The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are due to pick in the 20th slot of the first round of the 2011 NFL Draft in late April. Perhaps it would be wise to trade up three spots.
We say this not because a specifically-targeted player is unlikely to fall to 20, or because the New England Patriots, who own the 17th spot, are itching to deal. It's just simply a matter of karma…#17 has been good to the Buccaneers.
Tampa Bay has picked a player at #20 only one time in team history, and it did go well. It is still going well, as a matter of fact, and will probably look even better in a few years. In 2008, the Buccaneers used the 20th overall pick on Kansas cornerback Aqib Talib.
Number 17, however, is one of the three most productive spots for the Buccaneers, historically, in the first round of the NFL Draft. It was there the team nabbed its first "franchise" quarterback, Grambling's Doug Williams, in 1978. That is also the spot that returned the current franchise quarterback, Kansas State's Josh Freeman. Williams is generally considered the top player at his position in franchise history; Freeman seems like a decent bet to eventually dethrone.
Meanwhile, Tampa Bay also nabbed Wisconsin guard Ray Snell at #17 in 1980. That's relatively high for an interior lineman to be drafted, but Snell had a decent four-year run with the team, starting 35 games before he was traded to Pittsburgh in 1984. Snell was no star, but combined with the Williams-Freeman pair, he gives #17 a pretty prominent position in franchise history.
There's nothing mystical about the spot; that Williams and Freeman share #17 is just coincidence. Still, even if it's not instructive to compare players and their draft positions from year to year, it is still interesting to see what slots have proved most productive for the team. And in the first round, there are only five specific spots at which the team has picked three or more times in their 35 years of drafting. In addition to #17, they are:
#1: DE Lee Roy Selmon (1976), RB Ricky Bell (1977), RB Bo Jackson (1986), QB Vinny Testaverde (1987)
This one certainly gives #17 a run for its money, as perhaps it should. Draft busts can most definitely occur at the #1 spot, as you only have to go back four years to JaMarcus Russell to demonstrate. Still, it is also a good spot to find a superstar. One can argue the Bucs were able to do that two out of four times, with future Hall of Famer Selmon in 1976 and Jackson 10 years later. Still, given that Jackson became a star in Oakland and never actually played for the Buccaneers, it can't be considered a positive choice for the franchise. Bell had a promising career cut short by an eventually fatal disease and Testaverde had his greatest successes elsewhere, though he still holds many career passing record for the Buccaneers.
#4: DE Gaines Adams (2007), LB Keith McCants (1990), T Paul Gruber (1988)
Unfortunately for the superb Gruber, the star-crossed careers of McCants and the late Adams make this a tough spot for the franchise. Gruber was an iron man for 11 years and he's considered the greatest offensive lineman in team history to this point, but neither Adams nor McCants lived up to their high draft status.
#6: LB Broderick Thomas (1989), DE Eric Curry (1993), QB Trent Dilfer (1994)
Buc fans may have mixed feelings about this spot. Thomas had a couple of strong campaigns early but not necessarily an impressive overall career in Tampa. Curry did not work out. Dilfer is among the team's franchise leaders in most passing categories and was at the helm for playoff runs in 1997 and a good portion of 1999. It was with Baltimore in 2000, however, that he won a Super Bowl in Raymond James Stadium.
#12: DT Warren Sapp (1995), DE Regan Upshaw (1996), RB Warrick Dunn (1997)
This is probably the most interesting and perhaps the most impressive of the five first-round groups. It's interesting because the three #12 picks happened in successive years. That's the only time in team history that the Bucs have selected in the same exact spot at any point in the draft in three straight years. None of the three picks were busts, either. Sapp is likely headed to the Hall of Fame and is now the model of the pass-rushing interior lineman teams are so keen to find. Upshaw's impact was less than Sapp's, understandably, but he had four fairly productive seasons in Tampa and started 47 of the 48 games that he played for the Bucs. Dunn is the third-leading rusher and 12th-leading pass-catcher in team history and one of the most popular Bucs ever.
