A converted defensive end, Illinois T Xavier Fulton showed off his fundamental talents at the NFL Scouting Combine
Since 2006, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have directed more resources – draft and otherwise – to the offensive line than to any other position on the field. The results are obvious: The Bucs return a promising young line intact in 2009, including a Pro Bowler in Davin Joseph and even three key reserves.
Building a solid front wall, however, is a job that is never done. The Buccaneers are always on the lookout for more serious offensive line talent to develop, and on Sunday they found it in Xavier Fulton of Illinois.
After picking defensive linemen in the third and fourth rounds, the Bucs switched to offense in Round Five, taking Fulton with the 19th pick of the stanza and the 155th selection overall.
That's a pick that Fulton himself has made. He came to Illinois as a defensive lineman and was a starter at the end of his rookie season and most of his sophomore campaign. However, a significant knee injury during the 2005 season caused him to miss all of the Illini's 2006 campaign, and during his recovery the coaching staff approached him about a possible position switch.
As it turned out, Fulton's size (6-4, 301), wingspan and quick feet made him a natural candidate for the offensive line, and he took to the tackle position immediately. In fact, he was an All-Big Ten honorable mention pick in his first year on offense and a second-team choice as a senior in 2008. Fulton started all 25 Illinois games over that span, holding down the critical left tackle position for a passing offense that finished first in the conference in yards per game.
Fulton is the sixth offensive lineman the Buccaneers have drafted since 2006. Those selections have already netted three starters in Joseph, Jeremy Trueblood and Arron Sears as well as a versatile part-time starter in 2008 choice Jeremy Zuttah. Trying to build depth at every spot on the roster, the Buccaneers hope to develop Fulton into a similarly valuable player.
A highly-recruited defensive lineman as a prep in Flossmoor, Illinois, Fulton chose the home state school and appeared in eight games as a true freshman, starting the last three. He finished that season with six tackles, two pressures and a pass defensed, then started the first seven games of 2005 before his knee injury. In those seven games, Fulton contributed 13 tackles, two tackles for loss, three pressures and half a sack.
After switching to tackle and earning a starting spot, Fulton was credited with 78 knockdown blocks by the Illini staff, and he was charged with just two sacks allowed on 323 pass plays. The Illinois running game produced 256.8 yards per game in 2007, leading the Big Ten and finishing fifth in the nation. In 2008, the Illini switched to a more pass-oriented attack, suiting Fulton's strengths even better. He drew only two penalties the entire season and allowed only two pressures on 393 pass plays, according to Illinois coaches.
The Buccaneers have two more picks to conclude their 2009, both in the seventh round. Tampa Bay picks next at pick number 217, then again at 233.