NFL draft in the last 16 years
The Detroit Lions surprised many – as much as one can be surprised by any result in the NFL these days – by winning at Dallas on the final day of the 2006 regular season Sunday. In the process, the Lions hurt their own 2007 draft standing just a bit…and actually helped that of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
No, the Lions didn't rise far enough in the standings to surrender their own spot to the Buccaneers. By winning their third game of the season while the Oakland Raiders fell to 2-14 with a loss to the New York Jets, the Lions gave the first overall pick to Oakland. Detroit, as the only 3-13 team in the league, will still pick second.
But, because of that final win at Dallas and a number of other results that quietly but fortuitously fell into place for the Buccaneers on the last day of the season, Tampa Bay may now follow the Lions with the third overall pick. Whether or not the Bucs actually end up in that third slot will depend on one more decision: Heads or Tails.
Of course, Tampa Bay had hoped to win its final game of the year, too, which would have rendered all of the above moot. At 5-11, the Bucs would have been in a three-way tie with the Arizona Cardinals and Washington Redskins, and would have dropped to sixth overall thanks to a superior strength of schedule.
However, at 4-12 the Bucs will share a draft 'segment' with the Cleveland Browns, and their head-to-head victory over the Browns in Week 16 is not factored into the draft order tiebreaking. That is decided solely by strength of schedule; that is, the combined records of all of your opponents during the season. Within any tied segments, the team with the lowest strength of schedule – that is, the one that presumably played the easier schedule – picks first. The team with the highest strength of schedule picks last.
And that's why Detroit's win helped the Buccaneers, as did Atlanta's loss to Philadelphia (the Bucs played Philly, too, but they played Atlanta twice) and Cincinnati's loss to Pittsburgh. In fact, the calculations went right down to the final game of the season. When Green Bay, whom the Bucs didn't play this year, beat Chicago, whom the Bucs did play, the final piece was in place. That gave the Buccaneers and the Browns the exact same composite opponent record: 137-119-0.
Since that is the only tiebreaker that is used in determining draft order, the next step is a coin flip. Representatives from the two teams will conduct a flip shortly after the Super Bowl, when every other part of the draft order has been finalized. All 32 slots for the draft have been tentatively set, with the 14-2 San Diego Chargers currently picking last. However, playoff results can rearrange the final 12 spots a bit. The Super Bowl champion, as Tampa Bay fans would remember from 2003, always picks last.
So the Buccaneers will pick either third or fourth in the first round of next April's draft, depending on that coin toss. After that, the Bucs and Browns will alternate between the third and fourth spots for the remainder of the draft; that is, the team that picks third in Round One will pick fourth in Round Two, then third again in Round Three. The Bucs also own the Indianapolis Colts' second round pick thanks to the trade of Anthony McFarland in October. At the moment, that would be the 28th pick of that round though, again, that could change due to playoff results.
Whether the Bucs end up third or fourth, Head Coach Jon Gruden knows his team has a shot to potentially land a high-impact player. At that spot in the draft, he said, you have to be aware that this player is expected to be a key part of your team for years to come.
"We're in a position to draft high," said Gruden. "We're going to draft a heck of a football player, the guy we think is the best player available. A guy that can dominate would be great. Whether it's a quarterback or a wideout or a defensive end, we will see. But, I'm not going to worry about if we have to win tomorrow or if we have to win next week. I just want to get it right. I want to get it right and not worry about all that other stuff because that will take care of itself."
Most drafts see at least one potential "franchise quarterback" come off the board within the first four picks. The last exception was the 2000 draft, when Chad Pennington was the first passer taken at number 18. Gruden wouldn't rule out that the Bucs will use their premium pick on that premium position.
"It's a possibility," he said. "There's no question about it. You are going to be involved in a coin flip with Cleveland to see where you pick, third or fourth. There's a big game, I don't know if it's today or tomorrow, Louisiana State playing Notre Dame. There are a couple interesting guys that are going to be flipping the ball around. But you want to run out there with a guy that you know is going to be there every Sunday, and a guy that's really going to play great. And that's what we're after."
Other than the Bucs-Browns coin toss, the early part of the draft won't change, however. Here are the teams scheduled to pick in the top 10 in April:
|**Team**||**Record**||**Opp. Win %**||**Opp. W-L Record**|
|1. Oakland Raiders||2-14-0||.555||142-114-0|
|2. Detroit Lions||3-13-0||.523||134-122-0|
|3/4. Cleveland Browns #||4-12-0||.535||137-119-0|
|3/4. Tampa Bay Buccaneers #||4-12-0||.535||137-119-0|
|5. Arizona Cardinals||5-11-0||.500||128-128-0|
|6. Washington Redskins||5-11-0||.512||131-125-0|
|7. Minnesota Vikings||6-10-0||.488||125-131-0|
|8. Houston Texans||6-10-0||.504||129-127-0|
|9. Miami Dolphins||6-10-0||.543||139-117-0|
|10. Atlanta Falcons||7-9-0||.457||117-139-0|
|11. San Francisco 49ers||7-9-0||.500||128-128-0|
|12. Buffalo Bills||7-9-0||.574||147-109-0|
# - Subject to coin flip.
Whether they end up third or fourth, it will be the highest the Bucs have been slotted since 1992, when they had the second spot behind Indianapolis. However, Tampa Bay had already traded that first-round pick – to Indianapolis, remarkably – in 1991 in order to acquire quarterback Chris Chandler. The Bucs' opening pick that year was wide receiver Courtney Hawkins, early in the second round.
If the Bucs lose the flip, get the fourth pick and actually make that selection, it will mark their highest pick since 1990. That spring, the Bucs tabbed linebacker/defensive end Keith McCants of Alabama with the fourth pick, after Jeff George, Blair Thomas and Cortez Kennedy had gone 1-2-3. The fifth pick was USC linebacker Junior Seau. Tampa Bay also made the fourth overall pick in 1988, taking Wisconsin tackle Paul Gruber.
If the Bucs win the flip, get the third pick and actually make that selection, it will mark their highest pick since 1987, when they opened the proceedings with the selection of Miami quarterback Vinny Testaverde. The Bucs have never specifically chosen third before, though they have gone first three other times: 1976 (Oklahoma DE Lee Roy Selmon), 1977 (USC RB Ricky Bell) and 1986 (Auburn RB Bo Jackson).
Tampa Bay's only top-10 pick of the last decade was exercised less than two years ago. Picking fifth in 2005, the Bucs selected another Auburn running back, Cadillac Williams. Whereas Jackson never actually played for the Buccaneers, Williams put together a wonderful first season that won him NFL Rookie of the Year honors.