Louisville DE Dewayne White had 37.5 sacks over the past three seasons, the kind of production the Bucs are looking for on draft day
Most NFL teams give lip service to the 'best-available-player' strategy heading into the draft. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers knelt at the altar.
By the end of day one of the 2003 NFL Draft, there could be little doubt that the Bucs chose to deal from the top of their draft board rather than address specific weaknesses. The Bucs have arguably the most talented defensive front in the NFL, as well as a Pro Bowl passer and three very experienced backups, yet their second and third-round picks were a defensive end and a quarterback.
Tampa Bay snapped up Louisville DE Dewayne White at the end of round two and Texas QB Chris Simms at the conclusion of round three simply because they were too highly-rated to pass up. In the end, they were happy and a bit surprised at their first-day haul.
"We are pleased with the way the day went," said Head Coach Jon Gruden. "We feel like we have added a couple players for our future. Dewayne White is a very productive guy who can sack the quarterback, a stout run defender, plays with a great motor and we think a guy that is going to be versatile in our scheme. He's a guy that's not just restricted to playing defensive end, and he's a guy that at some point will move around. He'll start out at left end behind Greg Spires, and we'll put him to work.
"We added Chris Simms, a quarterback, with the last pick in the third round. He's another guy that is a very solid prospect. He's a big guy that has functional mobility and has won big games in a big arena. We still have a lot of work to do in the draft, and at the same time we are very excited about the two picks we made today."
The Bucs will add four more picks on Sunday in rounds four through six, barring trades. The ultimate success of this draft, however, will be based on the NFL fortunes of White and Simms. Those two may also help determine the long-term success of the franchise, which will probably have to continue its recent draft magic in the coming years to stay in the NFL's upper echelon.
"You have rankings of players, and at the second round we felt Dewayne White at that period of time was the best pick for us," said Gruden. "And we felt the same way about Chris Simms in the third round. We didn't necessarily go into the draft and try to draft for need although we think both of those men will fulfill a need in our future."
The Bucs also stuck to the draft mantra that has served them well since 1995: production over potential. That is particularly true of the White pick, as Tampa Bay got a player who had 37.5 sacks over the last three NCAA seasons, with at least 10.5 every year. Arizona State's Terrell Suggs, the first defensive end taken in the draft, famously had 44 sacks in the same span. White had slipped a bit on some boards because his senior season was not quite as dominant as his junior year, in part due to a high-ankle sprain.
"I don't know if you are going to get a more productive player than Dewayne," said McKay. "This year was kind of an off year for him because he only had 10.5 sacks. We like the tape, and the character of the kid is impeccable. This is a very good kid whose work ethic is excellent, who likes the game of football and who has obviously overcome a lot of tragedy. This was a pretty easy pick for us."
Of course, optimistic talk is the norm in the hours after a draft, and one team's steal might be another's reach. Still, it's clear that the Bucs were surprised to walk away with these two players, and pre-draft rankings seem to support that reaction.
"We did talk about (Simms) in the second round as one of the guys that was in the mix," said McKay. "We really thought he would go before that. But then in the third round, there really wasn't a lot of discussion. At that point, when you look at your board and if you live by your board in the way that you rate the players, he was the highest-rated player going upward by far."
End Around Like any team, the Bucs are enticed by first-round defensive-end talent, having invested such picks on that spot on four different occasions (Lee Roy Selmon, Ron Holmes, Eric Curry, Regan Upshaw). However, they have almost completely ignored the defensive end position on the rest of 'day one.' The last time the Bucs used a second or third-round pick on a defensive end was in 1982, and that included the disastrous trade of a 1983 first-round pick to take Bethune-Cookman's Booker Reese in the second round. The Bucs did get decent production out of 1983 third-rounder John Cannon, but those are two of only four second or third-round defensive end picks in franchise annals, along with third-rounder Charley Hannah in 1977 and third-rounder Reggie Lewis in 1979.
