The Buccaneers' 53-Man roster.
Each week during the remainder of the offseason, Senior Writer/Editor Scott Smith will dip into the inbox to answer questions from Buccaneer fans. This week, we've accepted the challenge of creating an all-time depth chart, complete with 53 players, for the franchise. Since we've got team history on the mind, we also look at the current location of the famous rock from the Super Bowl season.*
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 **firstname.lastname@example.org*. The One Buc Mailbag runs every Thursday and is not necessarily meant to reflect the opinions of the team's management or coaching staff.
*1. Historical Depth Scott, I am Matt Cavallo from New Jersey and have been a Bucs fan since about 1997 (I was 6 years old). I was wondering if you would make a depth chart of starters at each position, with who you think were the best players at their respective positions in Bucs history. Whether it's strictly by stats, opinion or a mixture of both would be up to you! I know you love stats so I thought this would be interesting. There's so many great players I can think of, I wonder who'd miss the cut. Thanks!!Matt sent in this great question – a challenge, really – last Wednesday evening and it wasn't forwarded to me until Thursday morning, when I was already working on last week's mailbag. I knew I'd have to push this one to the next week, because it was going to take some time. If I'm going to accept this challenge, I'm going to do it right.
Photos from Buccaneer legend Mike Alstott's Ring of Honor halftime ceremony.
The first thing I had to do was determine a few guidelines. I think Matt really just wanted the first column of the depth chart, representing the best player at each position, like an all-star starting lineup. I decided to do a full 53-man chart instead, in part because it's more fun and in part because I didn't want to have to make some nearly impossible decisions. (Example, if you're just picking two cornerbacks and you obviously have Ronde Barber as one of them, do you then go with Mike Washington or Donnie Abraham as the other? This way I can have them both.) Plus, I like to go the extra mile for you, the reader. You're welcome.
That led to a couple other decisions. Would I have a fullback on my depth chart? (Yes, because I have to have Mike Alstott on the team.) Would I be a 4-3 or a 3-4 defense, given that the Bucs were mostly a 3-4 team through 1990 but a 4-3 team since? (I went with a 4-3, I guess because I'm biased by my tenure with the team.) Would I devote a spot to a long-snapper and a return man? (See below for the answers on that.) Would I carry a third quarterback? (Yes, because that was very common until just a couple years ago, and some teams still do that.)
After making those decisions, I started by figuring out how many players I would have at each position. I referenced a lot of old Buc depth charts to get a feel for what a usual arrangement would be, and I started with this: three quarterbacks, six wide receivers (one of whom is my return man), three tight ends (one of whom is my long-snapper), three running backs, one fullback, nine offensive linemen, 10 defensive linemen, six linebackers, five cornerbacks, four safeties, one punter and one kicker.
Doug Williams was inducted into the Bucs' Ring of Honor during halftime of the Falcons game.
If you did the math while you were reading that, you'll know that comes out to 52 players. I was pleasantly surprised when I first added up because it left me with one wild-card spot, an opportunity to add a player to a specific position if I needed or wanted to. I eventually gave myself one extra linebacker, partly because that might be the deepest position in franchise history and partly because I can use linebackers to help me on special teams. I tried to take those things into consideration when putting this team together.
Those positional numbers got a few tweaks when I started dropping the names in. I resisted the urge to add an eighth or ninth linebacker – okay, linebacker is definitely the deepest position in franchise history – but I felt I needed one more running back, for reasons I'll explain below. At first, I borrowed from the offensive line group, losing one of my tackles. However, that left me feeling a little uncomfortably thin up front, so when I had trouble choosing my last defensive lineman from about four good candidates, I adjusted again. I took away that last D-Line spot and gave it back to their counterparts on offense.
Okay, enough set-up. Take a look at what I came up with. I know that a few of these picks (and probably some omissions) are going to surprise you, and I'll get to those below. Keep in mind this is not a list of the best 53 players in team history. Or the most productive. That list would have a few more LBs, QBs and DTs and a couple fewer in the OL, WR and DB areas. (By the way, as I was trying to break ties or make sure I didn't leave out any deserving candidates, I occasionally referenced the franchise's all-time list of "AV" leaders over at Pro Football Reference. It was not my only source nor a perfect one, but I think it was useful.)
Alright, now I'll explain these position by position, emphasizing some of my more unexpected choices.
