Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Hitting the Draft Sweet Spot

The Buccaneers could soon pick first overall in the NFL Draft for the fifth time in franchise history, but is that the spot that has returned the most value for the team throughout the years?

If the Bucs traded the #1 pick in this year's draft, it would surely be one of the most dramatic swaps in team history, but where would it rank among the trades that have had the most impact on the team?

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If the Tampa Bay Buccaneers do decide to trade out of the first-overall draft slot this year, they should put in a call to the Cleveland Browns. Allow me to explain.

It's not the fact that the Browns have two first-round picks to use in a trade, or that they could possibly be coveting one of the top quarterbacks. Those are useful facts, but this is more about superstition. See, the Browns' first pick is #12 overall, and that just happens to be the Buccaneers' historical sweet spot in the NFL Draft.

The Buccaneers have selected 385 players over the course of 39 NFL Drafts. They've done so from 226 different draft slots, ranging from #1 (most recently in 1987) to #460 (the 1976 draft was really long). At no spot, not even #1, have the Bucs brought more player value into the league than at #12.

Pro Football Reference employs an evaluative method called "Approximate Value," or AV, that yields a numerical number for each season played by an NFL player. Like WAR in baseball, it is a cumulative statistic, as a player's yearly totals continue to add on. Hall of Famer Derrick Brooks is the Bucs' all-time leader in AV,  with 190. Three good, solid, long-lasting performers like David Logan, Donald Penn and Richard Wood all gave the Bucs an AV of 51. Mike Evans got seven in his rookie season, which is a nice start.

AV isn't perfect, but it does allow us to compare players across a roster, and throughout a team's history. By combining those numbers with a player's draft status, we can chart how much value has been produced at each spot in the draft through the years. For this particular study, we're looking at a player's total career NFL AV, not just what he did for the Buccaneers. That's of particular importance for men such as Vinny Testaverde and Hugh Green. We're also using PFR's "Weighted Career Approximate Value," or CarAV, which gives a player 100% of his best AV season, 95% of the second-best season, and so on. As such, Brooks' CarAV is 141, still the best ever for a Buccaneer.

Oh, and running back Warrick Dunn, who just happened to be selected 12th overall by Tampa Bay in 1997. Two years earlier, the Bucs had used pick #12 to land future Hall-of-Famer Warren Sapp. In between, coincidentally, the team also executed the 12th overall pick in 1996, bringing in defensive end Regan Upshaw. During their NFL careers, those three men combined to post an CarAV of 248, the most for the franchise at any particular spot in the draft.

Of course, the Buccaneers could also stay put this year and put the #1 slot in great position to overcome #12. The Bucs have made the first pick in the draft on four previous occasions, and while those picks have ranged – from the Bucs' perspective – from sublime (Lee Roy Selmon) to disastrous (Bo Jackson), those four picks have a combined 216 CarAV.

It obviously helps when the Buccaneers end up with multiple picks at the same spot through the years. The #84 pick hasn't produced any big stars for the team, but solid producers such as Dwight Smith, Mason Foster and Jamie Duncan have given it a total of 86 CarAV, the 13th best draft spot for the franchise, historically. The highest-ranked draft slot with just one player on its list is #82; that's where the Buccaneers grabbed safety John Lynch in 1993.

Here are the top 10 CarAV-producing draft spots for the Bucs through the years:

Pick #

Players

Total CarAV

12

Warren Sapp, Warrick Dunn, Regan Upshaw

248

1

Vinny Testaverde, Lee Roy Selmon, Ricky Bell, Bo Jackson

216

28

Derrick Brooks, Jackie Walker

146

66

Ronde Barber, Lawrence Dawsey

137

17

Doug Williams, Sean Farrell, Josh Freeman

135

34

James Wilder, Errict Rhett, Jacquez Green, Gordon Jones, Demetrius DuBose

131

6

Trent Dilfer, Broderick Thomas, Eric Curry

112

7

Hugh Green, Charles McRae, Mark Barron, Mike Evans

97

83

Jeremy Zuttah, John Cannon, Robert Goff, Craig Swoope

97

4

Paul Gruber, Keith McCants, Gaines Adams

97

The #83 pick is the most interesting entry on that list. The Bucs have hit that spot four different times, a rare occurrence after Round One, and generally gotten useful players out of it. Craig Swoope didn't have a memorable Buc career but Jeremy Zuttah, John Cannon and Robert Goff all topped 24 in CarAV.

That #82 spot has actually been the Bucs' most efficient pick, since John Lynch is a one-man group there and he produced 88.0 CarAV. That just beats out the #12 spot, with 82.7 per player. Ronde Barber and Lawrence Dawsey carry #66 all the way to fourth on the CarAV-per-player list, with 68.5.

When these results are plotted in order of draft pick you get, you obviously get a gradual descent, but it's not nearly as smooth as you might think. There are quite a few significant peaks and valleys, producing a rather jagged chart. That's largely because there are many draft spots at which the Bucs have never picked – beginning at #2 overall – and those all get a CarAV of zero, of course. But there are also little interesting pockets of success for the team along the way, such as picks 80-84, which have produced a combined CarAV of 318 thanks to the likes of Lynch, Zuttah, Smith, Cannon and Martin Gramatica.  Another such stretch comes from picks 145-147, with a combined CarAV of 95 led by Chidi Ahanotu and Rhett Hall.

The lowest draft spot to produce even 25 CarAV for the Bucs is #307, thanks almost completely to defensive tackle David Logan. The lowest spot to produce any CarAV is #377, courtesy of wide receiver Carl Roaches and his score of two.

No, the Buccaneers aren't really going to consider these numbers when choosing what to do with the first overall pick this year. But if a trade with the Browns did materialize, at least they could draw some comfort in knowing how well the 12th spot has worked out for them in the past. And if nothing else, these numbers illustrate once again that there is potential value at every place in the draft, as well as the potential to miss.

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