CB Antoine Winfield, now a standout in Minnesota, was drafted 23rd overall by Buffalo in 1999
Barring a trade, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers will pick from the 23rd position in the first round of this month's NFL Draft. They may need to rent the spot from Oakland or Buffalo first, however.
By nothing more than chance, the Bills and Raiders have combined to make six of the last 10 picks at the 23rd overall spot, dating back to 1996. The Bills took RB Antowain Smith, CB Antoine Winfield and RB Willis McGahee with number 23 in various years, while the Raiders countered with G Mo Collins, LB Napoleon Harris and CB Fabian Washington. So far, advantage Buffalo.
However, the Raiders also have the distinction of making one of the most astute 23rd-overall picks ever, way back in 1973. The selection: Southern Mississippi punter Ray Guy. Even then it was a gamble to take a punter in the first round, but Guy proved to be, by most estimations, the finest punter in league history.
Though we're not in the draft-prediction business, we will go so far as to forecast that the Buccaneers will not be duplicating that experience and taking a punter in the first round. No other punter has gone in the first round before or since Guy and, by the way, Tampa Bay already has the reigning NFC Pro Bowler at that position, Josh Bidwell.
Where will the value be when pick number 23 rolls around on Saturday, April 28, probably about five hours into the draft? That's up for interpretation, though there appears to be good draft depth at tight end, defensive line, linebacker and offensive tackle this year. Over the last decade, however, the 23rd pick has netted a nice crop of running backs and cornerbacks, in particular.
Here are the last 10 players taken 23rd overall in the NFL Draft:
|2005||Oakland||CB Fabian Washington||11 starts. as rookie, 43 tckls, 5 PD|
|2004||Seattle||DT Marcus Tubbs||Started for NFC champs, 5.5 sacks|
|2003||Buffalo||RB Willis McGahee||Missed '03 but 2,375 yds. in 2004-05|
|2002||Oakland||LB Napoleon Harris||Traded in '05, 274 tackles in 4 yrs.|
|2001||New Orleans||RB Deuce McAllister||2 Pro Bowls, 4,103 yds. from '02-04|
|2000||Carolina||CB Rashard Anderson||Just 9 starts before suspension|
|1999||Buffalo||CB Antoine Winfield||Starred in Buffalo, now with Vikings|
|1998||Oakland||G Mo Collins||Started 64 gms. in 7 yrs., including SB|
|1997||Buffalo||RB Antowain Smith||6,881 rushing yds., 2 SB rings with NE|
|1996||Detroit||C Jeff Hartings||2 Pro Bowls, starts for SB champs|
The "23rd pick" first came into play in 1967, when the NFL and AFL finally drafted together, taking the draft from 16 teams to 26. The first player with the honor of going 23rd in any given round was Notre Dame guard Thomas Regner, who started for a few seasons with the Houston Oilers.
Two years later, the Raiders selected Guy. Other notables at the 23rd spot have included T Curt Marsh, also by the Raiders in 1981; DE Jim Jeffcoat, by Dallas in 1983; WR Louis Lipps, by Pittsburgh in 1984; T David Williams, by Houston in 1989 and CB Ty Law by New England in 1995.
Two 23rd picks in the mid-70s ended up with the Buccaneers, who didn't even start drafting until 1976 (and have never selected the 23rd overall player). The Cincinnati Bengals took DT Bill Kollar in that spot in 1974 but Kollar was a Buccaneer by 1977. He played five seasons with Tampa Bay and started 35 games; he has also fashioned a decades-long career as an assistant coach in the NFL, most recently with the St. Louis Rams. The next year, the Miami Dolphins drafted T Darryl Carlton out of the University of Tampa with the 23rd pick, and Carlton was also back in Tampa by 1977. He started 29 games for the Buccaneers over three seasons.
Last year, in assessing the history of the 36th pick (which the Bucs eventually used in April on Nebraska LB Barrett Ruud), we dubbed it the "Nitschke Pick," in honor of Hall of Famer Ray Nitschke, the 36th pick overall in 1958. By the same token, we'd probably have to name number 23 the Ozzie Newsome pick, since that was his spot in 1978 and he is now in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
The last decade of 23s, though, has produced three established NFL running backs of varying star power. Smith has probably been more steady than spectacular during his nine-year career so far, and he has played for three teams in the last three years, but he did start for two Super Bowl championship teams in New England.
