Every NFL player is different, so looking at players from the past to predict players of the future doesn't really hold much weight - but it's always fun to reminisce, right? With the Bucs taking Mike Evans at #7 yesterday, it opens up the opportunity to explore how previous players have fared in similar situations - Bucs' first round receivers; Bucs' players taken with the #7 pick; and receivers taken with the #7 pick.
Buccaneers first round receivers
A surprising fact that was mentioned on NFL Network last night (or at least, something that surprised me) - Evans is the first receiver the Bucs have drafted since Mike Williams. When we think about how thin the Bucs receiving corps was once Williams was traded to Buffalo, it makes a lot more sense when you think the team went twenty five picks between adding a new receiver through the draft.
It's been much longer, though, since the Bucs took a receiver in the first round - ten years, in fact, when the Bucs drafted Michael Clayton. In fact, Evans is only the third first-round receiver in Buccaneer history.
The honour of being the first receiver the Bucs ever took in the first round goes to Reidel Anthony, twenty-one years after the team was founded. Anthony was taken with the sixteenth pick in the 1997 draft - the team's second that year, having taken Warrick Dunn four picks earlier. Unlike Dunn, Anthony's contributions to the team weren't much to write home about.
Anthony was a starter out the gate, as you'd expect from a first round pick, starting 13 out of 16 games he appeared in during his rookie season, and 13 out of 15 games he appeared in during 1998. It looked initially like he might have been a long-term contributor - after catching 35 balls for 448 yards as a rook, he caught 51 balls for over 700 yards in his sophomore campaign. Rather than that upward trend continuing, however, those would prove to be career-high totals. He lost his starting spot in 1999, starting just seven games and appearing in six more. He had a combined five starts over the next two seasons, his final two as a Buc - and as an NFL player. Averaging just 230 yards a season in his final three years, he was not re-signed by the team when his contract expired after 2001. He signed with the Redskins, but didn't make the roster out of training camp, and wasn't given another shot in the league. He currently coaches high school football in Florida.
Three years after Anthony left the team, the Bucs drafted their second ever first-round receiver, Michael Clayton. Clayton got off to a great first season, leading all rookies with 80 receptions, 1,193 yards and 7 touchdowns, each of which were team rookie records. However, his career went downhill from there in a huge way. His next-best season was in 2008, where he caught 38 balls for 484 yards. He would never again catch more than one touchdown in a season, and would end up being known more for his blocking than his receiving, especially as he developed an infuriating case of the 'dropsies'. Despite all that, once his contract expired after 2008, then-rookie GM Mark Dominik's first move was to re-sign Clayton to a five-year, $26 million contract that included $10 million in guarantees. It was widely considered a head-scratcher at the time, and the move didn't exactly pay off, as he caught just 16 passes for 230 yards, his worst production as a Buccaneer. He was released after the season.
Clayton went on to flirt with the UFL, but was signed by the Giants in the tail-end of the 2010 campaign, appearing in six games, making two receptions for nineteen yards. He was released by Big Blue following the 2011 training camp, but re-signed in late September due to injuries to the receiving corps. He appeared in five games, yet didn't have a single reception - but he did get a Super Bowl ring out of it. He's now retired, and has recently written a book called "Chasing My Rookie Season".
It was a full ten years after drafting Clayton before the Bucs again dipped their toes into the first-round-receiver pool - with the Evans pick last night.
Buccaneers #7 picks
Evans might only be the third first-round receiver in Bucs history, but he's the fourth player to be made a Buccaneer with the #7 overall pick.
So far, it's made for pretty depressing reading, but let's switch focus from the failures that have been the Bucs' first-round receivers, to one of the greatest linebackers in team history - the Bucs' first selection with the #7 overall pick, College Hall of Famer Hugh Green.
Green played four-and-a-bit seasons for the Bucs, during which time he was named to two All-Pro teams, and selected to two Pro Bowl berths. Green, a runner up for the Heismann trophy in 1980, started all but one game between being selected in the 1981 draft and the middle of 1984, when he only appeared in 8 games (due, it appears, to a facial fracture near his eye as a result of a three-car pileup). He had five interceptions in his first three years for the Bucs (two of which he returned for touchdowns in 1983), and had 15.3 sacks during his time with the team. He was traded in the middle of the 1985 season to the Dolphins, where he played out the rest of his career. He would remain a starter for most of his career, with the exceptions of 1987 and his final season in the league, 1991.
Green's final season in the NFL, 1991, was also the first season of the next player the Bucs would select at #7, offensive tackle Charles McRae. Unlike Green, McRae was ultimately a bust. He played in every game during his rookie season, but only started 4; his 1992 sophomore campaign saw the only time in his career where he started all 16 games. His level of play, however, meant he soon saw himself shuffled back out of the starting lineup the following season. In a bid to revive his career, he was kicked inside in 1994, and started 10 games at guard, but it wasn't sustainable, and he was again demoted to a backup in 1995. He was allowed to walk in free agency and signed with the Raiders, but only started one game for them, and left the league after 1996. He went into the IT business after his football days, and is currently CEO of a chain of radiology companies - a natural progression from playing offensive line. *cough*
And that takes us to the first draft pick of the short-lived Greg Schiano era, Mark Barron. As you know, the Bucs had actually held the #5 pick, but traded down with the Jaguars to reclaim a fourth round pick which ultimately became instrumental in the team moving back up in the first and second rounds to take Doug Martin and Lavonte David.
