The 2004 season had been a disappointing one for the Bucs. Gruden couldn't stop the team from sliding into the abyss after an 0-4 start, and the Bucs ended with a 5-11 record. The Bucs defense got a little worse, but the offense was the major culprit. The offensive line was still patchwork and borderline terrible, the running back position was a mess, and the quarterback position lacked any stability. At least the Bucs could count on their wide receivers going forward, with veteran Joey Galloway and star rookie Michael Clayton providing a potent combination in the passing game. Or that's what they thought, anyway.
As a result of all this, the Bucs got to pick 5th in the 2005 Draft, higher than they had picked at any time since 1990 - although they had traded away their 2nd overall pick in 1992. Aside from the needs on offense, they also had some needs on defense. As the players on that side of the ball were getting ever older an influx of young talent was needed, and most positions could easily be upgraded. Defensive Tackle was a real weakness, but that was remedied for a number of years by brining in Chris Hovan. So while the defense could do with some young talent, the offense was certainly a higher priority.
The 2005 Draft was loaded with running back talent at the top of the draft, and because the Bucs' running game was perhaps their biggest weakness this draftmeshed well with their needs. Ronnie Brown, Cedric Benson and Carnell 'Cadillac' Williams were the top running back prospects, and it seemed likely that the Bucs would go for whoever fell to them.
Round 1: And the player who fell to them was, of course, Cadillac Williams. During his first season the Auburn product looked like the real deal, rushing for 1178 yards and 6 touchdowns on 290 carries. His performance got him the Offensive Rookie of the Year award, and his shoes and gloves ended up in Canton for his performance during the first three weeks of the season, when he rushed for a rookie record 434 yards. Unfortunately, Cadillac's second season was a disappointment and his subsequent two seasons were derailed by two devastating knee injuries. While he has come back admirably from those knee surgeries, Cadillac is no longer a valid option as a starting running back in the NFL, despite the Bucs' attempts to use him as such in 2009 and early 2010. That doesn't mean Cadillac is without value though, as he turned out to be an excellent pass protector and competent pass catcher - both things he struggled with earlier in his career. But despite Cadillac still playing a role on the team, he has to be considered a disappointment for where he was drafted. While not a complete bust, he certainly didn't live up to his draft status.
What were the other options: The 2005 draft was actually very weak at the top. The five players selected right after Cadillac were Adam Jones, Troy Williamson, Antrel Rolle, Carlos Rogers and Mike Williams - none of them living up to their draft status. However there were two players that would've fit the Bucs needs very well: one was DeMarcus Ware, who was selected 11th overall, could've been the long-term replacement for Simeon Rice, who was getting old at that point. The other player was Aaron Rodgers, who is now one of the top quarterbacks in the NFL. Gruden infamously told Rodgers that he was certainly going to be picked by the Bucs if he was still available. Maybe Gruden meant to add 'in the second round'.
Round 2: In the second round the Bucs selected the latest controversial Buccaneer: Barrett Ruud. I'm not going to wade into the pros and cons of Barrett Ruud as a player, suffice to say that he has started at MLB for 4.5 years and has been a consistent player throughout. That's pretty decent return for a second-rounder, and certainly better than we've seen in the drafts before this one. And there really weren't that many other good options available. Stanford Routt has been a decent cornerback for the Raiders across from Asomugha, but hardly an impact player. Michael Roos has been a solid Left Tackle for the Titans who certainly could've helped stabilize the Bucs Offensive Line. Lofa Tatupu is an interesting player, who really is pretty similar to Barrett Ruud. He started off as a very good player, but has declined in recent seasons. Nick Colins has been a very solid safety for the Packers. But one player of this group stands out to me: Vincent Jackson. One of the best receivers in the NFL, who has had some off-field trouble and contract disputes detract from his on-field performance. But with Clayton and Galloway I don't think the Bucs saw receiver as that big of a need.
Round 3: In the third round the Bucs selected TE Alex Smith. Smith was a decent but unspectacular player during his time in Tampa Bay, playing (and starting) 4 seasons for the Buccaneers. That's pretty decent, and given the fact that the Bucs recouped some of his value by trading him to the Patriots for a 2010 fifth-rounder (used on P Brent Bowden) his selection has to be seen as somewhat of a success. Then again, the Bucs also selected OT Chris Colmer in the same round, and he never got on the field due to injuries. He sadly passed away this past year at age 30.
With those picks the Bucs could also have selected some other solid players like FS O.J. Atogwe, LB Channing Crowder, LB Kirk Morrison and especially DE Justin Tuck who has been a key player on the Giants' formidable defensive line.
Round 4: The Bucs continued to draft offensive players, this time selecting guard Dan Buenning. This picked seemed to be a slamdunk selection, as Buenning started all games during his rookie season and performed well. Unfortunately injuries derailed his career rather quickly, and he now plays for the UFL's Florida Tuskers. The fourth round lacked talent overall, and there really weren't that many players selected in the fourth round that made a big impact - outside of a couple of running backs in Marion Barber III and Brandon Jacobs that is. One player who could've been of interested to the Bucs was guard/tackle Todd Herremans, although the Bucs already selected two offensive linemen in the previous round.
Round 5: Round 5 was a bit of a waste for the Buccaneers. They selected Donte NIcholson, who managed to stay with the Bucs for 4 years but only sporadically appeared in games and never made any kind of impact. They had another selection in that round though, and they used it on WR Larry Brackins out of Pearl River Community College. Yeah, that didn't work out well - Brackins never got on the field for any NFL team. Some of the other players they could've selected with those two selections include DE Trent Cole, who has been very good for the Eagles, and Gerald Sensabaugh, who has been a solid safety throughout his career.
Round 6&7: The Bucs were really really bad at selecting players in the last couple rounds of the draft, and this was obvious in the 2005 draft. All told they had 5 selected in the last two rounds, and one year later none of those players was still on the Bucs roster. RB Rick Razzano and WR J.R. Russell never made the active roster of any NFL team. S Hamza Abdullah is still in the NFL as a special teamer, but never played for the Bucs. DT Anthony Bryant and WR Paris Warren did appear in a couple games for the Bucs as rookies, but never made an impact and were gone after a year. Of course late-round impact players are rare, but the Bucs failed to draft any kind of useful player late in the draft for years on end.
This was another lackluster draft, though it wasn't nearly as bad as previous drafts. While Cadillac never lived up to his draft status he is still a useful player. Barrett Ruud has been a solid starter for years now, and Alex Smith was a solid but unspectacular tight end for several seasons. If Dan Buenning hadn't been forced out of the NFL by injuries, this draft may even have looked pretty good. But as is the sheer volume of failed draft picks makes this draft a failure.