The 2003 season had been a disappointment for the Buccaneers. The team failed to continue the stellar play of the Super Bowl season, and instead finished a disappointing 7-9. Offensive star Keyshawn Johnson clashed with Jon Gruden, leading to his deactivation and trade to the Dallas Cowboys for Joey Galloway, who would be a valuable member of the Buccaneers for the next 5 years. Brad Johnson had a somewhat disappointing 2003, throwing 21 interceptions but producing more yards and touchdowns than before. Chris Simms was the heir apparent to Johnson, but hadn't shown anything yet.
Worse yet, salary cap issues hit the Bucs hard as GM John McKay left in December of 2003. Gruden's old Raiders GM Bruce Allen was appointed as the new to front office man, and his first order of business was to clean up the cap problems. Unfortunately, this meant that several core players had to be let go. Warren Sapp was not offered a new contract, and left for the Raiders in free agency with the Bucs hoping that Booger McFarland could step up (he could not). As if that wasn't bad enough, the Bucs also let go of John Lynch, as he was getting older and had suffered from some injuries in previous seasons. But the biggest reason for his release was indeed the salary cap, as his contract weighed heavily on the team's payroll. This opened up a host of needs on defense and offense, along with the still existing needs along the offensive line.
Round 1: After missing out on two consecutive first-round picks because of the Jon Gruden trade, the Bucs finally got the opportunity to select a player in the first round. With Keyshawn Johnson having left, wide receiver was again a need and they decided to fill that need by selecting Michael Clayton in the first round. Clayton was big and physical, but not overly fast. He looked like a perfect replacement for Keyshawn, and Clayton certainly looked great in his rookie year, catching a team-high 80 passes for 1,193 yards and 7 TDs. Sadly, that rookie season turned out to be a mirage. Over his next 5 seasons he wouldn't top 40 receptions, 1 TD or 500 yards again. Inexplicably the Bucs gave him a new contract after Jon Gruden was fired in 2009, but he was eventually released before the 2010 season. Clayton certainly isn't the most egregious bust in the NFL, but he never lived up to his tantalizing rookie season and is perhaps the most agonizing Bucs draft bust because of that.
What were the other options: One option would've been to select OT Shawn Andrews at that point. Despite some injury issues and battling depression, Andrews was a very good tackle for 3 years with the Eagles. Still, that's hardly a great return. A better pick may have been Vince Wilfork, who has been a dominant nose tackle for the New England Patriots, but I don't know if he would've been nearly as good in the Bucs' scheme. RB Steven Jackson would have been a very good pick though, as the dominant running back could have solidified the position for years. Interestingly, most wide receivers selected after Michael Clayton haven't done much in the NFL either. Devery Henderson and Bernard Berrian are the best of a very lackluster bunch.
Round 3: The Bucs did not have a second-round pick in 2004, still because of the Gruden trade. So we move on to Round 3, where Tampa Bay selected LB Marquis Cooper. Unfortunately, Marquis Cooper never did much for the Bucs, spending two years on the roster as a backup and special teamer. After spending time with several teams through 2008, he is now tragically presumed dead after going missing after a boating accident.
For the Bucs, some other players would've been good selections at that point in the draft. Chris Cooley was selected just 2 spots after Marquis Cooper, and has been a very good tight end for the Redskins. Matt Schaub was selected later in the third round, and turned into a pretty good quarterback. And Shaun Phillips was selected early in the fourth round, and has been a very good defensive lineman for the Chargers, though he too may not have been a good fit for the Bucs. Interestingly, this was a pretty poor draft to select linebackers. Of all the linebackers selected after Cooper, only Brandon Chillar, Demorrio Williams and Landon Johnson have had decent career. And out of all the other linebackers, only Jonathan Vilma and Karlos Dansby have had great careers.
Round 4: This is where the Bucs got great value with S Will Allen. Allen was a special teams demon for 6 years in Tampa Bay, and a solid backup, accruing a total of 26 starts during his tenure here. The strength of his special teams play got him a contract with the Steelers in free agency last year. Only one defensive back selected after Will Allen has had a better career, and that's Jets S Erik Coleman. However, there was one player the Bucs could have drafted there who sticks out like a sore thumb: DE Jared Allen. However, defensive end was not a real position of need at the time.
Round 5: In round 5, the Bucs selected G Jeb Terry. Terry spent 3 years on the roster of the Bucs, playing in 30 games with one start. Not a horrible return for a fifth rounder, but he certainly made no impact. RB MIchael Turner was selected a couple of picks later, and could have helped the Bucs. At guard, Scott Wells and especially Rex Hadnot have had better careers, with Hadnot being the starter for the Packers since 2005.
Round 6: TE Nate Lawrie was the pick for the Bucs, and he didn't make it to the regular season roster. Although he would later spend some time with the Buccaneers, he was a special teamer only, playing just 7 games catching one pass for 15 yards. A non-factor, but that's not surprising from a sixth-round pick. Then again, I've written this or something similar so often for the Bucs drafts that it's apparent the Bucs had trouble finding players who could contribute late in the draft.
Round 7: In the seventh round the Bucs had the opportunity to select three players, because of a number of minor trades and a compensatory pick. The first player selected was WR Mark Jones, who didn't make the regular season either. He did return for the 2005 through 2007 seasons as a punt and kick returner, and did a decent job at that. That's decent value for a seventh rounder, although that wasn't particularly the result of drafting him but rather picking him up a year later. The second player selected was RB/TE Casey Cramer. I haven't seen a RB/TE hybrid before, although I assume that he's an H-Back. Regardless, he never made it to a Bucs roster. Finally, there's DB Lenny Williams, who also didn't make it to a Bucs roster - or indeed any roster.
Overall, the 2004 draft was yet another waste for the Bucs. When your best pick is either a backup safety or a wide receiver who is a better block than pass catcher, then you're not doing a very good job. As I go through all these drafts of the 2000s, it's very clear why the Bucs collapsed at the end of 2008 and felt they needed to rebuild in 2009: they had failed to accumulate young talent for years on end.