A ranking of all 35 first round draft picks in the history of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
If you took all of the first-round picks made by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 39 years of drafting and ranked them from most to least successful from the franchise's point of view, what would that list look like?
That's not the question that a fan named Kevin sent in to the One Buc Mailbag this week. Rather, Kevin asked me to name the 10 best and the 10 worst first-round picks in Buccaneer history, and I decided to just rank them all from 1 to 35. The result was rather lengthy, of course, so Kevin got a little more than he bargained for, but he also had to wait one extra day for his answer. If you want to read what did make it into yesterday's Mailbag, please click here. If you'd rather see what Kevin's question has wrought, read on.
To be clear, I based my ranking on how successful the pick ended up being for the franchise. A good example is Vinny Testaverde, the quarterback picked first overall in 1987 who enjoyed a very long and reasonably successful NFL career. Testaverde only played five years for the Bucs, however, and his best work was done well after he left Tampa. There can be many reasons why a player's tenure with a team doesn't work out as well as hoped; it doesn't mean he wasn't talented or a hard-worker. The biggest difference between "how good the player was" and "how well it worked out for the Buccaneers" can be found at the very bottom of the list, but no peeking!
After I made my initial list, I feel pretty good about the top 10 or 11 and the bottom five. Between that, I could probably be persuaded to tweak the list here and there. A lot. And, in fact, after I made that first list I shared it with a couple other people who have been around the team for a long time and they helped me refine it a bit. Most notably, I moved Vinny Testaverde up a bit and Kenyatta Walker down a bit. Still, there are small degrees of separation between a lot of these rankings.
It should also be noted that a couple of these guys could still affect their rankings. There's a very good chance, in fact, that Gerald McCoy and Mike Evans will eventually move up the list, and I'd personally like to see Adrian Clayborn get some better injury luck and have a chance to improve his standing if he returns to the team in 2015. Oh, and one more thing: I'm not going to get into who the Bucs' could have had. Sure, there were multiple Hall of Famers drafted in the first round in 1988 after Tampa Bay took Paul Gruber at #4 (Tim Brown, Michael Irvin, Randall McDaniel), but that never made the franchise regret its pick.
So, here's my list, with the emphasis on "my." If you disagree with any of it, feel free to respond in an email to the address listed above and maybe will pick up the discussion in another mailbag.
1. Lee Roy Selmon
Really, you could arrange the first three in any order, since they're all now Hall of Famers. But Lee Roy was first, and to hit so magnificently on the first college draft pick in franchise history is incredible, and deserving of the top spot.
2. Derrick Brooks
Seriously, you could swap this pick and the next one and not bother me, but I put Brooks first because he was a lower draft pick and thus slightly better value. And the Bucs traded up to get him.
3. Warren Sapp
Hall of Famer, franchise-changer, and the Bucs maneuvered around a bit at the beginning of that draft, which gave them more ammunition to make deals like the one that netted Brooks.
4. Paul Gruber
The best offensive lineman in team history and, in that era, a rare perfect use of a high pick. He started from day one until the end of his career at the critical left tackle position. Add in that two other tackles went in the top 12 and neither fared as well as Gruber, and the Bucs really nailed this one in '88.
5. Warrick Dunn
Dunn will have a borderline Hall of Fame argument given that his combined Bucs and Falcons rushing yardage total ranks 21st in league history and he was also a great pass-catcher.
6. Gerald McCoy
Could rise quickly up this list if he continues to pile up Pro Bowl invites and All-Pro selections.
7. Doug Williams
The first quarterback ever taken by the Bucs in the first round (that is, the first attempt to find a "franchise QB") and the man at the helm of the offense for the team's first three playoff berths. Later won a Super Bowl with Washington.
8. Hugh Green
Green really was a standout player, fantastic in college and an immediate impact defender in the pros. It's too bad more than half of his career was spent with the Dolphins.
9. Davin Joseph
The pick nobody saw coming in 2006, one that was considered a "reach" at the time since Joseph hadn't shown up in any of the mock drafts. But he was the Bucs' target all along and he eventually went to multiple Pro Bowls.
10. Ricky Bell
His career was cut short by the illness that took his life way too soon, but he really was the workhorse back the Bucs needed when they were rising from the cellar in the '70s. Again, we're not taking into account that the Bucs took Bell over Tony Dorsett.
11. Mike Evans
We really can't go any higher than this after just one season. Still, the future looks very, very bright for this pick.
12. Aqib Talib
Another Buccaneer tenure that ended in an unsatisfactory manner. Off-field issues kept him from being a Buccaneer long-term, but he gave the team five undeniably productive seasons and is still considered among the league's best at his position.
13. Broderick Thomas
Thomas tends to get lumped in with all the team's disastrous picks around the turn of the 90s, but he really wasn't a bust. He played five seasons for the Bucs, started 55 games and is eighth on the franchise's all-time sack list. His peak was too brief and he clashed with coaches, but he wasn't another Eric Curry or Keith McCants.
14. Anthony McFarland
McFarland was a good defensive tackle who played eight seasons in Tampa and started 84 games. There were weighty expectations on him when he was drafted, especially the notion that he was the team's eventual replacement for Warren Sapp, and he didn't live up to those expectations, but he wasn't a bust.
15. Doug Martin
You could lump this pick and the next one together, but Martin goes ahead of Williams because he still has time to add on to what he has done. Like Williams, Martin had an outstanding rookie season but has since struggled with injuries and not come close to matching that production. Hopefully, he gets a chance to move up this list.
