Another sign that the 2010 Draft is unlike any the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have conducted in awhile: For the first time in 18 years, the team has used a pick on a punter.
With the third pick of the sixth round, number 172 overall, the Buccaneers grabbed Virginia Tech punter Brent Bowden. The strong-legged Bowden handled the Hokies' punting duties for three seasons and finished with excellent career averages of 42.2 yards gross and 36.4 yards net.
Bowden was only the second punter off the board in 2010, following Michigan's Zoltan Mesko who went 22 picks earlier to the New England Patriots. That relatively high selection for Bowden is an indication of the Buccaneers' belief in his NFL potential, and of course it is yet another example of the team pinpointing a specific need.
The Buccaneers cycled through three punters last year, though incumbent Josh Bidwell never made it to the regular season after he aggravated an existing hip injury in training camp. Bidwell was placed on injured reserve and subsequently released after the 2009 season. Free agent pick-up Dirk Johnson took Bidwell's spot and handled the Bucs' punting duties for 11 games before suffering a season-ending hamstring injury at Atlanta. The team then signed free agent Sam Paulescu to finish out the season. Johnson averaged 41.3 yards per boot before his injury; Paulescu, who was the sole remaining punter on the Bucs' roster before this week's draft, averaged 42.6 yards a kick as a Buccaneer.
The 6-2, 202-pound Bowden will certainly get the opportunity to compete for the job in Tampa in 2010. He was an All-ACC first-team selection in 2009 after leading the conference and ranking 14th in the nation with a gross average of 43.7 yards per punt. He also dropped 20 of his 57 punts inside the 20 against just nine touchbacks.
Bowden displayed a strong leg over his three seasons and 214 punts with the Hokies, but he is also considered an excellent directional punter, and that is reflected in his net average and his touchback/inside-the-20 ratio. Bowden had a net average of over 37.0 in two of his three seasons and his final marks of 28 touchbacks versus 72 punts inside the 20 indicate excellent control.
The 22-year-old Bowden played his prep ball at Westfield High School in Chantilly, Virginia, where he was a first-team all-state selection as a senior.
Bowden is the first punter drafted by the Buccaneers since they took Louisville's Klaus Wilmsmeyer in the 12th round in 1992. Not coincidentally, the draft was shortened to eight rounds in 1993 and to its current seven the next year. Wilmsmeyer did not make the Bucs' roster in '92 but did go on to a respectable six-year career in San Francisco, New Orleans and Miami.
Bowden is actually the sixth punter the Buccaneers have taken in their 35 years of drafting. From 1986 through 1989, the team actually went on a run of four straight drafts in which they selected a punter: Tommy Barnhardt in '86, Greg Davis in '87, Monte Robbins in '88 and Chris Mohr in '89. Given that Barnhardt, Davis, Mohr and Wilmsmeyer all went on to fairly lengthy careers in the NFL, Tampa Bay has actually proved remarkably good at scouting the position through the years.
Bowden was the Buccaneers' sixth pick in the first six rounds. Barring trades, the team will conclude its 2010 draft with five more selections in the final stanza.