For an NFL team determined to build itself specifically through the draft, 2010 was a great year.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers were certainly a team in that mode. They said so, directly and unabashedly. Their actions reflected that approach, too, as they spent a year-and-a-half stockpiling picks for a 2010 draft that most analysts agreed was loaded with talent. The only problem: 32 teams were itching to get at that class of '10 and there were only so many picks you could hoard. Tampa Bay went into that draft with 10 picks in hand and eventually selected nine players after some movement up and down the rounds.
Eight of those nine players are still with the team and four are already starters, including a fourth-rounder (Mike Williams) and a seventh-rounder (Cody Grimm). That's good, of course, but the Bucs wanted more. And they knew how to get it.
Mark Dominik calls it the 'Second Draft.' Essentially, it is an effort to get as much as possible out of your team's college scouting work, and to follow up on all of the young players your team coveted in the draft, whether or not you were able to draft them in the first place. When and if a player who got away in the draft becomes available, you pounce.
It's not a new concept, of course. Every team in the NFL continues to scout every player in the league, to some extent. But the Buccaneers are certainly one of the NFL's most aggressive teams when it comes to the Second Draft, and it has paid off for them repeatedly in the past two years.
Dezmon Briscoe is the latest example of this idea to emerge for Tampa Bay.
The Bucs were intrigued by Briscoe as the draft began in April of 2010. He had yet to turn 21, but he came out for the draft after his junior season at Kansas, following a huge season in which he caught 84 passes for 1,337 yards and nine touchdowns. He was big (6-2, 210) and fast, but obviously young and a bit of a work in progress. Tampa Bay had him on its radar on the third day of the draft but the picks didn't fall quite right to connect the team with the player. Between the Bucs' pick of punter Brent Bowden early in the sixth round and Grimm early in the seventh, the Cincinnati Bengals took Briscoe late in the sixth.
Bowden was a need pick for the Buccaneers, who wanted to find a punter that could nail that position down for 10 years. He was also the team's only real miss in that class. If one were to redraw that round now, Tampa Bay would surely opt for Briscoe over Bowden.
But that was a problem that could be fixed. The Bucs kept their eye on Briscoe, and when he was waived by the Bengals in the final roster cutdown last September, Tampa Bay urged the former Jayhawk to come south and join their practice squad. The Bengals wanted to keep Briscoe, too, but the Bucs' offer was more compelling.
Halfway through 2010, Tampa Bay elevated Briscoe from the practice squad to the active roster. He was everything the team's scouting had suggested, and more. Briscoe's youth wasn't keeping him from absorbing the Bucs' offense quickly; he started out by learning the 'X' position but it quickly became obvious that Williams was going to eat up almost all the snaps at that spot. Briscoe then learned the 'Z' spot, just in time for fellow rookie Arrelious Benn, a second-round pick, to emerge as a playmaker there. But Briscoe's opportunity came late in the year when Benn went down with a knee injury.
Briscoe was active for the final two games of the season and heavily involved in the offense, and not in any sort of garbage team. Tampa Bay was still alive in the NFC playoff hunt and desperately needed to win its last two outings. In victories over Seattle and New Orleans, Briscoe caught six passes for 93 yards and a touchdown, averaging 15.5 yards per grab. In the season finale, his 54-yard TD catch was a big part in the Bucs' upset of the playoff-bound Saints.
That was a nice little Second Draft bonus for the Buccaneers at the end of 2010, but it looks like the snag of Briscoe will pay off even more in 2011.
With Benn still easing back into action following knee surgery and his offseason-long rehab, Briscoe is taking on a major role. And he may remain in the thick of the Bucs' plans even when Benn is back to being fully involved. Briscoe appears to have moved into the driver's seat to be the third receiver in for the Buccaneers, and on Friday he started the preseason opener at Kansas City as Been was held out.
All Briscoe did was lead all receivers for both teams with four catches for 60 yards. He caught two passes from starter Josh Freeman over the course of Tampa Bay's first four possessions, then stayed in and caught two more in the second quarter after the Bucs switched to Josh Johnson. His 15.0 yards per catch almost exactly matched what he had in his two-game cameo last December.
Freeman, who will be the one distributing the football when the regular season begins, was impressed.
"He's doing a great job," said the 23-year-old passer. "In the absence of Arrelious, he's really stepped up into a key contributor. Whether it's at camp, or you saw again tonight, he's a guy that's capable of going out and making plays and I'm looking forward to his progression."
In the opening period, leading 7-0, the Buccaneers took over at the Kansas City 49 following a Sean Jones fumble recovery. After moving it to the 37 with three plays to running back LeGarrette Blount, Freeman looked for a bigger strike downfield. He watched as Briscoe ran a route down the middle and across the field from right to left, with a defender trailing. Freeman waited for Briscoe's route to develop then hit him for a 21-yard gain as he hit the numbers on the left side. The Bucs would add a field goal minutes later.
"I compare him a lot to Mike Williams," said Freeman. "He gets in there and blocks, he's a guy that runs extremely crisp routes, he has great hands and I think he could be big for us on the road."
Johnson came in with 10 minutes left in the half and knew exactly who he wanted to get the ball to, throwing a 14-yard strike to Briscoe on his first snap. That drive ended in a punt, but the Bucs got the ball back quickly on a safety and Johnson drove his team back into K.C. territory. On second-and-eight from the Bucs' 32, Johnson found Briscoe over the middle and hit him for a 20-yard gain. That helped get Tampa Bay a first down at the Chiefs' four, but the drive ended on a failed fourth-down attempt to throw it in the end zone.
Briscoe not only played like a man several years his elder but sounded like one after the game, taking care to praise both of his quarterbacks.
"They played like they always play," he said. "At practice if they throw a bad ball they are always down on themselves. They're perfectionists on the field. They rarely make bad mistakes. They go out and help you win."
The Buccaneers think Briscoe is the same sort of player. They had a feeling he might be a year ago – thus the 'Second Draft' efforts to reel him in – and they are becoming more convinced of that idea by the day. His 2011 preseason debut on Friday night certainly didn't hurt.
"I was fired up about Dez," said Head Coach Raheem Morris. "I remember talking about him a while ago, saying how he might be one of our better receivers. He's done nothing but show me and prove to us that he can play this game, and we're fired up to have him. We were fired up when we got him last year."