McGahee might yet be a superstar. He was a bit of a surprise pick at number 23 in 2003, if only because the Bills already had a 1,000-yard rusher in Travis Henry and McGahee was coming off a very serious knee injury in the Orange Bowl national championship game. Indeed, McGahee didn't play in 2003 as he recovered from his injury, but he has averaged almost 1,200 yards the last two years and scored 14 touchdowns.
McAllister might fittingly be called a star. He missed all but five games last year due to a knee injury but had passed the 1,000-yard mark in each of the previous three campaigns, peaking at 1,641 yards in 2003. McAllister was also somewhat of a surprise at 23 in 2001 in that the Saints had Ricky Williams at the time. The enigmatic Williams was going into just his third season after the Saints essentially traded their entire 1999 draft for him, but he was traded to Miami in March of 2002 and New Orleans went with McAllister, to outstanding results.
The three cornerbacks taken at number 23 over the last decade include one star in Antoine Winfield and one bust in Rashard Anderson, with Fabian Washington ready to tip the scale in one direction or another. Washington was essentially a starter as a rookie, so that's obviously a good sign in Oakland. Winfield, a great tackler and cover man, is an established star in the league and an important free agent signing by the defense-hungry Vikings in 2004. Anderson started nine games for Carolina over his first two years but has not resurfaced in the league since running afoul of the league's substance abuse program in 2002.
Of course, the cornerback club at 23 looks a whole lot better if we expand the list to the last 11 years, so that it includes Law. An extremely important cog in the Patriots' championship machine of 2001-04, Law has 46 career interceptions, including 10 last year in his first season with the New York Jets. (He is currently a free agent.)
Both of the offensive linemen taken 23rd overall in the last decade became starters, but Hartings has had a more distinguished career, capped a few months ago when he helped the Pittsburgh Steelers win Super Bowl XL. Hartings, who was drafted by Detroit, has played five years each for the Lions and Steelers and, in addition to his two Pro Bowl selections has been an alternate for the all-star game on four occasions.
Collins started 64 games over seven seasons for the Raiders but only once started every game in a season and has not played since 2003. He was the starting right guard for Oakland in their Super Bowl XXXVII loss to the Buccaneers.
Rounding out the last 10 23rd picks are Napoleon Harris, a linebacker out of Northwestern who is probably best known – so far – for being part of the trade that shipped Randy Moss from Minnesota to Oakland. Harris started as a rookie and throughout his three seasons in Oakland but opened only three games in his first season in Minnesota.
Marcus Tubbs has had even less time to make an impact in Seattle, but the Seahawks like what they've seen so far. A huge plugger in the middle of the team's revamped defense, he started in just his second season last year and pitched in with 4.5 sacks, most of them at the end of the season.
As mentioned, the Bucs have never executed the 23rd pick before, and who knows, maybe they'll move up or down and out of the spot on draft weekend. They have picked 22nd on two occasions, nabbing G Ray Snell in 1980 and DT Marcus Jones in 1996. If it happens, the 23rd spot will be the lowest the Bucs have drafted in the first round since they took LB Derrick Brooks 28th overall in 1995. They obviously would have selected lower in 2003, after winning the Super Bowl, but they had traded that first-round pick to Oakland in the deal to bring aboard Head Coach Jon Gruden.
There's no magic to the 23rd spot, of course. As productive as that position has been over the last decade, it has been executed by a number of different organizations and decision-makers. Still, it is at least encouraging that there have consistently been outstanding players available at that spot, no matter what the pundits may think about a draft's "depth." Perhaps best of all, only one of those last 10 picks can reasonably be called a failure at this point, giving it the same success rate as the first overall pick (if one considers Tim Couch a miss in 1999).
Now it's the Bucs in possession of that 23rd pick, which means its their turn to keep the run of success alive.