Wide ReceiverThe first five of Mark Carrier, Kevin House, Joey Galloway, Vincent Jackson and Keyshawn Johnson – in some order – was pretty easy to determine. They are, after all, the top five wideouts on the team's all-time reception and receiving-yardage lists. The tough part was the order. I originally thought I was going to pair Carrier with Jackson, but I reconsidered and put House in the starting lineup because he earned it with the second-most receiving yards and most touchdowns among these five. Obviously, that could be different a year from now. Jackson and Galloway both top Johnson in yards and touchdowns, so they occupy the second lines.
A Throwback Thursday gallery dedicated to former Bucs WR, Kevin House.
I definitely wanted six receivers for this team, and I made it happen by making the sixth one the kick and punt returner. Now, there are plenty of receivers in Buc history who had more receiving yardage than Karl "The Truth" Williams – Gerald Carter, Mike Williams, Bruce Hill, Michael Clayton, Lawrence Dawsey, Courtney Hawkins, to name a few – but did you know that Williams has played in more Buc games than any other wideout? Little-known fact. As a punt returner, he's far and away the team leader with five touchdowns; his kickoff return stats aren't as robust but there's enough there to believe he could handle both jobs.
The toughest omission for me was actually Mike Evans. He has 2,257 yards and 15 touchdowns in just two seasons and he'll probably pass Keyshawn Johnson on that list at some point in 2017. If I were doing this list then, I'd have to bump Karl Williams for Evans, but he's simply not there yet, by the stats. I want him on my team, but I have to be fair. That said, I'll stray from that reason a little bit when we get to the quarterbacks. Just warning you.
Oh, and every now and then I'm going to throw Galloway back on punt returns instead of Williams for a potential big-play spark.
Offensive LineI made my list of nine linemen first without regarding to specific positions and then worked to fit them in. As most Buc fans realize, this has not historically been a position of strength for the franchise, so it was difficult filling this group out. Well, two of the spots were easy – Paul Gruber is obviously the left tackle and Tony Mayberry, with his three Pro Bowls, takes the center spot.
The best photos of offensive tackle Paul Gruber.
For the other tackle spot, I decided to move Donald Penn from the left to the right side rather than start a natural right tackle like Charley Hannah or Rob Taylor. I think the whole unit will be stronger that way. Davin Joseph, another multiple Pro Bowler, gets one of the guard spots for sure but I was torn on the other one. Ultimately, with both Steve Wilson and Randy Grimes deserving spots on the roster but clogging up the Center position, I moved Wilson to left guard, where he did start some games. In fact, Wilson started at all three interior spots, even if center proved to be his primary position in the long run. That makes Grimes my backup center and Ian Beckles the backup guard, but I have some flexibility there.
Dave Reavis, who was Doug Williams' blindside protector, deserved one of the reserve tackle spots. I struggled between Hannah and Taylor for the other one but eventually went with the former despite my shared Northwestern roots with the latter. George Yarno and Jeremy Zuttah got some consideration, and the latter certainly would have given me even more flexibility. This is the group I feel least certain about on the entire depth chart.
Tight EndThis is another position that's not particularly strong for the Bucs, historically, but as it turns out that's more a matter of depth. I feel pretty good about the three-man crew I have here.
Jimmie Giles is the obvious choice, the only Pro Bowl tight end the team has ever had a player a bit ahead of his time. He's in the Bucs' Ring of Honor. Dave Moore could have made the team on his merits as a tight end, particularly in terms of the percentage of his catches that became touchdowns, but his longevity and especially the fact that he also made the Pro Bowl as a long-snapper made him an easy choice overall. Kellen Winslow and Ron Hall ended up with nearly identical stats but I thought Winslow was the more dynamic of the two, piling up his numbers in about half as many Buc seasons. I think there will be some who won't like this pick, and his tenure was short, but if I'm trying to put together the most dynamic offense, I have to go with the Giles-Winslow pairing. If good-health fortune smiles on him, Austin Seferian-Jenkins could eventually muscle into this group.
QuarterbackDoug Williams is in the Bucs' Ring of Honor and he's the highest-placing quarterback on that PFR AV list I mentioned. Tampa Bay has a checkered quarterback past, with several failed attempts to find and lock down a "franchise QB," but Williams was a winner and a leader. Given what we saw in his good work in the USFL and his Super Bowl hero turn in Washington, this would have been a much easier choice had he spent all those years with the Buccaneers.