The Buccaneers have drafted 355 players over their 35 years in the league, ranging from pick #1 to pick #460. Yes, 460; the draft was still 17 rounds long in 1976 and the Bucs selected Washington & Lee quarterback Jack Berry with the first pick of that final round. Berry, Defensive tackle Bob Dzierzak (404) and linebacker Tom West (434), all from that 1976 draft, are the only players the Buccaneers have ever drafted in the 400s. In just over half of those 460 slots, 243 to be exact, the Bucs have never taken a player, including 12 slots that are now in the first round (2, 9, 10, 11, 13, 18, 19, 21, 24, 26, 27 and 31).
However, that #1 spot is not the only place at which the Bucs have found at least four players. In addition to eight other numbers that have produced four Tampa Bay picks, there are even two slots that are home to five drafted Bucs. You couldn't guess them if you tried. They are:
#34: WR Gordon Jones (1979), RB James Wilder (1981), LB Demetrius DuBose (1993), RB Errict Rhett (1994), WR Jacquez Green (1998)
Another fascinating list. Given that the #34 pick has always been a relatively or very high second-round pick, it's not surprising that it has had pretty good returns for the Buccaneers. When you pair this list with the fact that the Buccaneers also drafted Jimmy DuBose (1976), Johnny Davis (1978) and Reggie Cobb (1990) at #30 overall, this is obviously a portion of the draft where the team has repeatedly looked for running back talent. Mike Alstott was #35 in 1996. Wilder is the Bucs' all-time leading rusher and Rhett is eighth, though he might have finished higher if not for an ill-timed contract dispute right around the time of the arrivals of Alstott and Dunn. Green and Jones don't rank as high on the Bucs' career receiving list, but each had some productive years and Green was also a talented punt returner. DuBose wasn't as successful in Tampa.
#254: DE Ken McCune (1981), K Jim Gallery (1984), TE Mike Busch (1990), LB Elijah Alexander (1992), WR Aaron Lockett (2002)
All of these picks except Lockett, who was a late seventh-rounder, have been in the 10th round, so it's not surprising that this list didn't make much of a collective dent on Buccaneers history. The only one who even played a regular-season game for the Buccaneers is Alexander, who appeared in 12 games as a rookie in '02, his only season in Tampa. Alexander did go on to play nine more seasons, however, in Denver, Indianapolis and Oakland; he died last March of multiple myeloma.
Weirdly, the Buccaneers have also picked four times at #252, though with not much more lasting results. Of those four – RB Robert Morgan (1977), LB Aaron Brown (1978), G Mike Simmonds (1987) and CB Lenny Williams (2004) – two made the active roster at some point. Brown actually played three seasons and appeared in 44 games with two starts; Simmonds was around for three years but only played in five games, all starts.
Of the other slots with four different Buc draft picks, the most interesting one is probably #225. That position produced WR Henry Vereen (1979), G Rick Mallory (1984), DT Reuben Davis (1988) and WR Paris Warren (2005). All but Vereen made the regular-season roster at some point, and Davis is one of the most successful late-round picks in team history. He played five seasons with the Bucs, appearing in 65 games with 55 starts. Mallory was a late hit, too, lasting five seasons and logging 37 starts in 57 games played. Warren made the Bucs' roster on several occasions in the years following his selection, but persistently bad injury luck limited him to eight total games.
At the moment, Tampa Bay is also slated to pick at #51 in the second round and #84 in the third round. Since compensatory picks will later be added to the mix, it is not certain yet where their later picks will fall. The Bucs have picked twice before at #51, and fairly well, getting guard Cosey Coleman there in 2000 and running back Don Smith in 1987. The 84th slot has been good to them, too, producing cornerback Dwight Smith in 2001 and linebacker Jamie Duncan in 1998. Both became productive starters for the team.
Perhaps one of those spots will eventually rank as one of the more successful in franchise history, if they produce strong players this spring. And maybe the Bucs will duplicate their #20 hit by staying put in the first round. But if you want to play the odds, lucky #17 could be where it's at.