On Wednesday, NFL.com Writer Adam Rank gave the first round of the 2017 NFL draft a do-over, starting off, unsurprisingly with quarterbacks Patrick Mahomes and Deshaun Watson in the first two spots. At pick number five, Rank sent wide receiver Chris Godwin to the Tennessee Titans.
In reality, the Titans selected a different wide receiver, Corey Davis, at that spot and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers later nabbed Godwin in the third round, at number 84 overall. Three seasons later, it's clear that the Buccaneers got an absolute steal with the former Penn State wideout, who is coming off his first Pro Bowl season in 2019. (And who will have a new jersey number going forward.)
Rank writes that the Titans would be fielding a "dynamic offense" in 2020 if they added Godwin to their current mix of Ryan Tannehill, Derrick Henry and A.J. Brown. Adds Rank:
"The Titans were looking to surround then-QB Marcus Mariota with some receiving talent, and they probably would have been better off going with the best receiver to come out of this draft. I'm not saying Godwin would have been good enough to save Mariota's career, but could you imagine how lit the Titans' run to the playoffs would have been last season if Ryan Tannehill had been throwing to both Godwin and A.J. Brown?"
When it comes to wide receivers, the third round murdered the first round in the 2017 draft. In addition to Godwin, two other third-round receivers show up in Rank's first-round redraft: Cooper Kupp (69th overall) and Kenny Golladay (96th). Meanwhile, only one of the three receivers who were actually drafted in that year's opening round – all within the top nine picks – remained there in the redraft, with Mike Williams dropping from seventh to 30th.
The astute selection of Godwin was not the first time the Buccaneers found very good value at wide receiver in the third round of a draft, as you'll see below. In fact, the third round has produced some of the greatest players in franchise history, with Godwin potentially on his way to joining them. Here's one man's ranking of the top 10 third-round gems in Buccaneers franchise history (including only players drafted by the Bucs), in descending order:
10. WR Lawrence Dawsey, 66th overall in 1991
Dawsey is the first of three receivers on this list. To be honest, I found it fairly easy to rank the top eight players but then resorted to career "AV," as found on Pro Football Reference site, to pick out this last two from a big group of candidates. AV stands for Approximate Value, which assigns a single number to a player's value for each season, and it is a cumulative stat that increases during a player's career. Dawsey's AV of 24 is tied for 85th in franchise history.
Dawsey had a big senior year at Florida State in 1990 but lasted into the third round because he didn't possess blazing speed. That didn't stop him from becoming immediately productive in Tampa Bay's offense, as he led the team with 55 catches for 818 yards and three touchdowns as a rookie in 1991. He also averaged a career-best 14.9 yards per catch that season, a fine figure for a non-speedster.
Dawsey played five seasons in Tampa but lost 22 games to injury over the last three. He still finished with 206 receptions for 2,842 yards as a Buccaneer, averaging just under 50 yards per game and 13.6 yards per catch.
9. DE John Cannon, 83rd overall in 1982
The Buccaneers took Cannon with the last pick of the third round in '82, a selection they had acquired from the Chargers by trading linebacker David Lewis. Cannon later admitted that he was surprised to be drafted that early. As it turned out, the Bucs knew what they were doing.
Cannon didn't start during his strike-shortened rookie season but he took over at left end opposite future Hall-of-Famer Lee Roy Selmon the next year. That 1983 season also saw him record a career-high 5.0 sacks, though he would go on to have multiple sacks for six consecutive campaigns. He played his entire nine-year career in Tampa and appear in 122 games with 72 starts, logging the most Buc seasons and most games played of all the players in his draft class.
Cannon's career AV of 34 as a Buccaneer ranks 60th in team history, just one spot behind the next player on this list, who happened to be selected at the exact same spot in the draft 26 years later.
8. OL Jeremy Zuttah, 83rd overall in 2008
If you're surprised to see Zuttah on this list you may not realize what an underrated player he was. Here's one way to put it: Zuttah compiled 56 career AV; of the other 35 players drafted in the third round in 2008, the only ones who finished with more were running back Jamaal Charles (72) and defensive end Cliff Avril (62).
Thirty-five of those AV were racked up while Zuttah was playing his first six seasons in Tampa. Almost immediately, the third-rounder became a versatile glue for the Buccaneers' offensive line, filling in wherever he was needed most among the three interior spots. During his Buccaneer tenure he made 39 starts at center, 32 at left guard and five at right guard, and in only one season did he start every game at the same position. That was 2009, when he was the team's starting center for the entire campaign.