Vinny Testaverde and Trent Dilfer have better counting stats after that, but I'll readily admit to being biased towards the Bucs' Super Bowl-winning quarterback, Brad Johnson. Besides, Johnson completed passes at a better rate than those two and was the only one of the three to throw more touchdowns than interceptions. Of all the QBs in franchise history who have thrown at least 1,000 passes, Johnson easily has the best passer rating at 83.2.
The best photos of quarterback Doug Williams.
And here on the third spot of the depth chart is where I ask for your indulgence. Jameis Winston has only played one season and is therefore the least accomplished player on the entire depth chart (even if he is just the third rookie QB in league history to throw for 4,000 yards). I mean we could give the third spot to a Testaverde or a Freeman, but do we really look back at their runs as being net-positive? We could go with a short-timer like Jeff Garcia, but we don't really need that with Brad Johnson in the backup role.
Instead, let's use that third spot like a team often would, for a young guy to develop. Winston is that, plus we already know he's a starting-caliber quarterback in the NFL. Rather than take one of the other first-round picks who ultimately failed to become that franchise QB, let's cross our fingers and take Winston, believing that he will do exactly that.
Running BackThis was one spot that got an extra player as my depth chart developed. I do think that three tailbacks is enough, but I had a tough time at the third spot, and since I'm only keeping one fullback and three tight ends, I thought it was fair to keep four running backs, especially since most of them happen to be very good pass-catchers, too.
James Wilder, who is the franchise's all-time leader in both rushing yards and receptions, obviously had to get the top spot. If we need a workhorse, the man who once carried the ball 407 times and caught 85 passes in a single season is our man. That said, both Warrick Dunn and Doug Martin have two Pro Bowl appearances as Buccaneers on their resume to one for Wilder.
The best photos of running back James Wilder.
I thought I was giving too much credence to the current roster in picking Martin, but he does happen to rank fourth in team history in rushing yards, and third among tailbacks since Mike Alstott is second on the list. His career mark of 4.4 yards per carry is the best among all Bucs with at least 500 totes, and he also happens to own the two top single-game performances in team history. After signing a new deal to stay in Tampa, Martin is probably going to make a beeline straight to the top. I'm comfortable with him on this team.
That said, I hated leaving out Michael Pittman, who I consider one of the most underrated Buccaneers ever. Pittman is currently just a few hundred yards behind Martin on the all-time list, he averaged 4.2 yards per carry and he was an excellent pass-catcher. I also like that I can use him as a kickoff returner if I want to let Williams concentrate solely on punts.
FullbackC'mon, it's Mike Alstott. Must I elaborate?
Defensive LineThis position was simultaneously easy and hard. I had no trouble at all filling out the starting four, and holy smokes would I love to see a line of Lee Roy Selmon, Warren Sapp, Gerald McCoy and Simeon Rice work together (in their respective primes). That foursome would be utterly devastating. We might not even need a secondary.
Filling out the rest of the depth chart was tough, however. I'm a believer in going deep at this particular position, which is why I initially wanted 10 D-Linemen before settling for nine. Really, if there were more defensive ends, in particular, that were clamoring for spots, I probably would have stayed at 10.
The problem is that the depth behind Selmon and Rice on the edges is liking. Chidi Ahanotu was a pretty easy choice and I think Greg Spires is another very underrated player. They're both among the top eight D-Line sack artists in team history, and yes, I have all eight of those men on the team. There are no other ends in team history who had even 25 career sacks. I did give John Cannon some consideration.
So I had some depth to sort through at defensive tackle between David Logan, Brad Culpepper, Anthony McFarland, Santana Dotson, Chris Hovan and Reuben Davis. This is where that PFR AV list came in handy. Culpepper, who's right behind Ahanotu on the franchise sack list, was easily the highest ranked of that group, followed by McFarland and Hovan. So I went with Culpepper and McFarland…although I was actually going to make Dotson my 10th lineman before cutting that spot. I felt he had higher highs, and he certainly showed how good of a player he was after going to Green Bay.
