Tampa Bay Buccaneers

One Buc Mailbag: A Draft Trend?

This week's mailbag looks at a supposed "trend" the Bucs might want to avoid on draft weekend, as well as fan-submitted questions regarding the Hall of Fame and the upcoming free agency period.

Each week during the offseason, Senior Writer/Editor Scott Smith will dip into the inbox to answer questions from Buccaneer fans.  This week, we look at a very specific cross-section of the team's draft history, while also discussing the upcoming Hall of Fame vote and even a little free agency.

1. Hi Scott,
My gut-o-meter tells me that every time the Bucs drafted a "star" college quarterback who choked during the national game, they performed poorly in Tampa until they left for another team. Here I'm thinking of Vinny Testaverde. So, what does the data say, or is my gut-instinct mostly correct? Thanks.
Steve T, via email to tbbsocial@buccaneers.nfl.com


This strikes me as a weirdly specific question, but I sort of like it because Steve readily admits the possibility that he's fallen victim to something I've mentioned in the past: "confirmation bias." I won't bore everyone with a long description of that again; basically, confirmation bias is noticing and remembering only the evidence that supports your belief and missing or forgetting the evidence that does not.

See, Steve does have one piece of evidence that supports his gut feeling, that of Testaverde's five-interception performance in the 1987 Fiesta Bowl, which pitted his #1 Miami Hurricanes against the #2 Penn State Nittany Lions. Both teams came into the national title game undefeated but the Hurricanes had rolled over all of their opponents while the Lions had played a number of close games, and as such Testaverde's squad was heavily favored. That was also a very brash and outspoken team, and Testaverde had just won the Heisman Trophy.

The problem with the above "theory" (I'm using the quote marks in the same way Steve uses them on the word "star"), is that there really is no other evidence to help us prove or disprove it. The Buccaneers have selected a total of 23 quarterbacks in their nearly four decades of college drafting (I'm excluding Steve Young, taken first in the 1984 USFL draft, since he didn't come to the Bucs straight from college). Here are all 23, in reverse chronological order:

chart-012915.jpg

Now, is it fair to say that any quarterback taken in, say, the fifth round or later is not going to fit Steve's criteria as a star college quarterback? I think so. So I'm going to save myself the deep research and not include Josh Johnson, Bruce Gradkowski, Joe Hamilton, Mike Pawlawski, Pat O'Hara, Todd Hammel, Mike Shula, Steve Calabria, Blair Kiel, Bob Lane, Mike Ford, Chuck Fusina, Randy Hedberg, Parnell Dickinson or Jack Berry in the conversation. Okay, wait…I'll concede that Hamilton was a major collegiate star, given that he was the Heisman runner-up in 1999. Fusina was #2 in the Heisman voting in 1978, so I guess we'll include him, as well. Obviously, given where they were drafted, neither Hamilton nor Fusina was considered a big-time pro prospect, but I'll give them their due in order to be thorough.

So that leaves us with 10 quarterbacks to look at a little more closely. Were any of them "stars" who choked in the national championship game? Let's see.

1. Mike Glennon. Glennon started two seasons at North Carolina State, following Russell Wilson. He played in one bowl game – his last collegiate outing, the Music City Bowl – and played well but the Wolfpack lost. NC State was nowhere near a national championship game.

2. Josh Freeman. Freeman was an honorable mention All-America choice by Pro Football Weekly, so something of a "star" in college, but his Kansas State teams played in just one bowl during his three years and it had nothing to do with the BCS title.

3. Chris Simms. Simms might be the kind of figure that would resonate in Steve's mind as he mulled this theory, but he doesn't really fit. What might jog the memory is a poor performance in the 2001 Big 12 title game, which would have put Texas in the BCS Championship Game if the Longhorns had won. That doesn't quite fit Steve's criteria, though, and Simms was actually really good in a Cotton Bowl win over Texas A&M the next year to finish his collegiate career. Plus, Simms, despite the pedigree his last name suggests, wasn't really a Testaverde-level "star" in college; in fact, many Longhorn fans favored Major Applewhite at the time.

4. Joe Hamilton. I doubt that Hamilton was part of Steve's thinking, but as I said, he was a Heisman Trophy runner-up while at Tennessee. He was also 5-10 and a running quarterback at Georgia Tech, and as a seventh-round pick wasn't really expected to light it up in the NFL. He did struggle in the 2000 Gator Bowl at the end of a great 1999 campaign, but that wasn't the national championship bout, of course.

