Tampa Bay Buccaneers

The Fifth Dimension: #5 Pick Has Intriguing History

From recent insta-stars like Patrick Peterson to league record-breakers like LaDainian Tomlinson to Hall of Famers like Mike Ditka, the fifth overall pick in the NFL Draft has been a mostly productive and positive spot


In 2005, Auburn running back Cadillac Williams, chosen fifth overall in that year's NFL Draft, exploded onto the scene with an NFL-record 434 rushing yards in his first three games.  At the end of his first season with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Williams had a team-rookie-record 1,179 yards, the Associated Press NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year award and the overall NFL Rookie of the Year trophy, as voted on by the fans.

It was an outstanding debut season for Williams, and still probably not the most noteworthy development to come out of the fifth overall pick in the last decade.  The names and accomplishments – and in one case, the tragedy – associated with that pick are surely familiar to any knowledgeable NFL fan.

Consider that both of the last two #5 picks (CB Patrick Peterson and S Eric Berry) have gone directly to the Pro Bowl at the end of their rookie seasons, a surprising occurrence given the small percentage of first-year players who make it to the all-star game.  As many #5 overall picks have been rookie Pro Bowlers in the last decade as have #1 overall picks.

Consider also the bold move that landed the New York Jets their man in the 2009 draft.  New York traded three players and a second-round pick in 2009 to move from 17th to fifth in the first round and then selected what they hoped would be their next franchise quarterback, Mark Sanchez.  That kind of maneuver has become decidedly rare in the NFL, though it may return to prominence with the new rookie salary scale included in the latest collective bargaining agreement.  The pick that landed Sanchez, which originally belonged to the Cleveland Browns, is the only top-five selection that has been traded in the last eight years.

(San Diego and the New York Giants traded Eli Manning and Philip Rivers, the first and fourth overall picks, in 2004, but not until after both selections had been made by the teams slated to make those selections.)

In 2004, the Washington Redskins drafted University of Miami's Sean Taylor at #5 overall and watched him develop quickly into a ferocious hitter and one of the league's best safeties.  That alone would have made the pick memorable, but Taylor's story took a tragic and unforgettable turn when he was shot and killed by intruders in his South Florida home in November of 2007.

One recent #5 pick, Ohio State linebacker A.J. Hawk, has already won a Super Bowl, with the Green Bay Packers last year.  Drafted in 2006, Hawk was third in that year's AP Defensive Rookie of the Year voting, and he was chosen for the Pro Bowl in 2010.  However, he was released after that season, and subsequently re-signed by the Packers to a more manageable contract, and recent reports have questioned his long-term prospects in Green Bay.

Even Williams' own story had more twists in store after that amazing rookie season.  Unfortunately for him, most of them were of the overcoming-obstacles variety, as he suffered major knee injuries in his third campaign and then again in 2008.  The first of those two injuries was particularly severe, including a patellar tendon tear some feared would be career-ending.  He rebounded marvelously in 2009, however, and has since continued his career with the St. Louis Rams.

Oh, by the way, the #5 pick is also where San Diego grabbed LaDainian Tomlinson, the NFL's fifth-leading all-time rusher, in 2001.  It's also where the Chargers got future Hall of Famer Junior Seau in 1990, one year after Atlanta landed current Hall of Famer Deion Sanders at the same spot.  Heard of Mike Ditka, Len Dawson, Steve Van Buren and Elroy "Crazylegs" Hirsch?  Of course you have; they're all Hall of Famers, too, and they were all drafted fifth overall.

In other words, the team holding the fifth overall pick in the 2012 NFL Draft has intriguing history both recent and removed to live up to.  That team happens to be the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

By virtue of their final 2011 record, the Buccaneers have drawn the fifth spot in the opening round (alternating between fourth and fifth with Cleveland the rest of the way) for only the second time in franchise history.  Mock drafts have begun linking Tampa Bay with a variety of highly-regarded players, including Alabama running back Trent Richardson, Oklahoma State wide receiver Justin Blackmon, LSU cornerback Morris Claiborne and Alabama cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick.  Whether or not the Bucs actually end up drawing from that short list (and barring a trade), the team's newest player will be following in the footsteps of quite a few very successful #5 men.

