Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Lucky 13

A smart move in 1998 could yield Tampa Bay a valuable player this April


DT Warren Sapp was one product of shrewd Buccaneer draft maneuvering

In the last five years, Buccaneers General Rich McKay has earned a reputation, deservedly, as a master handler of the NFL Draft. Adroit draft-day maneuverings have helped the Buccaneers stock and re-stock their roster until it has become one of the most talent-laden groups in the NFL.

Some of McKay's moves, such as a series of 1995 deals to move up and down in the first round and take DT Warren Sapp and LB Derrick Brooks, are fondly remembered by Buccaneer fans. Others were mere blips on the radar screen during a string of busy April weekends.

Well, one of those blips could become a major event on the horizon in just a few months. In 1998, the Buccaneers traded a late second-round pick to San Diego in exchange for the Chargers' first-round pick in 2000. McKay had acquired that extra second-round pick, the 29th of the round, from Oakland in a deal in which the Buccaneers moved down from the first round to the top of the second. The Bucs, in search of cornerback and receiver help, still nabbed WR Jacquez Green and CB Brian Kelly with two other second-round selections.

On Monday, with the season completed and all playoff ramifications considered, the NFL released its official draft order for the 2000 event, which will take place on April 15 and 16.

San Diego finished 8-8 in 1999, turning that first-round pick, now owned by the Buccaneers, into the 13th selection overall. Triskaidekaphobic Buccaneer fans should know there's nothing to fear in this number 13, even if it is no guarantee of an immediate impact.

"You never know how deep the draft is going to run until the combine and until you've had further opportunities to evaluate players and see how they're going to fit your team," said McKay. "However, as a traditional rule, I wouldn't say you get a lot of impacting players outside of the top 10. That doesn't mean in your individual case, you don't get a Mike Alstott in the second round, because obviously you do. But I wouldn't look for guys that are picked outside of the top ten to be, quote, impact players on draft day. They may turn out to be (impact players), but I don't know if people will list them as such at the time.

"The draft is driven so much, too, by who is taken ahead of you," McKay continued, "and that is sometimes based on something other than merit. That does happen occasionally. For instance, sometimes quarterbacks go ahead of you, and they don't necessarily deserve to go ahead of you, but they do because of need. So it's hard to say that the 13th pick is the 13th-best player."

Of course, first-round picks are not guaranteed to produce impact players, even in the top dozen or so. However, recent draft history suggests the Buccaneers could find the 13th pick to be very lucky indeed.

As McKay suggested, recent number-13 picks are a mixed bag of sudden-impact and delayed returns. However, it should be acknowledged that the last number 13 to be a notable disappointment was T Eugene Chung, drafted by New England in 1992. Chung did not play in the NFL the last two seasons, though he started last year in Kansas City's camp after short stints with the Patriots, Jaguars, 49ers and Colts. The next seven drafts yielded number 13s that have become valuable members of their teams. Such as:

· T Brad Hopkins, drafted by Houston (now Tennessee) in 1993. Both strong and agile, Hopkins starts at left tackle for the AFC Champion Titans and is considered one of the top players in the league at his position. · DE Joe Johnson, selected by New Orleans in 1994. Though he missed all of 1999 due to a pre-season knee injury, the anonymously-named Johnson was developing a high profile with three straight seasons of seven or more sacks. He is still considered one of the finer pass-rushers in the game. · LB Mark Fields, again by the Saints in 1995. The speedy Fields moved into a starting role during his rookie season and has been there ever since. In 1999, he was third on the team with 79 tackles and added four sacks. · CB Walt Harris, chosen by Chicago in 1996. Like Fields with the Saints, Harris has been a starter since his rookie season and has amassed 261 tackles and 12 interceptions in four seasons. · TE Tony Gonzalez, drafted by Kansas City in 1997. Though raw on his '97 draft day, Gonzalez has developed into one of the league's best tight ends, perhaps the most dangerous player at that position by the end of 1999. He led the Chiefs in receptions (76), receiving yards (849) and touchdowns (11) this past year. · LB Takeo Spikes, taken by Cincinnati in 1998. Spikes stepped immediately into a starting inside linebacker spot for the Bengals and has averaged 110 tackles over his two NFL seasons. In the 1999 season, the rangy Spikes was all over the field, combining 106 stops with three sacks, two interceptions and four fumble recoveries. · WR Troy Edwards, tabbed by Pittsburgh last April. Though his first-year numbers weren't as flashy as those of, say, Terry Glenn in 1996, Edwards had a debut reminiscent of Indy's Marvin Harrison that same year. Harrison caught 64 passes for 836 yards and eight touchdowns as a rookie for the league's 25th-ranked offense. In 1999, Edwards led the Steelers' 22nd-ranked offense with 61 receptions for 714 yards and five TDs.

So current draft history is encouraging, and the Buccaneers are also helped by owning their own first-round pick, the 27th choice overall. Of course, that also leads to another cautionary note in this discussion: it's a long time until April 15 (unless you're preparing your taxes), and their could be any number of trades on or before that first day of the draft. When the Buccaneers selected LSU DT Anthony McFarland with the 15th overall selection last April, it marked the first time in three years and just the second time since McKay became general manager that the team had stayed put in its original slot.

So, in effect, the extra pick gained from the San Diego trade could end up being additional ammunition for a practiced draft-day dealslinger. At this point, it is far too early to tell. It's never too early to contemplate the possibilities, however, and they should be plentiful for the Buccaneers come April 15.

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