That all added up to 76 starts for Zuttah as a Buccaneer, which was fitting because that's the number he wore during his time in Tampa. Zuttah also started all 16 games in 2012 when he was part of an offensive line that helped then-rookie RB Doug Martin run for a career-best 1,454 yards and 11 touchdowns. The Buccaneers traded Zuttah to Baltimore for a fifth-round pick after the 2013 season and he would go on to start 41 more games at center over three seasons with the Ravens.
7. LB Scot Brantley, 76th overall in 1980
The Buccaneers drafted Brantley in 1980, adding him to a defense that had just ranked first in the NFL the year before. That delayed his introduction into the starting lineup for a few seasons but in 1982 he settled in as the right inside linebacker in Tampa Bay's 3-4 front, where he played next to Cecil Johnson first and then Jeff Davis.
Brantley started all but four of the Buccaneers' contests over the next five years, only missing three games completely. He topped 100 tackles in 1983, 1984 and 1986 and just missed with 95 in 1985 when he was out for three games. Brantley would go on to play his entire eight-year career in Tampa. In addition to his large tackle totals he also secured eight career interceptions and recorded 5.0 sacks.
Brantley's career total of 36 AV ranks 54th in team history.
6. Charley Hannah, 57th overall in 1977
Hannah was a third-round pick, but just barely. There were 28 teams in the league in '77, after Tampa Bay and Seattle joined as expansion teams the year before, so the 57th selection was the first one in the third round that year.
Hannah was the son of a former NFL player and his older brother, John, would go on to the Pro Football Hall of Fame after 13 seasons as a perennial all-pro guard for the Patriots. The Buccaneers drafted Hannah as a defensive end out of Alabama in '77 but after two seasons he would join his brother as an offensive lineman.
Hannah was actually a starter on the Bucs' defense in 1978 and he contributed 4.5 sacks. His transition to offense went smoothly as he went directly from being a starter on one side of the ball to the same thing on the other side. Hannah started 14 games at right tackle for the NFC Central champions in 1979 and he would stay in that spot for three more seasons after that.
In total, Hannah played in 25 games on defense with four starts and then logged 52 more games and 47 more starts on offense. He was a starter for each of the Buccaneers' first three playoff teams. Tampa Bay traded Hannah to the Raiders in 1983 and he played six more seasons, logging 62 more starts and opening Super Bowl XVIII. He would end up with 59 career AV, 30 as a Buccaneer.
5. WR Mark Carrier, 57th overall in 1987
Carrier was part of an enormous 20-man Buccaneer draft class that started with Vinny Testaverde and also included Ricky Reynolds, Winston Moss, Ron Hall, Bruce Hill, Curt Jarvis and Harry Swayne. The Bucs had three second-round picks that year but got their best value in Round Three.
That's where they found the Nicholls State receiver who would go on to break the team's record for career receiving yards. Current star Mike Evans would eventually take that top spot in 2018 but Carrier's total of 5,018 receiving yards stood as the standard for 16 years.
Carrier just missed cracking 1,000 yards in his second season but then hit his career peak the next year, 1989, when he caught 86 passes for 1,422 yards and nine touchdowns. Those reception and yardage totals were both new franchise records, while his nine scoring grabs tied the team's single-season mark. All three have since been surpassed, but not by much. Carrier's 1989 totals still rank third in team annals in receptions and second in yards.
Carrier was the first Tampa Bay receiver to make the Pro Bowl and the only one in the team's first 25 seasons. Until Mike Evans and Chris Godwin came along, Carrier was the only receiver ever drafted by Tampa Bay to represent the team in the Pro Bowl. Over six seasons with the Buccaneers he caught 321 passes for those 5,018 yards, scoring 27 touchdowns and compiling 40 AV. That lattermost number is tied for 42nd in team history. Carrier would go on to play six more seasons in Carolina and Cleveland finish with 76 AV overall.
4. CB Donnie Abraham, 71st overall in 1996
A Middle Tennessee product, Abraham started picking off passes in bunches as a rookie and never stopped over six seasons as a Buccaneer. He recorded at least five interceptions in five of those six campaigns; no other player in team history – not even his future teammate Ronde Barber – had more than three five-interception seasons.
In all, Abraham played in 92 games with 78 starts for the Buccaneers, recording 31 interceptions for 341 yards and two touchdowns. In 1999, he was an integral part of a suffocating Tampa Bay defense that dragged the team all the way to within a few minutes of the Super Bowl. That year, Abraham led the NFL in interceptions (seven), pick-sixes (two) and passes defensed (25). He also paced the NFL with 23 passes defensed the following season.
When Abraham left for the New York Jets in 2002, he was the franchise's all-time leader in interceptions, though he was later supplanted at the top of that list by Barber. Abraham still holds down the second spot on that list. In addition, he's tied for the franchise's all-time lead with three postseason picks.
