RB LaDainian Tomlinson was taken with the fifth overall pick in 2001
Looking for a silver lining to the 5-11 cloud that was the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' 2004 season? How about the fifth overall pick in the 2005 NFL Draft?
Thanks to a sustained run of success, the Bucs haven't been slotted in the league's top 10 for the draft since 1997. They haven't made a top-five pick since 1990. The team would obviously trade on-the-field success for a high draft slot, but at least this year's draft has the potential to be the most exciting one for the Buccaneers in more than a decade.
That's all the more true because, for the first time since 1999, the Bucs will apparently go into the draft armed with a full contingent of picks (barring any trades in the interim, which seem relatively unlikely). Tampa Bay has not had both its first and second-round picks in any of the last five drafts, including three years (2000, 2002 and 2003) in which they didn't pick in the critical opening round.
The Bucs currently have 11 picks overall. That includes all seven of their original picks, plus additional selections in the third, fifth and sixth rounds, all acquired from San Diego in separate trades for Keenan McCardell and Roman Oben. The 11th choice is an undisclosed pick gained in the trade of Jason Whittle to the New York Giants.
That could represent a dramatic infusion of young talent into the Buccaneers' roster. The last time the team had a draft class with as many as 10 players was 1997, when they selected, among others, Warrick Dunn, Frank Middleton, Ronde Barber, Alshermond Singleton, Patrick Hape and Al Harris.
"We do have 11 draft picks in this year's draft, which is a novelty to us," said Head Coach Jon Gruden. "We have not had that in recent years. We do need some things on this football team, and the draft is a vehicle. We obviously have salary cap issues. We need to take a good look at that and see where we are, who's available in free agency and which route, which direction we can go."
The NFL Draft order is determined by the teams' records in the previous season, with the first pick going to the team that finished with the worst record. When two or more teams have the same record, the order within that group is determined by a "strength-of-schedule" tiebreaker. For each team, the composite record of all of its opponents from the previous season is determined, and the team that played the 'easiest' schedule picks first.
Clubs involved in two-team ties alternate positions from round-to-round. In ties that involve three or more clubs, the team at the top of a tied segment in a given round moves to the bottom of the segment for the next round, while all other clubs in the segment move up one position. This rotation continues throughout the draft.
Three teams finished with records worse than the Bucs' 5-11, and three other teams equaled Tampa Bay's mark. The Bucs will be in a rotating draft segment with Chicago, Tennessee and Oakland, and of the four, the Bears have the lowest strength-of-schedule percentage (.465). The Bucs are next at .477, so they will pick fifth in the first round, then rotate up to fourth in the second round and down to seventh in the third round.
Below is the complete 2005 NFL Draft order, as it stands now. The order of the teams in the playoffs could change, but it probably won't do so drastically. Priority of playoff clubs within a tied segment is based on their advancement in the playoffs, but they do not drop out of their tied segment unless they participate in the Super Bowl. The Super Bowl champion will select 32nd and the runner-up 31st.
|1.||San Francisco 49ers||2||14||0||.125||.488||125-131-0|
|**5.**||**Tampa Bay Buccaneers**||**5**||**11**||**0**||**.313**||**.477**||**122-134-0**|
|12.||New York Giants||6||10||0||.375||.516||132-124-0|
|15.||Kansas City Chiefs||7||9||0||.438||.551||141-115-0|
|16.||New Orleans Saints||8||8||0||.500||.465||119-137-0|
|19.||St. Louis Rams+||8||8||0||.500||.488||125-131-0|
|23.||Seattle Seahawks +||9||7||0||.563||.445||114-142-0|
|24.||Green Bay Packers +||10||6||0||.625||.457||117-139-0|
|25.||Denver Broncos +||10||6||0||.625||.484||124-132-0|
|26.||New York Jets +||10||6||0||.625||.523||134-122-0|
|27.||Atlanta Falcons +||11||5||0||.688||.434||111-145-0|
|28.||San Diego Chargers+||12||4||0||.750||.477||122-134-0|
|31.||New England Patriots+||14||2||0||.875||.492||126-130-0|
** - Strength of Schedule (combined 2004 records of all the opponents for that team) + - Subject to change pending playoff results.
Note: Though Dallas and the New York Giants had the same strength-of-schedule, their tie for the 11th and 12th positions was broken by the divisional tie-breaker. Since the Giants beat Dallas twice in head-to-head competition, Dallas is given priority in the draft order and will select in the 11th position, with the Giants in the 12th position.*
Obviously, the additional picks also give the Bucs flexibility to move up or down during draft weekend, but they are already as high as they've been in 15 years. The last top-10 pick by the Bucs was quarterback Trent Dilfer (6th) in 1994; the last top-five pick was LB/DE Keith McCants (4th) in 1990.
What positions might the Bucs target with that prime first-round pick. As Gruden points out, it is still a bit early to make that call, considering the potential free agency developments ahead, regarding both the Bucs' current players and possible signings from other teams. Still, Gruden did point to some obvious areas of need.
"Once you get the contract status of all our football players, and we see who we can get back and who we have on our football team prior to the draft, we can address needs more specifically as we go," said Gruden. "When you lose three defensive tackles, obviously defensive tackle becomes a glaring need. When you lose a wide receiving corps, basically, especially early in the season, you could use another playmaker there. We do have contract issues that we need to get resolved before I can speak any further, with Brian Griese and Joey Galloway and others. For me to stand up here today and answer those questions would be awfully difficult."
The draft could also aid in the team's continuing efforts to improve its offensive line play.
"We'll look at the availability of players and, honestly, if there's a guy there who we think can come in and help us, not only immediately but in our future, we will obviously look to go in that direction," said Gruden.
The next step, of course, will be using those picks wisely. The Bucs certainly made the most of their first first-round pick in three years last spring, tabbing LSU wide receiver Michael Clayton 15th overall. Clayton just finished one of the finest seasons for a rookie receiver in NFL history and broke all of the club's rookie marks with 80 catches for 1,193 yards and seven touchdowns.
Theoretically, one's odds of making good on a pick would increase the higher the pick is in the first round. Players drafted fifth overall during the past 20 years include LaDainian Tomlinson, Junior Seau and Deion Sanders. There are others on the list who have not panned out as well, including Curtis Enis, Trev Alberts and Anthony Bell.
Here are the players drafted with the fifth overall pick in the last 20 NFL Drafts:
|2002||Quentin Jammer||CB||San Diego|
|2001||LaDainian Tomlinson||RB||San Diego|
|1999||Ricky Williams||RB||New Orleans|
|1996||Cedric Jones||DE||N.Y. Giants|
|1992||Terrell Buckley||CB||Green Bay|
|1991||Todd Lyght||CB||L.A. Rams|
|1990||Junior Seau||LB||San Diego|
|1986||Anthony Bell||LB||St. Louis|