Before NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell announced Alabama safety Mark Barron's name at the podium inside Radio City Music Hall Thursday night, there had only been nine other selected in the top 10 picks of the NFL Draft in the past two decades. Only four of them had gone earlier than Barron did at number seven overall.
Further adding to the rarity of Barron's selection is the fact that the Tampa Bay Buccaneers had never taken in a safety in Round One of an NFL Draft despite conducting 37 previous first rounds. The card they turned in to the commissioner early Thursday night (displayed above) is certainly a one-of-a-kind in franchise annals.
The Bucs' first-ever first-round safety? One of only a small group of safeties to be taken in the top 10 in more than 20 years? No pressure, right?
Well, if anyone can handle such scrutiny, it's the iron-willed Barron.
A two-time captain and a two-time national champion at Alabama, Barron was an integral component of a defensive unit that stifled opponents week-in and week-out while playing in the most competitive conference in college football. In 2011, Barron and the Crimson Tide defensive unit were No. 1 in the country in just about every major statistic on that side of the ball – rush defense (72 yards per game), pass defense (111 yards per game), total defense (183 yards per game) and scoring defense (8.15 points per game).
If playing elite defense in the pressure cooker of SEC football and multiple BCS bowl games, as well as serving as an unquestioned leader on the best defense in the country (and one of the best units in recent history) hasn't prepared Barron for the challenges he'll face at the next level, it's likely that nothing would have.
The Bucs' front office is certainly confident that their strong, aggressive, and physical new safety will be up to the task.
"You'll see an athletic range; speed; he's physical," said General Manager Mark Dominik. "If you put on any football game of Mark Barron playing at Alabama this year, you're going to see a guy that's a physical football player, has range, wraps up – I love the way he tackles. He's a force. He's got great size to him. He's a smart football player and has all those things. People involved in Alabama football [who] know him, know him as the captain of that football team. They see the toughness and dedication he brings to the football team, and that's really important to us."
Barron will obviously have his hands full adjusting to the NFL game and picking up a new defensive scheme, just like any of his fellow 2012 draftees, but a strong work ethic and businesslike approach to the game of football will undoubtedly serve Barron well.
A so-called "coach on the field" while at Alabama, Barron showed an outstanding ability to grasp even the furthest reaches of the Crimson Tide defensive playbook. He also was known as a locker room leader, inspiring his teammates to approach every day with intensity and passion.
There's no doubt that Barron has a lot of hard work in front of him in order to make his mark in Tampa, and he joins a team with a litany of defensive superstars that have donned the pewter and red over the years.
But if Barron's promising mental makeup combined with his undeniable physical prowess give the Bucs the rewards they sought when they tagged him with the seventh pick, Barron may end up being remembered as much more than just the first safety the Bucs have ever selected in the first round of an NFL Draft.
"Character was one of the reasons [for Barron's selection]," Dominik said. "Obviously, being a two-time captain at the University of Alabama, a two-time National Champion, [and] a very productive football player at a very important position in the National Football League. Safety has become an extremely important position. It's a position we value and other teams value. We felt that we got an extremely productive guy who has a lot of leadership experience."