After the Bucs won a Super Bowl on the strength of their defense, with a flashy new head coach who was sure to create a potent offense with time the future looked good. There was no real reason why the Bucs couldn't go out and be very succesful over the next couple of years, they just had to make sure they added some pieces to replace againg players who would soon be gone, like John Lynch and Warren Sapp. Of course, their first round pick resided with the Raiders as they used it to trade for Jon Gruden, and because they won the Super Bowl they were picking at the end of each round, making talent accumulation a bit harder. The previous draft failures were starting to hurt as well, as the depth on the team was getting thinner.
Despite Brad Johnson's presence, there was still a need for a longterm franchise quarterback. This is a recurring theme for the Gruden years or in fact all of the Bucs years, except when Doug Williams (and now Josh Freeman) were on the team. Left tackle remained a problem position as well, since top 2000 pick Kenyatta Walker couldn't succeed at the position. A platoon of different free agents was used as the QB's main protector, but none of them worked out for the long term. And while the offensive line performed well down the stretch of the Super Bowl season, it was very shaky and could be upgraded on all fronts. So now you know the main needs with which the Bucs went into the draft, let's look at what they actually did.
Round 2: Because the Bucs traded away their first round pick in the Gruden deal, we start with the second round of the draft. With Greg Spires and Simeon Rice starting at defensive end, that position wasn't a big need, but the Bucs still picked Louisville DE Dewayne White. A versatile player who would get some playing time at defensive tackle later in his career, Dewayne White played with the Bucs for 4 years and gathered 13 starts and 14 sacks during that time before signing a $29 Million contract with the Detroit Lions in 2007. That's decent production for someone who was basically a second-stringer for his entire career. The problem is, a second-stringer isn't quite what is expected of a second-rounder. Dewayne White was hardly a bust, but he also wasn't a great success.
What were the other options: Only one DE selected after Dewayne White has had a clearly better career, and that's Robert Mathis of the Indianapolis Colts. Although he hasn't been a starter for most of his career, he's been very productive with 74 sacks over 8 seasons. Of course, Mathis was a fifth rounder, and selecting him in the second round would have been a real reach for the Bucs. Two other players that were selected just a few picks after the Bucs selected White stand out: Lance Briggs and Jason Witten. Linebacker wasn't a particular need for the Bucs, but Lance Briggs has been very good during his career and could've made a significant contribution as a strongside linebacker across from Derrick Brooks. Jason Witten is one of the best TEs in the game, both a good blocker and receiver, and would've been a great addition for the Bucs.
Round 3: Quarterback was the next need to be addressed with the selection of Chris Simms, son of former New York Giants QB Phil Simms. The plan was to sit him and let him develop while Brad Johnson played out his career. This was exactly what happened, as Simms didn't play a game during his rookie season, then saw action in 5 games including 2 starts during the 2004 season when Brad Johnson was benched. But an injury caused him to lose time, and Brian Griese took over for the rest of the season. The year after that the roles were reserved, and a season-ending injury for Griese forced Simms back into duty. He played competently during the 10 starts, throwing just 7 interceptions to 10 touchdowns. He wasn't someone who could carry an offense, but he did a decent job as a game manager. It was no surprise then that he remained the starter for 2006, but he unfortunately turned out to be a horrible game manager. Constantly having his passes batted down, he threw 3 interceptions in each of his first two starts to no touchdowns, then added another touchdown and interception against the Carolina Panthers. In that last game he ruptured his spleen, which had to be surgically removed after the game. Sadly, that's his main claim to fame as he never started a game for the Buccaneers again, landing in Gruden's dog house over the next season. While the Bucs got some decent play for half a season for Simms, that's hardly what you want from a third-round pick. Still, third-round QBs don't work out very often, so Simms' career is fairly typical of QBs selected in that range.
What were the other options: Only Tony Romo was succesful as a QB and selected after Chris Simms, but Romo went undrafted - hardly a realistic selection in the third round then. In fact, this entire QB class was very weak: Carson Palmer was good early in his career but has really dropped off the last seasons, and he's the best of the bunch, with Byron Leftwich, Kyle Boller and Rex Grossman all going in the first round. As for some talent selected right after Chris Simms went, there wasn't much. Terence McGee and Asante Samuel were both selected in the fourth round, and both turned out to be good cornerbacks that certainly could've helped the Buccaneers.
Round 4: Because of a compensatory pick, the fourth round to be a double bust for the Bucs. The first selection was Lance Nimmo, an Offensive Tackle who was so bad he couldn't make the regular season roster at one of the weakest positions on the team. He never played a snap in the NFL. the second player was center Austin King, who also never appeared in a game for the Buccaneers. While he spent 3 years with the Falcons, he only started one game. Another bust. Some of the players the Bucs could've selected instead: FB Ovie Mughelli, DE Robert Mathis, NT Aubrayo Franklin, and the kicker: versatile lineman David Diehl, who has played left tackle for the Giants for the past four years, and longtime stud center Dan Koppen who anchors the excellent Patriots line.
Round 5: The Bucs remained focused on the offensive line, and selected guard Sean Mahan. Mahan is a bit of an odd player to evaluate. He didn't start in his rookie year but became an important part of the offensive line in 2004 and started at all 3 interior line positions. He signed a long-term contract with the Steelers after the 2006 season, but didn't last long there quickly returning to the Bucs. Unfortunately, Mahan was never a standout and couldn't contribute to the Bucs. When he was forced into action at center after Jeff Faine missed 4 games in 2009, he was the weakest part of a weak offensive line, and he was released not long after that. Mahan was never great, but getting 3 seasons of starts from a fifth-rounder is pretty good. One guard selected later in the draft has had a better career, though: Arizona's Reggie Wells. There weren't a lot of good players left at that point either, with one-time Buccaneer Cato June being the best remaining player.
Round 6&7: And then we come to the last part of the draft. The Bucs didn't have a 7th round pick as that was used to trade for Cornell Green in 2002. Not a terrible move as they got 8 starts out of the man, which is a decent return for a 7th rounder. The 6th round pick was used on CB Torrie Cox. He never did much as a cornerback, but he was a very good special teams player for 6 years, which is more than most sixth rounders do.
Undrafted Free Agents: Wait, did I say that was the last part of the draft? Well there are also the undrafted free agents, who usually don't yield much. But this year the Bucs got two good players from the undrafted ranks: OT Anthony Davis and FB/RB Earnest Graham. Davis spent 6 years on the team and started two seasons for the Bucs, which is pretty good for an undrafted free agent. Earnest Graham is still on the team and has been a great, versatile player during this time. He's played at fullback for the past two seasons, spent time at running back before that and did a good job at that. Moreover, he's also been a standout special teamer.
Overall, the 2003 draft was relatively disappointing, but it wasn't disastrous. The two undrafted free agents make up for a lot of the previous failings, and there were some good bit players among the selections. Still, this - again - wasn't the kind of draft you can use as a foundation for the future.