If you'd ask any Buccaneer fan or media member about the direction of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the response is probably going to include something less than sunshine and rainbows. Obviously 3-13 will do that for you. As such, fans and ownership alike look towards the future, towards making the right personnel moves and finding and plugging in the right building blocks that will flip the script on the Bucs' ill fortunes and make this team successful for years to come. As our front office has hammered into our brains recently, that change will come through apt moves in the draft.
So the question remains: how well has our front office done in assessing talent and making selections over the past several years? Has our scouting department done a good job seeking out and identifying good players? Is the draft a primary reason that we've wound up at or near the basement of the NFL pecking chain?
This is the starting point in our attempt to evaluate and answer some of those questions. Here at Buc'Em, we'll take a look back at the last 10 NFL Drafts, specifically analyzing the selections the Buccaneers made, how well they worked out, the gems they discovered, and who they missed out on. It's not an attempt to second-guess and be overly-critical of our former and current front office, but rather is an attempt to discuss the decisions they made and debate the reasons they made them.
We start today with the 2000 draft. Following an 8-8 season, the Buccaneers turned things around in 1999, finishing the regular season 11-5 and coming one drive short of making in to the Super Bowl in a gut-wrenching 11-6 controversial loss to the eventual Super Bowl Champion St. Louis Rams. That Buccaneer team was anchored by a defense that held opposing teams to 17 points or fewer in 12 of 16 games, losing only one of those games (season opener to NYG in which Trent Dilfer had an awful game). The defense ranked 3rd in the NFL in total YPG allowed with 267.5 and was one of two teams to finish in the top 5 in both PaYPG and RuYPG allowed.
On the flip side of that coin, the Buccaneer offense ranked an abysmal 28th in the league in Total YPG at 265.9. It ranked an impressive 3rd in Time of Possession per game at 32:11, but ranked 29th in Yards/Play at 4.3. As such, it was apparent that the Bucs were adept at controlling the ball and the clock, but lacked the big play. None of the Buccaneer receiving corps came near a 70-catch/1000-yard season (Jacquez Green 56 catches/791 yards/3 TDs; Bert Emanuel 22/238/1; Reidel Anthony 30/296/1).
With these concerns in mind, what did the Bucs do to address them in the 2000 draft?
The Bucs, sitting with the 13th and the 27th picks in the NFL Draft, made a move to get that big play guy, acquiring WR Keyshawn Johnson in exchange for both picks. Johnson certainly didn't disappoint over the Bucs' next 3 seasons, catching 70+ balls and/or eclipsing 1000 yards receiving each year. He led the NFC and set team records for receptions and ReYds in 2001 with 106 catches for 1266 yards. As a side note, ironically, with the 27th pick in the draft, the Jets selected TE Anthony Becht, who would eventually wind up back with the Bucs in the 2005 offseason.
Notable players available after the Bucs' first pick: CB Deltha O'Neal, RB Shaun Alexander, DE/OLB Julian Peterson, DE John Abraham.
With the 57th pick of the draft, the Buccaneers saw a productive offensive lineman falling down the draft board in their direction. The Bucs offered a fourth-rounder to the Carolina Panthers, who held the 51st pick, and the Bucs moved up and snared Tennessee G Cosey Coleman. Coleman eased his way into the Buccaneer line, appearing in 8 games in 2000 without any starts. He finally cracked the starting lineup in 2001 and started all games except one for the Bucs over the next four seasons. He left as an unrestricted free agent following the '04 season and finished up his career with the Browns. He retired following the 2006 season due to nagging knee issues.
Notable players available after the Bucs' pick: DT Fred Robbins, C Brad Meester, S Deon Grant, DT Darwin Walker.
After trading up in the second round, the Bucs stood pat in the third round and took Hurricane LB Nate Webster with the 90th pick. Webster remained on the Bucs' roster from 2000-2003, logging playing time in all games but one during that span, but starting in only six. He put up a decent number of tackles during his time with the Buccaneers, but he failed to establish himself as a starter. Was adept on special teams' coverage units. Started 5 games at MLB in '03 when starting MLB Sheldon Quarles was out with an injured forearm. He moved on to Cincy after the '03 season and wound up in Denver for 3 seasons before disappearing from the league following the '08 season after failing to sign with any team. Although he started the majority of the games for Denver in 07-08, he never made an impact in the league as a quality starter.