5. Shaun King. King's Tulane squad went undefeated in 1998 but famously did not get invited to a BCS bowl game. King, who set a then-NCAA record with a 183.3 passer rating that year, played magnificently in a Liberty Bowl victory over Tulane, earning game MVP honors, so he neither experienced a championship game nor choked in the biggest game he did get to play.

6. Trent Dilfer. Dilfer was the sixth overall pick in 1994, and maybe he factored a little into Steve's thinking, too, since he eventually won a Super Bowl with another team. However, you can't really say Dilfer played poorly throughout his Buccaneer career, given that he made the Pro Bowl in 1997 and was on his way to a second playoff run in 1999 before getting hurt and ceding the reins to King. Plus, Dilfer's Fresno State teams played in California, Freedom and Aloha Bowls, not national title games; in his last bowl, Dilfer threw for 523 yards in a loss to Colorado.

7. Craig Erickson. Like Testaverde, Erickson was at the helm of a phenomenally talented Miami Hurricanes team, but Erickson's squad was able to complete the title run in the 1989 season. It's a little complicated, because Erickson's #2-ranked team was actually playing #7 Alabama in the Sugar Bowl while the #1-ranked Colorado Buffaloes were matched against #4 Notre Dame in the Orange Bowl. Presumably, Miami's game would not have been for the title if Colorado beat Notre Dame, but the Fighting Irish won the Orange Bowl before the Sugar Bowl started, so the Hurricanes knew they had a shot. Erickson threw for 250 yards and three touchdowns in the 'Canes win, so no "choke job" there. Plus, he was relatively decent for the Buccaneers, better than what he subsequently did in Indy and Miami.

8. Vinny Testaverde. Covered this above. This is the paradigm for which we're unsuccessfully trying to find a match.

9. Chuck Fusina. Fusina led Penn State to the national title game in 1978 and won a slew of awards. He was neither fantastic nor a choke artist in the Sugar Bowl against Alabama, a game that came down to a legendary goal-line stand by the Crimson Tide. He was a late-round pick who threw a total of 37 passes in four seasons, three with Tampa Bay and one with the Packers. He doesn't really fit the bill, either.

10. Doug Williams.Williams was the first quarterback on which the Buccaneers spent a first-round pick, trading down from #1 to #17 in 1978 and landing TE Jimmie Giles from Houston in the process. Williams did go on to win a Super Bowl after contentiously leaving the Bucs, but he was also quite good for five years for the team that drafted him, leading it to its first three playoff appearances. Plus, as a star at Grambling, Williams wasn't on a team in the running for the national title game, though he did help them win a couple of what were essentially honorary titles among historically black colleges and universities.

NFL DRAFT LINKS


That's it, Steve. So, you know what? Your gut was actually right, in that every time the Buccaneers have drafted a star quarterback who struggled in a college title game, he performed poorly in Tampa before finding success elsewhere. It's just that "every time" is also just "one time," and I'm sure we can all agree that this is not a big enough sample size to be called anything approaching a trend.

It would seem obvious that Steve has asked this question in regards to Oregon's Marcus Mariota, since Mariota is the only college quarterback who was the starter for the losing team in the national championship game. The Buccaneers own the first pick in the upcoming draft and, if they choose to address the quarterback situation, Mariota and Florida State's Jameis Winston are almost universally believed to be the two best options.

If Steve is referring to Mariota, he's referring to a quarterback who completed 24 of 37 passes for 333 yards, two touchdowns and one interception and ran for 39 yards in a 42-20 loss to surging Ohio State.

The Ducks' offense certainly didn't put up the kind of numbers its fans had become accustomed to, but Mariota's performance wasn't really a "choke;" it's not like he threw five interceptions. The outcome of the game was more about the unstoppable OSU duo of Cardale Jones and Ezekiel Elliott, as well as a great Buckeye front seven that kept the Ducks' running game at bay.

Besides, what does one game really tell us? Would you really want the Buccaneers (or any team) to remove a quarterback from consideration if he amassed a wonderful overall track record but struggled in one game, even a championship game?