LinebackerUgh. This was nearly impossible. If I had stuck with my original plan of six, I could have easily filled out two separate depth charts. This is without a doubt where I feel the worst about the omissions. There are some household names among Buccaneer fans for whom I simply could not find spots. Among those are Scot Brantley, Jeff Davis, Dewey Selmon, Barrett Ruud and my toughest overall cut, David Lewis. Feel free to yell at me for any of those omissions; I deserve it.
Derrick Brooks, Hardy Nickerson, Shelton Quarles, Richard Wood, Cecil Johnson and Hugh Green were no-brainers. Now you see my dilemma, right? Obviously, I started Brooks at one of the outside linebacker spots and Nickerson in the middle. Since Wood was always an inside 'backer in a 3-4, he kind of gets some bad luck with my choosing to go with a 4-3. That makes him a reserve in this setup.
The best photos of linebacker Derrick Brooks.
As difficult as filling out the whole defensive depth chart was, it was actually pretty easy to nail the starting 11. I don't think you can argue with 10 of the 11 choices, unless you want Donnie Abraham over Mike Washington. Otherwise, the only difficult spot was the second starting outside linebacker, and for positive reasons. I contemplated putting Quarles there, since he was very good as a starting strongside linebacker, but he became a Pro Bowler when he moved inside. So I decided to slide him right between Nickerson and Wood, but I know I can use his versatility. Quarles also happens to own the team record for special teams tackles in a single season, so he's going to be my team captain in that phase of the game.
So, Hugh Green or Cecil Johnson for the other starting spot? The AV list says Johnson, but I went with Green, who played four fewer seasons in Tampa than Johnson but peaked higher, I think.
The expansion of this group to seven players allowed me to keep Lavonte David, who will probably eventually supplant Green for that other starting outside spot. While I legitimately feel bad about excluding Lewis and Brantley, etc., David has actually surpassed them already on the AV list. He's still a tick behind Ruud, but that won't be the case after 2016.
CornerbackI thought this position was going to be tougher than it actually proved to be. At one point, I considered expanding it to six spots at the expense of an underwhelming safety position (more on that below), but I wasn't all that strong on who my sixth choice was. Martin Mayhew? He's a personal favorite of mine but I didn't find myself tearing my hear out over losing him. Otherwise, who? Jeris White? Harry Hamilton? I think I'm good with the five I have.
Ronde Barber is obviously one of the starters and I gave the other nod to Mike Washington because he played longer. Abraham does top Washington in career Buc interceptions, 31-28, and on another day I might go in the other direction.
I'm not sure Brian Kelly gets enough credit for how solid of a player he was for a full decade in Tampa. He was the leading interceptor on that otherworldly 2002 defense, and when he went down with an injury in 2003 it turned into a major problem for that disappointing team. I'd probably put him into the game a bit ahead of Ricky Reynolds, though they are both very solid. I'm sticking with five guys here, but it's a really strong five.
SafetyJohn Lynch deserves to be in the Hall of Fame, the duo of Cedric Brown and Mark Cotney locked down the back end of the secondary for the franchise's first nine years and then…what else do we have?
I came close to just going with those three, and in a way that's what I did. On the PFR AV chart, Jermaine Phillips was the next choice, and I like Flip but I feel like I can live without him on this team. By the same measure, Tanard Jackson merits attention, but I don't really want the baggage. Dexter Jackson was the Super Bowl MVP but I don't feel like he had enough longevity. I can't make a strong enough argument for Mark Robinson or Marty Carter.
In short, I'm left wanting a fourth safety but not feeling like I have one candidate who is clearly ahead of the others. So I thought outside the box and went with Dwight Smith. The only man ever to record two pick-sixes in a Super Bowl, he might have been a better game MVP choice. What I like about Smith is that he was first a nickel back and then a pretty good starting safety. I like the flexibility he brings to my secondary, and I'll take that in the absence of an obvious fourth choice. I think he'll help me on special teams, as well. Again, this is not a list of the 53 best players in team history – at #125 on that AV list, he's low but not the lowest on the team – it's an all-time depth chart. I expect to take more heat for this pick than any other, but I like what Smith does for my depth.
SpecialistsI think Martin Gramatica is the first name most Buc fans would think of when looking for a kicker for this all-time depth chart, but it's not a complete slam dunk. Gramatica is the all-time leading scorer in franchise history 592 points) and he holds all the other volume records (most field goals made and attempted, most extra points made and attempted). Plus, he was the kicker on the Super Bowl team. However, Connor Barth is the most accurate kicker in team history (83.8% on field goals and 99.3% on extra points) and he's no slouch with 477 points. Michael Husted is between those two in total points (502) and Matt Bryant is right behind Bryant at 83.1% with a team-record 62-yard field goal on his resume.
