The 2007 Season had seen the Tampa Bay Buccaneers return to the playoffs, and the team wanted to build on this success. The defense was being renewed, with players like Barrett Ruud looking like a future star and Gaines Adams still being promising. Chris Hovan had stabilized the middle of the defense, Tanard Jackson was already a good safety and Jermaine Phillips a serviceable strong safety. With Phillip Buchanon and Ronde Barber the pass defense was very strong again. In fact, the defense was ranked the 4th best defense of 2007 by Football Outsiders. There were needs on defense, but they centered around a need for future replacements - a future replacement for Ronde Barber, a future replacement for Derrick Brooks and a future star at defensive tackle were at the top of the needs list on defense.
On offense though, the situation wasn't nearly as clear. 2007's offense was respectable and had finally produced a viable starting quarterback in the form of Jeff Garcia, although he was hardly a franchise quarterback rather than a temporary veteran stopgap. A franchise quarterback remained a need, and while Gruden pushed hard to get Favre to come to Tampa, that wouldn't have been more than a temporary solution either. At wide receiver Michael Clayton had proven to be a bust, and Joey Galloway was the only valid threat. Galloway was aging and the Bucs needed more bodies at wide receiver. Similary, the tight end position was a weakness: there was no real receiving tight end on the roster. And at running back, Cadillac Williams had torn his patellar tendon and wasn't going to be anywhere close to ready for 2008. Earnest Graham had stepped up admirably though, and running back wasn't that big of a need. This was aided by the emergence of a solid offensive line headlined by Davin Joseph and Arron Sears, augmented by Jeremy Trueblood and Donald Penn. Jeff Faine was added to the roster as a free agent to complete the offensive line, which looked to be a strength of the team.
Round 1: In keeping with their rejuvenation of the defense, they drafted supremely talented but troubled cornerback Aqib Talib. The Kansas University product may have been the most gifted cornerback in the 2008 draft, but he dropped because of character concerns - not unlike Jimmy Smith this year. Sadly for the Bucs those character concerns turned out to be justified, as Talib got into a fight at his rookie symposium and was arrested for punching a cab-driver in 2009. The latter incident led to a one-game suspension for the 2010 season, but Talib has remained clean off the field since the 2009 season. In fact, rumours of his newfound serious approach to life and his job leaked out of One Buc Place during the 2010 offseason. This showed on the field as well, where Talib turned his game up a notch, becoming a much more physical player. Aqib Talib had a bit of a rocky start to his career, but is a very good cornerback already. With a little more experience he could become the best cornerback in the NFL. He's the kind of player you can build a defense around, and Raheem Morris certainly tried to do that in 2009. If Talib can keep out of trouble off the field the sky's the limit, and his draft selection has to be deemed a slam-dunk hit for the Bucs.
What were the other options: Cornerback Mike Jenkins was selected just 5 picks later and has actually gone to a Pro Bowl, as he had a very strong year in 2009. Despite that, Jenkins isn't nearly as good as Talib, and while Jenkins has no off-the-field problems he showed a lack of commitment to the game when he stopped playing hard during a lost 2010 campaign for the Cowboys. A few other very good players were selected right after Talib, with Rashard Mendenhall and Chris Johnson being two top-tier running backs that could've solidified the position for the Bucs. Still, it's my belief that even a top running back isn't as valuable to a team as a very good cornerback. Finally I have to mention DeSean Jackson, who was drafted in the second round. The Cal WR is perhaps the most explosive player in the game, and while Garcia's weak arm would never have been able to use him effectively, I can only think of the damage Freeman and DeSean could be doing. Despite that, by selecting Aqib Talib the Bucs came away with the best cornerback and one of the best players overall of the 2008 draft.