Matt Leinart was amazing in USC's title-winning game over Oklahoma in the 2005 Orange Bowl and his pro career was a total disappointment. Meanwhile, you may have heard of a guy named Peyton Manning. Manning's 1997 Tennessee team went 11-0 and was matched up with the 11-0 Nebraska Cornhuskers in the Orange Bowl, while #1 Michigan went to the Rose Bowl to play Washington. That was, in effect, a championship game for Manning and the Vols, who would've taken the title with a win over Nebraska and a Michigan loss. Alas, the Cornhuskers won, 42-17, and Manning was held to 134 yards on 21-of-31 passing, with one TD and one pick. Manning somehow managed to rebound when he got to the NFL.

So, unless you're saying that the Buccaneers specifically, shouldn't draft a QB under those circumstances, I don't think you have anything to back you up. And if that is what you're saying, that there's some reason why a Buccaneers team (with different people from that 1987 team in every position, from the owners, general manager and head coach on down) would be cursed to repeat that bit of history, then you're definitely thinking with your gut, and your gut isn't feeding you good information.

2. Will the Hall call?

@ScottSBucs #bucsmailbag Sapp, Brooks…can we make it three in a row in the HOF with Lynch or Dungy. Think either of them will make it?

— Scott Peterson (@ScootPooterson) January 29, 2015

I actually wrote about this last year, after both John Lynch and Tony Dungy made it to the list of 15 finalists (along with eventual enshrinee Derrick Brooks) but were not among the five elected. Believing that those two would be strong candidates again in 2015, but up against a somewhat different crew of competing candidates, I wondered if their chances would improve 12 months later, or in the years to come.

Every year you have two types of finalists: first-time eligible candidates and those who have previously been up for enshrinement. Generally a couple of those first-time candidates are essentially no-brainers – as was the case last year with Brooks and Walter Jones – and they gobble up a good portion of the five possible slots. So if you're passed over in one year, as Lynch and Dungy were in 2014, you have to look at the others in your same situation as well as the new eligible candidates coming down the pike.

Check out photos of Hall of Fame finalist and former Tampa Bay Buccaneers Head Coach Tony Dungy.

And there are plenty of strong newcomers on the horizon. If you ask me, the two first-year-eligible candidates who are slam dunks this year are Junior Seau and Orlando Pace. Kurt Warner is the third new name among the 15 finalists. For the sake of argument, let's say Seau gets in this year along with either Pace or Warner. That would leave three spots for the other 12 returning candidates, and no matter who you are, those aren't great odds.

In my opinion, both Dungy and Lynch deserve to be in the Hall of Fame (I know – surprise, surprise). I also think both of them will get in at some point. I made my case on Tuesday for Lynch and would be honored if you check it out. I think he was the type of player that redefined a position, just like Sapp, and made a huge impact on the game during his career. I'll be writing about Dungy on Friday, so I won't spoil that, but here's one stat for you: Dungy's 10.7 wins per season as a head coach is the best in NFL history among coaches with at least 100 games at the helm.

But you want to know if either of them (or both) will get in this year, and to that I'll respond with a hearty…uh, I don't know. I think it's close for both of them. I admit that I'll be surprised if they both get the call this year, simply because of the limited spaces available, but I do think they each have a legitimate shot.

As I said, I think two spots will go to first-year-eligibles. If I'm right, that would leave a maximum of three spots for holdovers; the Selection Committee members don't have to vote in the maximum number of five modern-era enshrinees, but with so many deserving candidates I would be shocked if they did not. The last time the Hall class fell below five modern-era enshrinees was 2005.

The 12 returning finalists are Dungy, Lynch, K Morten Andersen, RB Jerome Bettis, WR Tim Brown, Coach Don Coryell, RB Terrell Davis, LB Kevin Greene, DE Charles Haley, WR Marvin Harrison, Coach Jimmy Johnson and G Will Shields. Honestly, those all look like Hall of Famers to me, so we just have to figure out which ones have the strongest arguments and thus will sway the Selection Committee this year.

Check out photos of Hall of Fame finalist and former Tampa Bay Buccaneer Safety John Lynch.

Perhaps not in favor of our Buc candidates: Last year, when the Selection Committee first whittled the list of 15 finalists down to 10, they did not advance past that cut. In addition to those who were selected for enshrinement, these five were in the last 10: Bettis, Greene, Harrison, Haley and Shields. One might reasonably assume that those five are the front-runners for the three spots this year.