Here are the last 20 players to be taken fifth overall in the NFL Draft:






CB Patrick Peterson


Pro Bowl KR in 1st year


S Eric Berry

Kansas City

Made Pro Bowl as a rookie, hurt most of '11


QB Mark Sanchez

N.Y. Jets

Starter since rook season; 4 playoff victories


DT Glenn Dorsey

Kansas City

Just four sacks in four seasons


T Levi Brown


Five-season starter, not considered elite


LB A.J. Hawk

Green Bay

All-Rookie in '06, Pro Bowler in '10


RB Cadillac Williams

Tampa Bay

NFL Rookie of the Year; slowed by injuries


S Sean Taylor


2-time Pro Bowler, shot to death in 2007


CB Terence Newman


2-time Pro Bowler, struggled in 2010-11


CB Quentin Jammer

San Diego

18 career INTs, up-and-down career


RB L. Tomlinson

San Diego

Fifth-leading rusher in NFL history


RB Jamal Lewis


10,000 yards, on 2000s All-Decade Team


RB Ricky Williams

New Orleans

Enigmatic figure but 10,000 yards & counting


RB Curtis Enis


Only played three years, 1,500 career yards


CB Bryant Westbrook


7 seasons, 13 INTs, no Pro Bowls


DE Cedric Jones

N.Y. Giants

5 seasons, 15 sacks, a notable bust


QB Kerry Collins


1st pick in CAR history, 41,000 career yards


LB Trev Alberts


Noteworthy bust, injury problems, only 3 yrs.


DE John Copeland


8 seasons, 24 sacks, no Pro Bowls


CB Terrell Buckley

Green Bay

Only player with 50 INTs & no Pro Bowls

It's worth noting that the mock drafters have made a point of pairing the Bucs with running backs and cornerbacks, because those two positions have dominated the #5 pick over the past two decades.  Those two positions account for exactly half of the last 20 #5 picks, including one unbroken six-year stretch.  However, Tampa Bay would actually be reviving that trend if they took a tailback or a corner.  The league has a whole has drifted away from taking running backs in the top five in recent years – only one has gone in the top five in the last five drafts (Darren McFadden, fourth, 2008) – and cornerbacks have only accounted for one top-five pick in that same span.

Those corners and backs who have gone top-five in the last two decades have mostly proved productive, and occasionally far better than that.  Of the five backs, only Enis was really a bust, though Williams' injury problems have to this point kept him from matching his rookie-season success.  Tomlinson, Lewis and Williams have all surpassed 10,000 yards and are all among the top 26 rushers in league history.  As mentioned above, Tomlinson, still producing for the New York Jets after nine incredibly prolific years with his drafting team, is fifth on that list and he also ranks third all-time in touchdowns.

It's a little more of a mixed bag for the cornerbacks.  Peterson is already off to a good start, as both a cover man and a kick returner, but it's obviously too early to rate that pick.  Newton, Jammer, Westbrook and Buckley all had (or have) decently long NFL careers, but most have had some ups and downs.  Newman was a top performer and a multiple Pro Bowler but he has drawn heat for his struggles the last two years in Dallas.  Jammer has had a long and steady career but has never really emerged as a star.  Buckley bounced around to six teams and never made a Pro Bowl, but it's worth noting that he has as many interceptions as Champ Bailey (so far) and is tied for 33rd all time in that category.  Westbrook never really distinguished himself in Detroit.

Busts and milder disappointments happen at every pick in the draft, so there's no surprise to find a few on this list.  Dorsey isn't considered a bust by Kansas City management because he has developed into a very good run-stopper, but it's safe to say the franchise thought it was getting more of a pass-rush presence when it picked him fifth overall.

One has to go back to 1998 to find a player that almost all would agree was a bust at the #5 pick, as former Penn State running back Curtis Enis had a very brief NFL career.  Cedric Jones and Trev Alberts are widely considered busts as well, and if you mix in underwhelming results from Westbrook and John Copeland, the period from 1993-98 wasn't particularly good for that pick.  One might be tempted to throw Kerry Collins into that mix, too, given that he had some well-publicized personal struggles in Carolina and has bounced around the league a little bit.  However, Collins did make two Pro Bowls, he did start a Super Bowl and he is 10th on the NFL's all-time passing yardage chart.

The more recent #5 picks – all of them since the 2001 season – have almost uniformly become franchise mainstays, at the least…with the last few additions to the list looking like they probably will do the same.  Tomlinson eventually left for the Jets, as mentioned, but still spent the vast bulk of his career in San Diego.  Jammer, Newman, Hawk, Brown, Dorsey, Sanchez, Berry and Peterson are all still with their original teams, and of course Taylor still was with the Redskins at the time of his death.  Cadillac Williams is the only other player among those 11 who is not still with his original team, and he only departed last year after six very appreciated seasons.

Obviously, the Buccaneers hope to find just such a player with the next #5 pick this April, a young potential star who will be a fixture in the locker room for a decade or more.  History suggests they've got a very good chance to do so.

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