WR Javon Walker has put up big numbers since he was first drafted with a #20 pick
Two years ago, picking 23rd in the 2006 NFL Draft, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers had a strong tradition to uphold.
Whether it was a matter of chance or a comment on where the true value in the draft usually lies, the 23rd pick had been awfully well-spent during the decade leading up to the Bucs landing in that spot.
Among the players drafted with the 23rd overall pick from 1996-2005 were three running backs ranging from solid contributor to true star (Antowain Smith, Willis McGahee and Deuce McAllister), a shutdown corner who attracted an enormous free agent contract from San Francisco last year (Antoine Winfield), a two-time Pro Bowl lineman (Jeff Hartings) and three others who have proven to be useful NFL players (Fabian Washington, Napoleon Harris and Mo Collins).
Fortunately, it appears as if the Buccaneers have been able to uphold that tradition. Though two seasons is probably not enough evidence for a final judgment, it certainly appears as if Tampa Bay's number-23 nabbing of Oklahoma guard Davin Joseph is going to fit nicely into that list. Joseph has started 28 games at right guard during his first two seasons, missing only the first four in 2006 due to a practice-field knee injury. The Bucs' youthful offensive line appears to be a unit on the rise, and some consider Joseph a future Pro Bowler.
One year is even less useful in evaluating a pick, but the Kansas City Chiefs have seemingly extended the Jordanesque success of number 23 into 2007. LSU wide receiver Dwayne Bowe put together an outstanding rookie season with 70 catches for 995 yards and five touchdowns.
Two years later, the Buccaneers are in the same vicinity in the draft, having won their second NFC South title in three seasons, but a few spots higher. In the 2008 NFL Draft, which is ready to dominate the sporting world's attention on the weekend of April 26-27, Tampa Bay are scheduled make the 20th pick of the opening round.
Barring trades, the Bucs will make that specific pick for the first time in their 33 years of drafting. They've certainly been in that vicinity before, getting Joseph at 23 two years ago, defensive tackle Marcus Jones at 22 in 1996 and guard Ray Snell at 22 in 1980, but they haven't yet contributed to the history of number 20.
Is it a rich history, that 20-spot? Perhaps not as rich as number 23 in recent years, but it has its highpoints. The last decade of selections at the 20th overall pick has brought into the league a highly productive receiver and several potential defensive stars, but it has also produced a handful of players who might eventually be described as journeyman.
Here are the last 10 players taken 20th overall in the NFL Draft:
|2007||N.Y. Giants||CB Aaron Ross||9 starts, 3 INTs for SB champs|
|2006||Kansas City||DE Tamba Hali||32 starts, 15.5 sacks in 1st 2 years|
|2005||Dallas||DE Marcus Spears||Three-year starter, 4.5 sacks overall|
|2004||Minnesota||DE Kenechi Udeze||Rookie starter, 5 sacks in '04 and '07|
|2003||Denver||T George Foster||Started 3 yrs. in DEN, traded to DET|
|2002||Green Bay||WR Javon Walker||252-3,815-30 in 6 yrs., but on 3rd team|
|2001||St. Louis||S Adam Archuleta||3 teams, 86 starts, 4 INTs in 7 years|
|2000||Detroit||T Stockar McDougle||56 starts, just 2 in 2005-07|
|1999||Dallas||DE Ebenezer Ekuban||31.5 sacks in 9 yrs. with DAL, CLE, DEN|
|1998||Detroit||CB Terry Fair||48 starts, out of NFL since '06|
Even if we decline to extrapolate too much on the early successes of Ross and Hali, we can at least say that they have made their drafting teams look good so far. Ross came on strong at the end of his rookie season in 2007, which was extremely helpful for the Super Bowl-bound Giants, who were struggling through injuries in the secondary. Hali stepped right in as a bookend to the sack-happy Jared Allen in Kansas City and produced eight sacks as a rookie and 7.5 last year. Anywhere near that level of production on a consistent basis would make Hali a borderline Pro Bowler.
Spears has been overshadowed in Dallas by DeMarcus Ware, his 2005 draft-mate, but he has been a starter for all three of his NFL seasons. Spears' three-year sack total isn't particularly impressive, but he's already a good run-stopper for an end and he still has plenty of time to breakout as a pass-rusher.