Of course, it doesn't have to be that way. Even if those five make the cut to 10 again this year, there would still be room for three more from the above list. Could I see that being Dungy and Lynch over Andersen, Coryell, Davis and Johnson. Absolutely. Presumably, once the 15 are pared down to 10, the process starts over as the committee figures out how to cut that group in half.

It's not going to get any easier. Brett Favre and Terrell Owens hit the ballot next year, LaDainian Tomlinson and Brian Dawkins come along in 2017 and the 2018 group will be swelled by the likes of Ronde Barber, Ray Lewis, Randy Moss and Brian Urlacher. If you slide all the way to 2019 you're suddenly dealing with Tony Gonzalez and Ed Reed. I don't believe you're going to see a year anytime soon in which there are not at least two obvious first-ballot selections.

So if you think, as I do, that all of this year's finalists are future Hall-of-Fame choices (and especially Lynch, Dungy, Bettis, Brown, Greene, Haley, Harrison and Shields) you just have to figure which people on that list get this year's spots and which ones have to wait. I think it's a little much to predict that the former Bucs will claim two of my hypothetically-available three spots, but I'll have my fingers crossed that at least one of them doesn't have to wait another year.

3. Saw this article on something called Rant Sports) making predictions about the Bucs in free agency this year. The writer says the Bucs are going to sign Jordan Cameron, CJ Spiller, Brandon Flowers, Antrel Rolle, and Michael Vick. That seems like a lot, especially after all the signings last year. Do you think this guy is anywhere close?Jase Walter, via email to tbbsocial@buccaneers.nfl.com


Well, no, I don't think that's likely very close to what eventually transpires. I'm not sure anybody could get too close with a prediction of the team's free agency maneuvers right now, for several reasons. First, the list of potential free agents as it exists now is not necessarily what it will look like when free agency starts in about five weeks. Second, the Bucs' roster could get some tweaks between now and then, which could change the signing priorities. And, third, these lists most often come across more as wish lists than a realistic plan.

To that last point, in my office I've got a chart of potential unrestricted free agents in 2015, categorized by position and loosely ranked at each of those spots. Obviously, that ranking is somewhat subjective, but I don't think you'd find anything too objectionable about the list. The writer of the above article has gifted the Buccaneers with the second-ranked tight end, second-ranked running back, second-ranked cornerback and third-ranked safety. That's lovely, but hardly seems too realistic.

Still, it's fun to mull those options over. Remember that this is my opinion, not necessarily what is being discussed in the player personnel offices here at One Buc. Of that group, I'd be most interested in landing Flowers. I like the Bucs' starting cornerback duo quite a bit – especially after the impressive emergence of second-year man Johnthan Banks in the second half of 2014 – but I'm a big proponent of building experienced cornerback depth. The Bucs tried that with Mike Jenkins last year but unfortunately Jenkins was lost for the year in the season opener. Over the course of the season, the Bucs' secondary depth was tested pretty seriously due to various injuries; I would be thrilled if the 2015 squad has some more experienced options to put into play. Plus, everyone knows that teams have three cornerbacks on the field for a huge percentage of their snaps in today's NFL.

I'd bet Cameron stays in Cleveland. I do think the Bucs would look at adding running back depth, but that's not really too hard to find in the draft. The fact that Rolle is 32 might concern me a bit, but I guess he's been a pretty consistent performer. I'd be very surprised to see Vick land in Tampa.

One more point, Jase. I wouldn't worry too much about all the moves the Bucs made in free agency last year. Yes, it was the most aggressive runs through the market the team has ever made, but the team is still in perfectly good cap shape. Moreover, most of the deals the Bucs whipped up last year are not ones that tie the team's hands for a long time. I don't know if we're in store for another aggressive free agency period for the Bucs, but I think there's plenty of roster and cap flexibility if Jason Licht and Lovie Smith see players they believe will make the team better.

Fans can submit questions for upcoming mailbags via Twitter to @ScottSBucs (#BucsMailbag), through a message on the Buccaneers Official Facebook Page or via email at *tbbsocial@buccaneers.nfl.com.  The One Buc Mailbag runs every Thursday and is not necessarily meant to reflect the opinions of the team's management or coaching staff.*

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