Gramatica at his peak was probably the best weapon the Bucs have had at kicker, and his points plus Super Bowl ring puts him at the top for me.
No offense to the likes of Mark Royals, Frank Garcia and Michael Koenen, but Josh Bidwell was a pretty easy choice at punter. Bidwell was my choice before looking at the numbers, but I actually thought it would be a little closer. Turns out he holds the team records for most punts, best gross punting average, most punts inside the 20 and most total punting yards. And he's the only Buccaneer punter ever to make the Pro Bowl, so that really seals the deal.
I already explained why I put Karl Williams on this team, so he'll get the first crack at both return jobs. However, I can always use Joey Galloway on punts and Michael Pittman on kicks if I want a different look. Dave Moore, as mentioned above, made the Pro Bowl as a long-snapper, so he gets that job. I could have Bidwell be my holder on placekicks, but I know Brad Johnson can do it too so I'll give the job to him so we have potential fake-kick options.
Overview: I think it's pretty obvious that the starting defense is far and away the strength of this team. If the voting goes right in the years to come, that starting 11 might eventually feature five Hall of Famers, and that doesn't even include Hardy Nickerson, one of the greatest defenders in team history. Unsurprisingly, the offensive line was the most difficult to fill out, but the bookend tackles are pretty strong if Penn can make the switch to the right side. The running back depth is very deep, especially since Mike Alstott is an option to carry the ball, too. House and Galloway are nice deep threats and Giles can stretch the field, too, so I think we'll have a nice play-action passing game when Wilder and company are rolling.
I'm sure there are those out there who will take issue with some of these picks, particularly the ones from left field like Karl Williams and Dwight Smith. If you do, I'd love to hear about it. If I get enough responses via Twitter or email, I'll build next week's mailbag around them. I'm willing to concede that I probably didn't get the exact optimal 53-man depth chart here.
2. Whither The Rock?
I was wondering "The Rock" the Buccaneers used in 2002-2003 as their pound of the rock slogan is still in the hands of the Buccaneers. Perhaps it is on display at One Buc Place? If the rock is still in the organization. do you think future Buccs teams would ever use it again as motivation/good-luck??
- David S. of Bradenton, Florida
The Rock is still in the house, David. Indeed it is.
The lobby of One Buccaneer Place is really an impressive place to visit, and it doubles as a team museum. In addition to the Moment of Victory statue commemorating the Super Bowl win and displays on such things as uniform development, historical highlights and head coaches, there is a special set-up for The Rock. A well-deserved place of honor, if you will.
If you don't know, The Rock was an actual piece of granite that became the physical manifestation of the unofficial slogan of the 2002 season, Pound the Rock. I happened to have written the text for the lobby display, so here it is to explain what The Rock is all about:
"POUND THE ROCK!"
"A craggy, white 200-pound hunk of granite became a literal touchstone for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers during their run to Super Bowl glory in 2002. It began during training camp, when Defensive Line Coach Rod Marinelli began exhorting his linemen to "pound the rock," telling them if they continued to do so, no matter how solid it seemed, the rock would eventually break. Head Coach Jon Gruden turned "Pound the Rock!" into his team's catchphrase during the season, then brought the idea to life by secretly placing the aforementioned rock in the Bucs' locker room before a critical November game against Green Bay. When Tampa Bay traveled to Philadelphia for the NFC Championship Game and then San Diego for Super Bowl XXXVII, the rock came with them in a custom case. Buccaneer players touched the rock as they set out for the field, and it was waiting for them in the locker room when they returned as champions. "
Would the Bucs ever use it again as a motivational tool? Well, you could argue that its presence in the building is a way of doing so. For some years after the team moved into its new headquarters in 2006, the rock was actually on display near the entrance to the players' locker room, so that was an even more direct use of it is a motivational item.
That said, I think at this point it is so strongly associated with the 2002 season that it is probably best to leave it linked to that championship and not haul it out again if the Bucs go on a playoff run this December. A new team, 14 years later, will probably find its own thing to rally around, and it will be better that way.