It's almost as if Ahmad Black was meant to play for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Black, Tampa Bay's fifth-round pick in the 2011 NFL Draft, grew up in nearby Lakeland as a fan of the team, with bruising fullback Mike Alstott emerging as his favorite player. His aunt was even a Buccaneers Cheerleader. He stayed in-state to play his college ball at the University of Florida and, in the last game of his Gator career, played so magnificently on the field at Raymond James Stadium – the Buccaneers' home – that he was named MVP of the 2011 Outback Bowl.
More importantly, however, Black made himself into the sort of player the new-look Buccaneers just can't resist: A hard-worker with strong character, big-time production and the sort of love for the game that made him a team captain at Florida. The Bucs love team captains: Five draft picks so far in 2011, five captains.
The 151st overall selection in 2011, Black may remind Buccaneer fans of the safety the team selected in the final day of last year's draft, Virginia Tech's Cody Grimm. Like Grimm, Black has outstanding football instincts and was a big-time college producer who didn't wow the scouts with his size: 5-9, 184. A seventh-round pick last year, Grimm took over as the team's starting free safety less than a month into the season and performed extremely well before succumbing to a season-ending injury in late November at Baltimore. Before his injury, Grimm contributed 61 tackles and two interceptions, one returned for a touchdown, as the Buccaneers put together the league's seventh-ranked pass defense even without star safety Tanard Jackson.
The Buccaneers would point to these more important numbers in terms of Black's potential: 48 games played, 39 starts, 244 tackles, 13 interceptions, 14 tackles for loss, 15 passes broken up, two sacks, three forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries and three defensive touchdowns. That's the weight of Black's outstanding four-year career in Gainesville, which ended in his selection as a second-round Associated Press All-American in his senior year. Black was also named to the SEC Football Community Service Team this past season.
Black originally joined the Gators as a cornerback and saw reserve action in that role as a freshman, but his career really took off when he was switched to strong safety before his sophomore campaign. Over the next three years he would start 39 of a possible 41 games and increase his tackle and tackle-for-loss totals every year. He exploded on the scene with seven interceptions in 2008, tying for fourth in the nation in that category.
Last year, Black put together his finest season, starting all 13 games and recording 108 tackles, five interceptions, one sack, 11 tackles for loss and three forced fumbles. He saved his absolute best for last, leading the Gators to a 37-24 victory over Penn State in the 2011 Outback Bowl on New Year's Day. Black intercepted two passes on the day, returning one of them 80 yards for the game-clinching touchdown with a 1:11 left in the game.
At Lakeland Senior High School, Black helped his team win 45 consecutive games, including three Class 5A state championships. He had 20 interceptions over his last three seasons as Lakeland captured the USA Today national championship in his last two years.
Black is the fourth defensive player that the Buccaneers have selected in the draft's first five rounds, following defensive end Adrian Clayborn in the first round, defensive end Da'Quan Bowers in the second and linebacker Mason Foster in the third. This is the first time since 2007 that Tampa Bay has picked at least four defensive players among its first five selections; in '07, only second-round guard Arron Sears broke up a run of six defenders.
Black is the first University of Florida player the Buccaneers have drafted since tackle Kenyatta Walker in the first round in 2001. However, UF is still one of the top seven schools all-time in terms of producing Tampa Bay draft picks, as Black is ninth Gator overall taken by the Buccaneers. That ties USC for sixth on the list, trailing only Alabama (12) and Tennessee (12), Miami (11) and Florida State and Oklahoma (10).
The Buccaneers are scheduled to make three more picks in the 2011 NFL Draft, one in the sixth round (187 overall) and two in the seventh (222 and 238). The second pick in the final round is a compensatory selection and cannot be traded.