16. Cadillac Williams
Williams was a good running back and a great teammate who deserved better luck. Knee injuries kept him from ever matching his rookie campaign, though he did have a pretty good comeback season in 2009. Williams would probably be bumped up ahead of Martin in the long run if the latter doesn't have a similar rebound.
17. Trent Dilfer
18. Vinny Testaverde
Listen, the story for these two is the same. They both are very nice men who ended up with perfectly decent NFL careers. Dilfer, in fact, started for a Super Bowl-winning team in Baltimore while Testaverde played long enough and consistently enough to climb to ninth on the NFL's all-time passing-yardage chart. But both threw more interceptions than touchdowns as a Buccaneer and both left town with a passer rating south of 70. Really, the point is that they were #6 and #1 overall picks, respectively, and if you take a QB there and don't end up with a franchise QB, the pick isn't a total success. Trent gets the nod over Vinny because he made a Pro Bowl and the playoffs as a Buccaneer.
19. Ron Holmes
This is where this list gets difficult, and I could probably rearrange everyone from here through #23. But enough of my whining. At least I wasn't drafted #8 overall and asked to fill the shoes of the player listed first on this list. Holmes was a decent end who started for most of his four seasons in Tampa and produced 19 sacks in that span.
20. Kenyatta Walker
The Bucs traded up to land Walker in 2001, but he had a rough season at left tackle as a rookie. He moved to right tackle in 2002 and ended up as a starter on a Super Bowl-winning team. That and 73 career starts keeps him from getting the bust label, but his level of play rarely lived up to the expectations of a 14th-overall selection.
21. Sean Farrell
As the story goes, a problematic phone line in 1982 led to the Bucs' mistakenly taking Farrell in the first round, which then led to the disastrous trade of an '83 first-round pick to get a second-rounder in order to nab the intended target, Booker Reese. Farrell was actually a pretty effective guard for the Buccaneers, but he wasn't happy with the losing culture of that time and eventually demanded a trade. The low ranking of this pick is more of a reflection of how the whole thing was handled by the organization than of Farrell's talents.
22. Marcus Jones
Jones would have been an unequivocal bust if he had stayed at defensive tackle. But, after several poor seasons inside, he moved to end and racked up 20 sacks from 1999-2000. That earned him a big new contract that proved to be a mistake, as he would play in just 15 more games and produced three more sacks.
23. Michael Clayton
If we were writing this list during the 2005 offseason, we could probably just use the write-up for Mike Evans above. Of course now we now that Clayton never came close to duplicating his outstanding rookie season, though he did earn one more sizeable contract during his time in Tampa. Rotating QBs during his tenure surely didn't help, but we're just basing this on the numbers that were returned for the high pick.
24. Regan Upshaw
Tony Dungy sought help for the defensive front in his first draft as the Buccaneers' head coach, but he didn't get much overall impact out of the duo of Jones and Upshaw. While Jones had the peak years as a Buc that Upshaw never did, Upshaw had the upper hand in career longevity, continuing on for five more seasons with Oakland, Washington and the Giants.
25. Reidel Anthony
Anthony's relatively low career totals (144 catches for 1,846 yards and 16 TDs) may have been due in part to the Bucs' defense-plus-running game formula and conservative play-calling of the time. Still, he was a receiver drafted 16th overall, so it's likely the Bucs were expecting more. Played only five seasons and totaled 58 catches over the last three.
26. Adrian Clayborn
This is probably not fair to Clayborn, the team's first-round pick in 2011. Two of his last three seasons have been wiped out almost completely by knee injuries, making it impossible for him to deliver on the promise of a 7.5-sack rookie campaign. There is still hope for the hard-working Clayborn, but he's a pending free agent and if his career does continue on somewhere else, it will be hard for him to move up this particular list.
27. Ray Snell
An average to below-average guard and four seasons of play are not what a team is looking for at pick #22.
28. Mark Barron
Like Clayborn, Barron could still prove to be an above-average NFL player. But it won't be in Tampa. A first-round pick that is traded two-and-a-half years later cannot be considered a successful selection for the team.
29. Josh Freeman
After the 2010 season, Freeman's second, he appeared to be destined for a top-10 spot on this list. However, his 2011 campaign was a step back, and after a decent rebound in 2012 his career became derailed in 2013. The Bucs let him go four games into that season and he was not in the league in 2014.
30. Rod Jones
"Toast" is really not a nickname you want as an NFL cornerback.
31. Gaines Adams
Another top-10 pick the Bucs traded away during his third season. The far greater tragedy was his sudden death from a heart ailment in January of 2010, after he had finished that third season in Chicago.
32. Keith McCants
After the inspired Paul Gruber pick and the okay Broderick Thomas selection, things turned ugly for the franchise over the next half-decade of drafts. It started in '89 with the selection of Alabama's McCants, the linebacker that went one spot ahead of Junior Seau. (I know, I said I wasn't going to go there, but still.) The Bucs liked his raw talents but he was the ultimate 'tweener, unable to make an impact at either linebacker or defensive end.
33. Charles McRae
A nice man who may not have had the mean streak to excel in the NFL. Whether or not that's true, McRae was picked at #7 overall to be the bookend to Gruber and never came close to the same level of play. The Bucs tried him at several different spots on the line, inside and outside, but he would make just 38 starts.
34. Eric Curry
You can quibble with the order of these last three picks if you like, but all were top-seven picks who did little to justify that distinction.
35. Bo Jackson
Of course, we all know what an incredible athlete Jackson was and he ended up with a thrilling if far-too-brief career with the Raiders. But when a team uses the first-overall pick on a man who never plays a single down for that franchise, that is truly the ultimate draft disaster.