There was a time when having the first overall pick in the NFL draft was a big deal. An age where first-round picks were like gold to some teams because, more often than not, it was as close to a sure thing as you could get. An era in which the focus was less on contracts and incentives than it was about the opportunity for a young man to realize his dream of playing professional football.
That was then.
Now, in an NFL focused on signing bonuses and guaranteed money, it’s getting increasingly difficult to judge talent. Just ask Raiders’ owner Al Davis. He’s stuck with JaMarcus Russell and Darrius Heyward-Bey, two top-ten draft picks who have produced only two touchdowns this season, hooking-up just six times. Combined, they will receive $55.5 million in guaranteed money from their rookie contracts, more money than the average American family will gross in their lifetime.
Meanwhile, second-year cornerback Aqib Talib is giving the Buccaneers what they bargained for when they signed him to a 5-year, $14 million contract with $8.2 million guaranteed. Quietly, Talib is showing that he has the capability of becoming an elite NFL cornerback.
He is currently tied with perennial Pro-Bowlers Asante Samuel of the Eagles and Charles Woodson of the Packers for third in the league in interceptions with five, behind Bills rookie Jairus Byrd (8) and the Saints’ Darren Sharper (7). While three of Talib's picks came against the Redskins, he has also had the difficult task of guarding some of the best receivers in the game in Randy Moss, Santana Moss and Greg Jennings. While the three combined for 12 catches and 231 yards, only one of them reached the end zone when Santana Moss scored on a 59-yard strike after Talib slipped and fell.
In a maligned secondary, Talib and safety Tanard Jackson (4th round, 2007) have been bright spots. While Talib still has a great deal of work to do before joining the conversation of elite, shut-down corners, he seems to be on the right track in just his second season.
I could say the Buccaneers have had a solid draft history of taking good players early and making the best of each of their picks, but I would be lying. The Bucs’ draft history has not been pretty, just ask Dexter Jackson. But with guys on the current roster like Jackson, Sammie Stroughter (7th round, 2009) and Talib, it’s hard not to get excited about the 2010 draft.
Talib seems to have found a home in Tamps Bay. He’s fast and physical, and he wants to be matched-up with the best receivers in the league. So far, he’s proven to be a great value as the 19th overall draft pick.