CB Sheldon Brown has given Philadelphia excellent returns on the 59th overall pick of four years ago
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers own the 23rd pick in next weekend's NFL Draft, which means they have an outstanding opportunity to add a long-term difference-maker to the roster.
But if the draft was only one round long, then the Bucs would have finished their scouting months ago. As critical as that first-round pick is, it is one of only 10 the team is scheduled to make, and history suggests that some of the best players can be found long after the first round. The Buccaneers, who have had two very strong drafts in a row, view next weekend as a larger opportunity to build the team's overall talent base.
Of course, it would be naïve to suggest that later-round picks are as valuable as that first one. A team certainly can draft a better player in the second, third or fourth rounds than it does in the first round, but the earlier picks simply have a better chance of hitting the mark.
In 1993, the Buccaneers drafted safety John Lynch in the third round, 76 picks after they took defensive end Eric Curry in the first round. Obviously, Lynch proved to be the better selection. The Bucs had two first-round picks in 1996, but it's hard to argue that either – DE Regan Upshaw or DT Marcus Jones – was more valuable in the long run than second-round pick Mike Alstott or third-round pick Donnie Abraham. But for every draft that pans out as such, there are several more in which the best player is clearly the first one taken. That's likely to be true of the Bucs' last two drafts (Michael Clayton and Cadillac Williams) and it was certainly the case in 1995 (Warren Sapp and Derrick Brooks), 1988 (Paul Gruber) and 1976 (Lee Roy Selmon), to name a few.
All of which is to say, it becomes progressively harder to make the correct pick as the draft goes along. Generally, more first-rounders hit than second-rounders, and more second-rounders hit than third-rounders, and so on. Thus, when you look at the recent history of the 23rd overall pick, which the Bucs hold in the first round, and the 59th overall pick, the second-rounder also in Tampa Bay's possession, you would expect the first group to be much stronger than the second.
But is it? We recently looked at the results of the 23rd overall pick over the last 10 years, and found it to be quite successful overall. The highlights: Marcus Tubbs, Willis McGahee, Deuce McAllister, Antoine Winfield and Jeff Hartings.
That's quite nice, but would you take it over Sheldon Brown, Marcus Washington, Ernie Conwell, Brandon Mitchell, Jonathan Babineaux and Marques Tuiasosopo?
Yes, you probably would. But if you stopped to think about it for a moment – and you should have – then the point is made.
McAllister has been a star in New Orleans and McGahee may yet be in Buffalo. Tubbs looks like a long-term building block in Chicago and few teams would pass on the chance to get Winfield, a superb all-around cornerback, or Hartings, the starting center for the defending champs.
But Brown emerged as an excellent starting cornerback in Philadelphia and, along with Lito Sheppard, allowed the Eagles to segue from the long-time starting duo of Troy Vincent and Bobby Taylor. Washington, nominally a defensive end when drafted, was outstanding as a linebacker for four years in Indy and has become even better over the last two years for the Redskins. Conwell has been an above-average tight end/fullback for a decade, Mitchell was a part-time starter in New England Seattle for most of the same period and Babineaux looked strong as a rookie in Atlanta. Tuiasosopo has made two starts over the last three years in Oakland and at the very least is an interesting reserve quarterback.
Obviously, teams are going to hit the jackpot now and again with their second-round picks, and the 59th selection has been no exception. Aeneas Williams was the 59th pick in 1991, and Jason Sehorn went in the same spot three years later. That would have made a nice starting cornerback duo for a good portion of the last decade.
Kansas City cornerback Kevin Porter, Detroit guard Mike Utley, Cincinnati linebacker Steve Tovar, Minnesota center Kirk Lowdermilk, Giants quarterback Jeff Hostetler – all were picked with number 59. That's a strong record for this late second-round pick (and it was an early third-round pick for many years, before the league expanded from 28 teams).
Here are the last 10 players picked 59th overall:
|2005||Atlanta||DE Jonathan Babineaux||Six starts as a rookie, 31 tackles|
|2004||Cleveland||S Sean Jones||Reserve made 28 tackles in 2005|
|2003||Pittsburgh||DE Alonzo Jackson||Now with NYG, 15 career tackles|
|2002||Philadelphia||CB Sheldon Brown||2-year starter, 9 career INTs|
|2001||Oakland||QB Marques Tuiasosopo||2 starts in 5 yrs., 52.2 passer rating|
|2000||Indianapolis||DE Marcus Washington||At LB, 350 tackles, 30 sacks in 6 yrs.|
|1999||Pittsburgh||S Scott Shields||2 starts, out of league in 2002|
|1998||San Diego||WR Mikhael Ricks||Converted to TE, 155 career catches|
|1997||New England||DE Brandon Mitchell||96 career games, 198 tackles, 11 sacks|
|1996||St. Louis||TE Ernie Conwell||Career: 85 starts, 195-2131-14|
Obviously, you see the Bucs mentioned in the second half of that chart. Tampa Bay impressively found a pair of starting tackles in that 1992 draft, grabbing Wheeler with the 59th pick (then a third-rounder) and adding Santana Dotson in the fifth. Dotson ended up with the longer and more successful career, winning a Super Bowl in Green Bay, but Wheeler was a stout run-stopper for the Bucs who later signed as a free agent with New England.
What isn't apparent in that list is that the Bucs have actually held the 59th pick twice in the last 20 years. At one point, they were poised to make that selection in 1998, but they ran into an offer that was too good to refuse. The San Diego Chargers called to offer their first-round pick in 2000 for number 59, and the Bucs happily obliged. The Chargers took Ricks, who later converted to tight end and would fairly be described as a journeyman. The Bucs ended up packaging San Diego's first-rounder with their own in 2000 to trade for wide receiver Keyshawn Johnson.
Would the Bucs have taken Ricks? It doesn't seem likely, given that they had drafted Reidel Anthony in the first round the previous spring and Jacquez Green earlier in that same 1998 second round. Would they have been better off using that pick than trading it? It's hard to say, particularly given the complicating nature of the subsequent trade with the Jets. But it is fair to say that they could have added a strong player at that pick…the 49ers got a strong offensive linemen in Jeremy Newberry at #58 and the Lions picked up a quarterback who is still in the league in Charlie Batch at #60. For that same reason, the Bucs should feel quite good about the 59th selection they are planning to execute next weekend.