Udeze has also proven strong against the run, and while he may never become an elite sack producer on the end he does have at least four QB takedowns in three of his four seasons so far. Udeze could end up with a career like Ekuban's, as the former Dallas draftee has now played in eight seasons and amassed 31.5 sacks. Ekuban had one of his best years in 2006, with seven sacks and 63 tackles in Denver, but missed all of last season with an Achilles tendon injury.
Walker has periodically produced at Pro Bowl levels – and was indeed an all-star pick after his 89-catch season in 2004 – but clashes with management in his first two stops have led to a trade and a release over the last three years. Walker was traded by Green Bay, for whom he played his first four seasons, to Denver before the 2006 campaign. After two years as a Bronco, including a 1,000-yard effort in '06, he was released on the eve of training camp a month and a half ago. Oakland then signed Walker to an enormous deal, obviously expecting more of the play that has led to 252 catches, 3,815 yards and 30 touchdowns in 72 career games.
The two offensive linemen on the list have combined for 110 starts in 18 NFL seasons, though McDougle has opened just two games in the last three years. Foster is still an NFL regular; after three seasons as a starter in Denver, he was traded, along with RB Tatum Bell and a fifth-round pick, to Detroit for cornerback Dre` Bly last year. The massive Foster helped solidify a Lions line that had been a trouble spot in 2006.
Ross could easily prove to be the best defensive back on this decade's list, as neither Archuleta nor Fair really lived up to expectations. Comparison's to John Lynch accompanied the hard-hitting Archuleta into the league, but he has never developed into an all-star. Archuleta has started 86 games over seven seasons with St. Louis, Washington and Chicago, including 10 last year for the Bears, but he has just four career interceptions. Fair was a starter for most of his four seasons in Detroit, but the seven picks he had during that span is close to his entire NFL legacy. He signed with Carolina in 2002 and played three games for the Panthers. Fair has since played just five games, all in 2005 for the St. Louis Rams.
The first time the 20th pick in the draft came in the opening round was in 1967, when the NFL and AFL drafted together for the first time, putting 26 teams in the mix. The first player with the honor of going 20th in the first round was Michigan running back Jim Detwiler, who was picked by the Baltimore Colts. Detwiler never played a regular-season game in the NFL due to a knee injury he had suffered in college, which flared up again during the 1967 preseason and required additional surgery.
Coincidentally, Detwiler's successor at Michigan, running back Ron Johnson, went 20th overall two years later, to the Cleveland Browns. Johnson, however, played seven seasons in the league, six with the Giants, and rushed for 4,308 career yards.
Two years after that, perhaps the most successful 20th overall picks ever was executed by the Los Angeles Rams, who used it on Florida defensive end Jack Youngblood. Youngblood, who is famous for playing the 1979 playoffs with a broken fibula, was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2001.
Other notable players taken with the 20th pick of the first round include tight end Billy Joe Dupree (Dallas, 1973), tackle Doug France (St. Louis, 1975), tackle Mark May (Washington, 1981), wide receiver Mike Quick (Philadelphia, 1982), running back Gary Anderson (San Diego, 1983), tackle Will Wolford (Buffalo, 1986), wide receiver Haywood Jeffires (Houston, 1987), safety Steve Atwater (Denver, 1989), running back Steve Broussard (Atlanta, 1990), and cornerback Dale Carter (Kansas City, 1992).
Just from that overview, it appears as if teams have had some good luck selecting wide receivers and offensive tackles at the 20th overall spot. Still, if we dubbed pick #36 the "Nitschke Pick" in 2005, in honor of 1958 36th pick Ray Nitschke, then gave the #23 pick to Ozzie Newsome in 2006, we'd have to conclude that pick #20 is the "Youngblood Pick."
As mentioned, the Bucs have never executed the 20th pick before, and the possibility of a trade taking them up, down or out of that spot still exists. The team was scheduled to pick 21st overall in 2001 but eventually traded up seven spots to get a shot at Florida tackle Kenyatta Walker. However, Tampa Bay has sat still at its original spot and made its first round pick in each of the last four years, perhaps unwilling to give up additional picks for a single player, as they did for Walker.
There's no guarantee that the 20th spot will yield an impact player, of course. That will depend on the quality of the Buccaneers' scouting, and perhaps more than a little luck. Still, it's encouraging that the pick has produced at least a solid player almost every year in the past decade. In that regard, it has probably been less hit and miss than any spot in the top five of the first round. Tim Couch, Mike Williams or Charles Rogers, anyone?
The Bucs' successfully continued the run of good fortune at pick #23 two years ago. Hopefully they can do the same for pick #20 in just two short weeks.