Each week during the offseason, Senior Writer/Editor Scott Smith will dip into the inbox to answer questions from Buccaneer fans. This week, the topics understandably center around the 2015 NFL Draft, which was finally conducted last weekend after months of speculation. While the Buccaneers made a franchise-altering pick of QB Jameis Winston with the first selection, today's mailbag focuses more on developments from the second and third days of the draft, and even the days since its conclusion. How often do the Bucs' find Day Three value; who might shine among the undrafted rookie additions; how quickly can Kwon Alexander make an impact? Read on.
1. Late-Round Value?
I like this question because it's timely and because it's very narrowly defined. To answer it, I don't have to compare the relative values of dozens of picks; I just need to figure out how often those picks made the roster. Actually, though, I think it's really three questions in one, because there's a clear difference in the fortunes of fifth and sixth-rounders as compared to seventh-rounders. So I'm going to give you the totals for all players drafted by the Buccaneers in the fifth through seventh rounds, and then break it down by round.
We obviously don't know yet if 2015 draftees Kenny Bell, Kaelin Clay and Joey Iosefa are going to make the 53-man roster (though I would bet yes on all three, since there is a clearly defined potential role for each one). Therefore, we have 39 previous drafts to consider, from 1976 through 2014. In those 39 drafts, the Buccaneers made a total of 129 selections in Rounds 5-7.
First, let's define "making the roster." Mostly, I'm going to adhere to the criteria the Buccaneers use for including a player on their all-time regular-season roster. That is, the player must be on the regular-season roster for at least one game, though he does not actually have to play in the game. One difference: A player is also included on the all-time roster if he is on injured reserve for a season, even if he never appears on the active roster in any other season, before or after. Xavier Fulton, an offensive tackle the Buccaneers drafted in the fifth round in 2009 is an example; he spent '09 on injured reserve and then did not make the team in 2010. I'm going to separate those players out in my accounting below, because I think it's fair to say that the player may not have made the regular-season roster if he hadn't been on IR.
So, of those 129 players drafted in Rounds 5-7, 89 made the Buccaneers' regular-season roster at some point. That's a pretty healthy 69.0%, suggesting that Bell, Clay and Iosefa do indeed have a very good shot at making it this year. Another three of those 129 spent one year on the Bucs' IR list, so I'm not going to count them, as I said.
Again, however, there is a clear difference in the results between fifth/sixth and seventh-rounders. That's what we'll look at next, but with two more pieces of information added.
See, not every instance of a player making the roster is created equal. Just discussing this issue makes me think of the Buccaneers' 2002 draft, which didn't have much to do with the team winning the Super Bowl at the end of that season. The first and second-round picks had been traded to Oakland in the deal to get Head Coach Jon Gruden to Tampa, so the Bucs' first pick of the draft was Michigan wide receiver Marquis Walker. The Bucs' next selection, in the fourth round, was running back Travis Stephens. Technically, both Walker and Stephens "made the roster," as almost all third and fourth-rounders do, but neither never had any impact on the team. Walker spent the first month as a game-day inactive in four games, then hit injured reserve. Stephens played briefly in the season opener, was a DNP or an inactive in the next six and then also landed on IR.
Actually, it's a little unfair to say that Walker had no impact in Tampa, since the Bucs were able to trade him to Arizona the next year for useful running back Thomas Jones. Stephens went to camp again the next year with the Bucs but didn't make the team.
So if you were doing the same study on third and fourth-rounders, Walker and Stephens would look like positive check marks since they made the roster but in reality they were both whiffs in the draft. The only pick that year that really worked out for the team was fifth-round safety Jermaine Phillips.
So let's add the next most basic stat to this study: games and starts. Walker and Stephens would more accurately affect those numbers in a negative way, as would a player like running back Michael Smith, a 2012 seventh-round pick who made the roster that year but only ever appeared in one game. In the chart below, I've broken those 129 picks up into their respective rounds and logged the percentage in each round that made the team plus the averagenumber of games played and games started for the players who did make it. (Each round had exactly one player who qualified as an IR-only guy, so I'm just going to leave those three out of the table below.)
Made Roster %
Look, none of those numbers is particularly bad if the only goal you're considering is making the roster at some point. And there's nothing wrong with that goal: You have to make the team first before you can develop a lengthy career in the NFL.
However, you can see the difference in the likelihood of getting an impact player as the rounds decline. Four out of five fifth-rounders make the team and they give you an average of about two and a quarter seasons of play and one season of starting. A little less than three of four sixth-rounders manage to get on the 53-man roster, and they average about the same amount of seasons played as the fifth-rounders. However, they average only about two-thirds of a season of starting.
The drop-off is steeper to the seventh-rounders, although more than half still make the team. On average, you get about one season of games played and a third of a season of starts out of them.
In case you were wondering, the fifth-rounder who ended up with the most games played and starts for the Buccaneers was Steve Wilson, who was drafted as a tackle in 1976 but ended up as a long-time starter at center. Wilson played in 126 games and started 104 for Tampa Bay. Other fifth-rounders of note include LB Jeff Davis (83/72), G Ian Beckles (101/97), DT Santana Dotson (64/46), T Pete Pierson (100/21), G Sean Mahan (78/40) and the aforementioned Jermaine Phillips (96/74).
The Buccaneer sixth-round pick with the most games played and started was DE Chidi Ahanotu, with 121 and 109. Others of note: LB Chris Washington (76/52), LBs Adam Hayward (107/13) and Geno Hayes (56/42), DT Ellis Wyms (66/9) and S Curtis Jordan (71/33).