After three seasons and seven more interceptions in New York, Abraham finished his NFL career with 63 AV, including 45 as a Buccaneer. That's tied with Kevin House and Mark Cotney for 29th on the team's all-time list.
3. WR Chris Godwin, 84th overall in 2017
I don't consider any part of this list particularly controversial but if anything were to stir up an argument it might be placing Godwin this high after just three seasons. Should he already be listed ahead of Carrier, who currently has him by 2,300 yards and 10 touchdowns? In fact, Godwin has not yet cracked the franchise's top 100 in AV, the only player on this list for which that can be said.
It's a reasonable argument but I'm putting Godwin here based on the reasonable projection that he's going to work his way towards the top of the team's list of all-time pass-catchers in the years ahead. He's coming off his first Pro Bowl season and there's no reason to believe he is trending any way but up. His reception, yardage and touchdown totals have all increased in each year of his young career and his active role in both the slot and outside in Bruce Arians' offense practically guarantees he'll keep piling up big numbers.
Godwin broke out with his first Pro Bowl season last year, catching 86 passes for 1,333 yards and nine touchdowns to lead the team in each category. He did all of that despite missing the last two games with a hamstring injury, the first time he has lost any time to injury in his career. He ranked second in the entire NFL with 95.2 receiving yards per game.
After three seasons, Godwin has 179 catches for 2,700 yards and 17 touchdowns. He has surpassed 100 yards in 10 of his last 31 games and has all 17 of his TDs in that span, too. Godwin is not yet one of the top five most productive third-round picks in Buccaneers history but I believe he will end up as one the team's greatest third-round gems ever.
As the NFL Draft inches closer, a look at NFL Network Maurice Jones-Drew's 2020 mock draft. Photos by AP Images.
2. S John Lynch, 82nd overall in 1993
That said, Godwin will have to have an incredible career to end up any higher than third on this list. Two of the top five players on Tampa Bay's all-time list for career AV are former third-round picks, and the other three are already in the Hall of Fame. Lynch may join them there soon, as he's been a Hall of Fame finalist for seven years running.
Lynch, who is now the general manager of the NFC Champion San Francisco 49ers, would be on the short list for a Tampa Bay Buccaneers Mount Rushmore. The greatest safety in team history, he was considered one of the hardest-hitting defenders the NFL has ever seen. He was an integral part of the legendary Buccaneer defense that rose in the mid-'90s and eventually delivered the franchise's first Super Bowl championship after the 2002 season. He ranks fifth in team history with 973 tackles, sixth with 23 interceptions, fifth with 164 games played and sixth with 132 games started.
Lynch played in five Pro Bowls during his 11 seasons as a Buccaneer, then four more when he joined the Denver Broncos from 2004-07. He finished his career with a whopping 115 AV between his two stops, including 87 as a Buccaneer. That ties him with Lee Roy Selmon for fourth in franchise history.
Frankly, this list could have ended with "1b" and "1a" with Lynch sharing the top spot with…
1. CB Ronde Barber, 66th overall in 1997
Combining Lynch and Barber at the top would have been an acceptable solution, but I chose to break the tie using AV. Unlike Lynch, Barber spent his entire career with the Buccaneers and, over 16 remarkable seasons racked up 150 career AV. That's nestled right between the franchise's other two Hall of Fame players, Derrick Brooks (191) and Warren Sapp (124). Considering those numbers, Barber might even be underrated, even though he's been a Hall of Fame semifinalist the last two years. He will likely progress to the finalist stage soon and hopefully end up joining his former teammates in Canton (along with Lynch).
Barber only played in one regular-season game during his rookie season, though he figured things out in time to take over the slot corner job in the playoffs at the end of that '97 campaign. He was a starter by midway through the next season, beginning a run that would lead to franchise records for games played (241), games started (232) and consecutive starts (215). He's the only player in NFL history to log 200 consecutive starts at cornerback, which he did before switching to safety in his final season and earning Pro Bowl alternate status at that position.
Along the way, Barber demolished the team's interception record with 47, including an NFL-high and single-season Bucs record 10 in 2001. That was the first of his five Pro Bowl campaigns, and he also earned AP All-Pro first-team honors three times. But Barber did much more than pick off passes. He was a tackling machine at a position not generally known for that skill, and his 1,428 stops rank second only to Brooks in team history. Barber is even eighth in team history with 28 sacks, making him the only player in NFL history to surpass 40 interceptions and 25 sacks.
Ronde Barber wasn't the first gem the Buccaneers franchise uncovered in the third round, and he wasn't the last. He is, however, the most accomplished third-rounder the team has ever produced.