Notable players available after the Bucs' pick: LB Na'il Diggs, LB Brandon Short.
No selection. Pick traded to Carolina with 57th pick in exchange for 51st pick.
After sitting out of action for 2 rounds, the Bucs select Kentucky TE James Whalen with the 157th pick of the draft. Whalen was considered by draft analysts to be purely a pass-catching TE with very limited blocking skills. As it turns out, Whalen may have been just a by-product of the shotgun-spread passing system of Kentucky coach Hal Mumme and the success that QBs Tim Couch and Dusty Bonner had in it. Whalen was released by the Bucs prior to the 2000 season and was picked up by the Dallas Cowboys prior to the same year. Whalen never had an impact as a Cowboy, playing in 3 games in 2000 with no stats before being sent by Dallas to NFL Europe for the 2001 season. He totaled 17 catches for 152 yards in 16 games (6 starts) with Dallas in 2002, but wound up out of the league after the 2003 season.
Notable players available after the Bucs' pick: LB Adalius Thomas, QB Marc Bulger, LB Dhani Jones.
Looking to add a little depth to the secondary, the Bucs selected USC S David Gibson with the 193rd pick. Gibson managed to stick on the 53-man from 2000-2002 as a special teamer and as a backup safety before being traded during the 2003 season to the Indianapolis Colts, where he started 9 games and totaled 45 tackles, 1 INT, and 2 forced fumbles. Returned to the Bucs in 2003 for one season and played in 9 games in the same role he previously did.
Notable players available after the Bucs' pick: QB Tom Brady, DT Robaire Smith.
With the 237th pick, the Bucs selected Georgia Tech QB Joe Hamilton. Although Hamilton stayed with the Buccaneer organization for 3 years, he played in only one game, totaling one sack and a lost fumble in garbage time of a 2000 win over the Falcons. Needless to say, his professional career was a failure.
Notable players available after the Bucs' pick: DT Rob Meier.
Overall Evaluation: Considering the Bucs' left Madison Square Garden after the first day of the draft with an eventual starting interior lineman, a #1 wide receiver, and a talented LB to back up an already talented unit, I'd generally consider this draft to be a successful one. Although it's painful to part with two first-round draft picks, especially in the same draft, it made sense for a team on the cusp of a championship to make such a move to get the elusive, sure-fire playmaker they lacked. There was no one really on the board that they could've drafted that would have matched that production immediately and no doubt the front office knew that. After Plaxico Burress went 8th overall to Pittsburgh, the level of talent at wide receiver was incredibly lacking, as Laveranues Coles and Jerry Porter were the only players in the top 3 rounds to emerge as decent NFL wideouts. Also, giving up a 4th rounder to ensure getting the bruising Coleman was certainly worth it, given that many 4th-rounders are borderline 53-man roster guys. Both players gave a big boost to a vanilla offense and helped carry the Buccaneers to a Super Bowl Championship.
The second day picks yielded three guys who never amounted to true starting material, but looking at the long-term results of all second day picks, most guys didn't pan out. The Bucs didn't pick until the fifth round and attempted to address their weak passing game by selecting a receiving threat in Whalen who put up good numbers in college. Can't fault that decision, where incumbent TE Dave Moore caught only 29 passes for 288 yards during the 1999 season. Gibson found a spot on special teams and made it with the Bucs as a reserve safety for 4 seasons, which is certainly an accepted role for a 6th round selection. It's easy to say, "why didn't they go after Tom Brady in the 6th round if they wanted QB depth" rather than select QB Joe Hamilton, but every team in the league passed on him for 5 rounds and could be chided for that oversight.
All in all, although it wasn't the most impactful draft in team history, it certainly was an important one in the continued success of the Buccaneers over the next three seasons that eventually resulted in a world championship. Offensive inadequacies were addressed, there were no clear swings-and-misses on first-day picks, and there were no obvious studs that the team passed over.
What do you all think of the performance of the Buccaneer front office in this draft? Did they pass the test in your minds?