General Manager Bruce Allen thinks the players drafted by the Bucs in 2005 will help the team for years to come
The last time the Tampa Bay Buccaneers began a draft class with a running back, with Warrick Dunn in 1997, they watched that back run all the way to the Pro Bowl.
They also watched their team get off to a 5-0 start and eventually break the franchise's 14-year playoff drought, ushering in a new era of success that peaked with a Super Bowl victory following the 2002 season. Dunn wasn't on that Super Bowl team, but third-round cornerback Ronde Barber was, as was fourth-round linebacker Alshermond Singleton.
Wide receiver Reidel Anthony, tackle Jerry Wunsch, guard Frank Middleton and tight end Patrick Hape, other '97 draftees, were also gone by the Super Bowl season, but they performed well enough as Bucs, to save the team draft picks at those spots in the coming years. It was a successful draft because the team immediately got better, and stayed better.
That's what the Bucs believe they have done this weekend, in the 2005 NFL Draft. Adding a double-digit total of players for the first time since that '97 draft, and picking high in each round for the first time since that year as well, the Bucs may have laid the foundation for many winning seasons.
Only time will tell for sure, but on Sunday evening, after two long and grueling – but satisfying – days, the Bucs were confident.
"You judge drafts by the team's performance," said General Manager Bruce Allen. "We are looking for good teammates. We are looking for players that will help this team get better. There are no definites in the draft. I think history shows it. I would imagine ESPN showed Terrell Davis and Tom Brady going in the sixth round. We are looking at how our team does, and that's what counts. We have to get better. We were 5-11 [in 2004]. We were 7-9 [in 2003]. We have to get better."
The Bucs held the fifth overall pick in the first round and drafted Auburn running back Carnell Williams, a player they admitted to coveting for some time. He is likely to make an instant impact on the Bucs' offense, giving the backfield a home run threat and an every-down performer. The second-round pick, Nebraska linebacker Barrett Ruud, may start out in the middle or on the outside and may or may not start, but he figures prominently in the team's plans down the road.
After those two selections, the Bucs addressed needs at tight end, safety, wide receiver, fullback, defensive tackle and along the offensive line. Here's a look at Tampa Bay's entire 2005 draft class:
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers' 2005 Draft Class
|3b.||91||T||Chris Colmer||6-5||310||N.C. State|
|5b.||155||WR||Larry Brackins||6-4||205||Pearl River CC|
|6b.||203||Traded to CLE for QB Luke McCown, La. Tech|
|7c.||231||S||Hamza Abdullah||6-2||213||Washington State|
Allen, the final authority on all Buccaneer picks, conducted his second draft with the team. Last year's class was a smashing success by two measures. First-round pick Michael Clayton produced one of the best rookie seasons by a receiver in NFL history. And every pick made by the Buccaneers played during the regular season last year, though not all in Tampa.
Clayton looks as if he will be a top performer in the NFL for years to come. Linebacker Marquise Cooper, safety Will Allen and guard Jeb Terry may all have prominent roles in 2004. The Bucs can reasonably expect to get even more impact out of this year's class, given the added picks, the high slots in each round and the recent turnover at certain spots on the roster. It would be an upset, of course, if all 12 picks made the team this year. However, the team feels good about the prospects of each individual pick, whether it be the instant jolt of Williams in the backfield or possible special teams contributions from a Nicholson or an Abdullah.
"We were looking for some guys who would come in and just add to our team," said Allen. "It's easy to say, 'This guy is going to start,' or 'This guy is going to play 30 percent of the plays.' But the key was getting some players that we wanted on this team for years to come."
There wasn't a lot of time to celebrate each pick on Sunday, when the Bucs made eight selections and executed two trades. One of those deals cost the team a sixth-rounder but brought another promising young player on board in former Cleveland QB Luke McCown. The other made up for that lost pick by adding another one in the seventh round at the cost of moving down just 11 spots in the fifth round.
On Saturday, however, the Bucs picked early in a drawn-out first round that took nearly six hours to complete. That gave them plenty of time to day-dream about their new Cadillac.
"He can bring a lot," said Allen of Williams. "He can be involved in every aspect of your offense. Whether it's a first-and-10, second-and-five, third-and-three, or fourth-and-one, he's involved in the play. We definitely have someone that, we know the coaches and defenses of our opponents will be staying up late at night trying to figure out where Carnell will be. He adds to all aspects of the offense."
Including Williams, four of the Bucs' first five picks could help the team's running game tremendously. Tampa Bay has struggled in that area for years, even to some extent in the Super Bowl season, and knew that just adding Williams wasn't enough. That's why an all-around tight end and two tough O-line blockers were added in rounds three and four.
"It's important," said Allen. "It hasn't been our strength. Our running game was poor and you can't just blame the running back when your running game is that way. At the time we were choosing, those players were high on our list."
Some observers expected the Bucs to take a receiver in the first round, but Tampa Bay was fixed on Williams as long as he made it to the fifth pick. Allen does acknowledge the need for help at that position, however – mostly in the sense of depth and development behind Clayton and Joey Galloway – and thinks the team might have found a few options on the second day.
"The decision to take Carnell was easy," said Allen. "That fit the team and the person fit the organization. We were pleased that Larry (Brackins) was there, and then we picked up some other receivers that, we thought, had different skills. If you look at our team from last year, I think five receivers that were on our team last year are no longer here. We had openings, and that's why at the end of the draft we saw a couple of players that would have an opportunity."
The same could easily be said for Ruud, Nicholson, Bryant and Abdullah, the four players in the defensive minority of the Bucs' draft. Ruud seems like a good fit at middle linebacker in the long term but could compete for the strongside spot this year. Nicholson and Abdullah come to a team that lost its starting strong safety, Dwight Smith, to free agency, and both are considered hard hitters in the secondary. Similarly, Bryant, the massive defensive tackle from Auburn, joins the team after it lost starting nose tackle Chartric Darby as a free agent.
Opportunities abound. The Bucs were able to provide options to match those opportunities because they had spent many months getting ready for this very draft.
"We are pleased with the draft," said Allen. "We started a year ago trying to acquire extra picks so we could enjoy the draft. I know the scouts and coaches have had to sit around sometimes for a little while because our choices were gone the past few years. But we enjoyed the process and we think the Bucs got a lot better this weekend."