Simm-ilarities In the same fashion, Simms becomes the first quarterback ever drafted by the Buccaneers in the third round. Tampa Bay had previously parlayed three first-round selections into QBs (Doug Williams, Vinny Testaverde, Trent Dilfer) and Shaun King is the only second-round passer in team history. While we're on the subject, this is the first time the Bucs have ever drafted both a defensive end and a quarterback in the first three rounds of a single draft.
Cardinals In Assuming he makes the team this fall, White would become just the third Louisville product ever to don a Buccaneer uniform, and the first since the team's inaugural 1976 season. It won't take much for White to become the top Cardinal in Buc history. The other two Louisville players to suit up for Tampa Bay were a pair of linebackers, Larry Ball and Steve Reese. Both played in 13 games in 1976 and Reese even started 10, but neither were back in 1977.
Playing to a Strength Heading into the 2003 NFL Draft, the field of players was considered particularly deep at two positions: defensive line and quarterback. That fact almost unquestionably played a role in the Bucs' eventual first-day fate. "There was no question that the two positions that were the deepest in the draft were defensive line and quarterback, compared to other years," said General Manager Rich McKay. "I still don't think that even with the depth at quarterback that most people would have thought that Chris Simms would have made it to the third round. But yes, it probably is. It does push players down. The deeper that you are at a certain position, the further you have a chance of picking a player of quality at that position."
More draft-day musings from the men who directed the Bucs' selection efforts.
Gruden on what Simms' bloodlines mean to him: "They mean a lot. It meant a lot to me when (Brian) Griese came out. (Simms) has been around football his whole life. I'm a little bit biased to coaches or coaches' sons. People who have been around the game their entire life I think a certain intangible is engrained in these people from the time they are born. It doesn't guarantee anything, but it is just another aspect of Chris Simms' file that makes him an even more interesting prospect."
McKay on why Simms might have fallen farther than expected: "Quarterback is a very unique position. Most people go into it and have a real want and desire for a quarterback in the draft, and the rest of the teams say, 'You know what? We are not going to take one.' So it seems to me that there are the buyers, and there are a very few number of those. And then there is the rest of us, who aren't in the buying market. So I don't know how (other teams) compare Dave Ragone to Simms and Kyle Boller to Simms. I don't know how they did that. I saw Chris play live last year against North Carolina, and we watched a lot of tape of him and obviously saw him at the Senior Bowl. There was a lot to like. He is still young in his progress. This is a young-looking guy, and physically I think he's going to get a lot bigger. But, geez, the traits are very good. I couldn't tell you why (he dropped), but I am certainly surprised by it."
Defensive Line Coach Rod Marinelli on what he likes about Dewayne White: "His speed. His balance. I'm really big on balance and the ability to re-direct. Awareness. He's on his feet all the time. The guy can make a spin move and stay on his feet. The one thing, if a guy is usually productive in college, he's usually productive at this level. (When you) draft production, you got a good chance to get good production. That's always a good sign."
McKay on whether White can immediately become a part of the defensive line rotation in 2003: "Yes. He's a guy that I think will flash at you enough where he's going to get some opportunities. He'll have to earn it. The one thing about Coach Marinelli's (meeting) room is they have to earn their position, and it's not an easy room to play with because our guys are pretty good. He's going to have to come in and play some special teams. I don't think that will be a problem. This guy can run, so speed is not an issue. I think he will help us on special teams. Not like a defensive back would or a linebacker, but he'll still play on special teams."
Marinelli on White's ability to play through injuries in 2002: "I like that. (They said) we didn't have a lot of injuries this year, but we did. We played with them. Chuck Darby had painful injuries. Ellis Wyms had a brutal ankle (sprain). We had some guys, Warren (Sapp) playing with some stuff. They play, then it's not an injury, so we're not injured. That's what I like. He got up and played on it and did some great things."
McKay on his impression of White after their pre-draft interview: "He's a very humble guy. He is very straightforward, very honest and not boastful in any way, shape or form. He has certainly been affected by his experiences, but you see a very mature individual. This isn't a guy that is bitter about what life has dealt him. He's dealt with it, and he's overcome it and he's trying to use it to his advantage. He's a very impressive interview."