Round 2: With Aqib Talib's selection being such a success, it only stands to reason that the second round selection would turn out to be one of the biggest draft busts in Buccaneer history. And this for a team that once selected a player first overall who wouldn't sign for them. When the Bucs selected Appalachian State WR Dexter Jackson it seemed like they were reaching for a speedy wide receiver after missing on DeSean Jackson. Unfortunately the two namesakes were nothing alike, aside from speed. Dexter Jackson was useless at his job as a wide receiver, and he couldn't even make an impact as a returner - mostly because he was afraid of getting hit. He never caught a single pass in the NFL, and was unseated by undrafted rookie Clifton Smith as a kick returner. "Peanut" was named an All-Pro for his performance as a returner. Dexter Jackson is quite possibly the worst draft pick in recent memory. This fact is underscored when we look at his further appearances in the NFL: None.
When we look at some of the other available players, it doesn't make the Bucs' choice much better. The Bucs could've drafted talented TE Martellus Bennett, who has started 24 games in 3 years. FB Jacob Hester could've been very useful for the Bucs and could've provided a true fullback for the Bucs, who were forced to press RB Earnest Graham into fullback duties instead. RB Jamaal Charles was available at that point as well, and he has become one of the best running backs in the NFL since then and certainly the most explosive open-field runner.
Round 3: In round 3 the Bucs decided to average the results of round 1 and round 2, and came out with serviceable but unremarkable G/C Jeremy Zuttah. The Rutgers offensive lineman started a couple of games in 2008 and all of 2009 at guard and finished off 2010 as the starter at center after Jeff Faine ended on IR. It seems like Zuttah could be a future starter at center, and he looked better at that position than he did at guard. This is pretty good return for a 3rd rounder, and certainly a succesful pick for the Bucs. And not many better players were selected after Zuttah either. TE Jermichael Finley's is the only name to really stand out as a star player, and certainly a better player than Zuttah. But otherwise the draft was filled with solid but unremarkable players like Tom Zbikowski, Cliff Avril and Thomas DeCoud.
Round 4: The Bucs decided to select a DT of the future here in the form of Maryland's Dre Moore. He was a promising young defensive tackle with a lot of talent, but he could never put it together. After spending 2 years on and off the Bucs practice squad he was released during the 2010 preseason after barely seeing the field. Dre Moore's selection was a waste. The Buccaneers could've selected RB Tashard Choice or TE Jacob Tamme instead - solid players who've been useful for their teams. Brandon Carr was another possibility at that point, and he's been a very good cornerback for the Chiefs. And DE Kroy Biermann has been a solid defensive end for the Falcons, someone the Bucs certainly could've used.
Round 5: Another year, another project at QB. This time his name was Josh Johnson, an athletic quarterback out of the University of San Diego who had thrown 43 touchdowns to 1 interception in his senior season. He's actually been pretty productive for a 5th-round quarterback, starting 4 games in 2009. Then again, all those games were lost and Johnson looked pretty bad. He was Freeman's backup in 2010, and was used sporadically in a wildcat-like package that didn't add much to the offense. While Johnson has talent and some promise for the future, with Freeman on board this is useless as Johnson won't get a chance to start. And while the Bucs could trade him for a draft pick, they need to do this before 2012 when his contract expires. Instead of selecting Josh Johnson, who barely contributed, the Bucs could've selected G Carl Nicks instead. Nicks has started all but 3 games since 2008 for the Saints and is one of the best young guards in the NFL.
Round 6: This is where the Bucs came away with a late-round steal, a rarity for the Gruden/Allen regime. Geno Hayes was selected with the 175th overall pick, and he's been a good linebacker for the Bucs. While a bit inconsistent, Hayes has started the past two seasons at WLB as Derrick Brooks' successor. While he hasn't lived up to his fellow FSU product's name, he's certainly been productive for the Bucs and is likely to be the starter in 2011 as well. Geno Hayes was one of the best players left in the draft, and the Bucs got very good value here. Some of the players they could've selected include WR Pierre Garcon, QB Matt Flynn, WR Stee Johnson and RB Peyton Hillis.
Round 7: And then there's the traditional throwaway seventh-round pick. This time it was wasted on RB Cory Boyd who has done exactly diddly-poo for the Bucs, or any other team for that matter.
Overall, the 2008 draft was a very succesful draft for the Bucs - certainly the most succesful draft of the Gruden years. Ironically, it would also be his last draft and he could never reap the rewards of this draft class.