The seventh-round leader in games played is LB Dekoda Watson, with 60 (and six starts), though C Jim Pyne had the most starts, with 38 among 42 games played. Others of note: DE/FB Erik Lorig (56/25), CB E.J. Biggers (45/25), DT Curt Jarvis (38/36), C Jim Leonard (56/9) and DE/T Harry Swayne (44/3).
Still, of the 31 players who made the team at some point after being selected in the seventh round, 15 never started a game and 13 were on the roster for fewer than 10 games. It's not that unusual to find a player who can be there on opening day of his rookie season in the seventh round; it's another matter to find one who sticks, and especially one who starts.
2. UDFA Opportunities
Well, yeah, it's definitely early. They don't even take the field for the first time as Buccaneers until Friday, and I'm not quite enough of a college football expert to say I knew much about all of the guys on the UDFA list. I can say with some confidence that I've never seen a Jones County Junior College football game, so I'll be getting my first look at defensive end Jamal Young this weekend.
Recently, I wrote an article running down my choices for the top 10 undrafted free agents in Buccaneer history. I put Shelton Quarles at #1, and I swear that had nothing to do with the fact that his office is about 50 feet from mine and he could surely still bench press me. There are some really good players on that list – Donald Penn, Karl Williams, Earnest Graham – but only one of them (LeGarrette Blount) was really a starter in his first season with the team. Most needed several years to establish themselves as a starter, and some spent the majority of their careers as valuable reserves or role players (a la Williams and Clifton Smith).
I guess what I'm saying is that I'd have to be awfully bold to predict that the team gets a starter out of its post-draft round of phone calls to rookie free agents. At least, an immediate starter. So can I adjust your question a little bit and point out a few players who might have a chance to make the roster in September. That does happen pretty frequently, almost every season in fact. The most prominent example last year was wide receiver Solomon Patton, who held on to the Bucs' kick return job for part of the regular season. Tight end Cameron Brate also went from UDFA status to a regular-season job, and fellow 2014 UDFA tackle Matt Patchan is back for another try with the Bucs this year.
Again, I won't claim that I know enough about these players to go too heavily on one over another. That is, I don't mean to slight any of the 13 UDFAs by not picking them here. Mainly, I'm looking at situations.
You've got to think that the best situation belongs to the defensive ends, a position at which General Manager Jason Licht pointedly noted had opportunities for rookie free agents right after the draft. That's good news, one imagines for Young and Towson's Ryan Delaire. Kansas linebacker Michael Reynolds, who played a position called "Buck" for the Jayhawks and spent a lot of time rushing the passer, could be in that mix as well.
After that, I'm always going to look at the cornerbacks first. The Buccaneers have a history – at least a recent history – of taking a look at a lot of different cornerbacks during the season. Leonard Johnson has played three seasons as a Buc already after coming in as a UDFA. Brandon Dixon, a UDFA with the Jets last year, showed some promise after coming to Tampa as a waiver claim in September.
So I would recommend keeping an eye on Texas A&M's Deshazor Everett. At the very least, a young cornerback can impress enough at this time of the year that he becomes a prime candidate for the practice squad, which in turn can lead to a 53-man roster opportunity. Finally, I'd say that TCU safety Chris Hackett has a shot in the back end of a secondary that is undergoing some changes.
I'll stop now before I list all 13 of them.
*3. Hey Casey & Scott, Can new Bucs LB Kwon Alexander from LSU form into a Lavonte David caliber player for the Bucs? -Daniel Morales *
Sorry, Daniel, no Casey. It's just me here in the typed mailbag world, but I'm pretty sure you've snuck a question into our video version before, so I don't feel too bad depriving you of my partner's input.
Speaking of typing, I think I'm going to create a macro that inserts the phrase, "…too soon to tell…" into my text at the push of one button. I feel like I have said and am going to say that a lot in the next month or four.
Also, I usually try not to rush into a comparison of a young player to an established star, simply because it doesn't seem fair. We weren't doing Lavonte David or Gerald McCoy any favors when we quickly labeled them the next Derrick Brooks and Warren Sapp, even though both players have indeed turned into NFL stars. Now David's on the other end of the comparison game, setting a very high bar for his new rookie teammate.
I will note one David-Alexander connection, and I hope it works out as well as Seinfeld's David-Alexander connection. In both 2012 and 2015, the Buccaneers traded up to make sure that the linebacker they were targeting didn't get away from them. In 2012, the Bucs were surprised to see David slide into the middle of the second round so they made a pretty significant jump up from the third to get him. Last weekend, the Bucs had Alexander rated very high on their board among 4-3 outside linebackers and weren't confident he would make it all the way to the end of the fourth round. Those moves were made by two different GM/HC combos, but in both cases the team was highly motivated not to miss out on the player in question.
A "Lavonte David-caliber player" would be, I guess, an instant starter; a hugely productive player; a defender who can fill up the stat line with tackles, sacks and picks; an All-Pro by his second season; and a young man who probably should already have a couple Pro Bowl games under his belt. No reason to expect that Alexander can't do all of those things but, again, that's setting the bar awfully high. There are some people who think that David is the best 4-3 outside linebacker in the NFL. (I just looked in a mirror and saw one of those people.)
Realistically, I think we could hope for Alexander to be a very good running mate for David as the Bucs' weak side/strong side combo flanking MIKE 'backer Bruce Carter. Alexander would have to beat out Danny Lansanah for that to happen, and I'm not writing off Lansanah. If Alexander does start, he could complement David the way Shelton Quarles complemented Derrick Brooks before moving to the MIKE position. His scouting report suggests that he may have some pass-rush skills that will translate to the NFL level; if that's the case he could be a SAM linebacker in the mold of Lonnie Marts, who also spent time as Brooks' running mate and who had seven sacks in 1996.
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 *email@example.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.*