Barron's career started pretty hot, making some bone-crunching hits in his first few games; but as the season continued, he appeared to hit a rookie wall, and wasn't helped by being forced to play single-high safety in Greg Schiano's "man-coverage-only" policy he enforced in 2012, allowing the ageing Ronde Barber to play in the box - a misuse of Barron's talents. With Dashon Goldson joining the team in 2013, Barron was allowed to play the role his skillset is best suited for more often - being that in-the-box guy, covering tight ends man-on-man or attacking the line of scrimmage in run support (though Schiano still mixed up his and Goldson's responsibility, rather than having true free-strong roles). Being able to use his natural skills more, his sophomore campaign saw a marked improvement in his play, and he looks like being one of the core young pieces of this defense moving forward.
Receivers taken at #7
So, Evans is the third receiver the Bucs have taken in the first round, and the fourth player the Bucs have taken with the #7 pick, but the first Buccaneer receiver to be taken at #7 - at least, to be taken at #7 by the Bucs, as we'll see. He is, however, the ninth receiver in NFL history to be taken at that position. Here is a brief account of each the other eight.
Burton was the first ever receiver to be taken at #7, being drafted by the New Orleans Saints in 1975. Burton, like the Bucs' own Jeff Demps, was an Olympic athlete as well as a football player, finishing fourth in the 200m sprint in the 1972 Munich games. As a football player, he started 23 of 27 games he appeared in during his first two seasons, hauling in a combined 34 receptions for 602 yards and four touchdowns over those two campaigns. However, he started, and appeared in, just a single game in 1977, and left the Saints after that season. He signed with San Diego in 1978, and appeared in 18 games as a back up over his two years with the team, catching just nine balls as a starter, though he did have a career-high three touchdowns in '78, despite only appearing in three games for them that year. His grandsons, according to Wikipedia, play for the Florida Gators.
It was thirteen years after Burton was made a Saint that a receiver next went at #7, but it was a much different story than Burton's. In the 1988 draft, the Green Bay Packers selected Sterling Sharpe, who went on to start every game for the Pack for the next seven seasons. Sharpe may be better known today as an analyst for NFL Network, but he was a dominant receiver on the field, being selected to five Pro Bowls and four All-Pro teams during his time in the league, leading the NFL in receiving touchdowns twice, receptions three times, and receiving yards once. He was inducted into the Packers' Hall of Fame in 2002, and may have one day followed his brother Shannon to Canton if his career wasn't cut short by a neck injury in 1994. Sharpe's 1992 season saw him become one of only seven NFL players to have ever led the league in receptions, yards and receiving touchdowns in the same season, and he is probably the best receiver so far to have been drafted with the #7 pick.
The next receiver to be taken at #7 was Curtis Conway, whom the Bears drafted in 1993. Curtis had a long NFL career of 12 seasons, and with the exception of his rookie and his final seasons, started almost every game he appeared in - 132 out of 135 appearances between 1994 and 2003. He remained at the Bears for his first seven seasons, putting up 4498 yards and 31 TDs on 329 receptions - and attempting five passes, two of which he completed for touchdowns. He spent three years at the Chargers, where he amassed 2689 yards and 16 touchdowns, before spending one season each at the Jets and the 49ers. With the exception of his rookie season, he never had less than 400 receiving yards in a year, and topped 1000 yards three times. He caught at least one touchdown in every season of his career, setting a career high in 1995 with 12. He now works for the Pac-12 Network and occasionally NFL Network, and is married to Muhammed Ali's daughter.
Glenn was drafted in 1996 by the Patriots, and like Conway, played twelve seasons in the NFL. Glenn was hot out of the gate, being named AFC Rookie of the Year after catching 90 balls (an NFL rookie record that stood for seven seasons) for over 1100 yards and 6 TDs in his first year. He remained a starter for 11 of his twelve years in the NFL, which saw him spend two long stints with teams - six with the Pats, five with the Cowboys - with a one-year stay at Green Bay between them. While he was ostensibly a good receiver for the Patriots, notching his only Pro Bowl appearance as a Pat in 1999 following a campaign where he put up a career-high 1147 receiving yards, his tenure their was marked by turbulence once Bill Parcells departed the team and Bill Belichick took over. He was deactived after four games in 2001 by Belichick due to off-the-field issues - but not before he caught Tom Brady's first ever pass in the NFL. He famously was not invited to receive his 2001 Super Bowl ring with the rest of the team, but was sent it through the post. He was traded to the Packers after the 2001 season, where he put up just over 800 receiving yards and caught a pair of touchdowns, before Green Bay traded him to Dallas the following offseason. As a Cowboy, he had two 1000-yard seasons, and caught a total of 20 touchdowns between 2003 and 2006. He missed the first fifteen weeks of the 2007 season due to injury, and didn't see the field during the one game that season he was active. He was released during the 2008 season with an injury settlement, and retired from the league.
The year after Glenn was drafted, Ike Hilliard was drafted by the Giants in the same spot - though you'll best remember him from his four-year stint with the Bucs, making him technically the first receiver drafted at #7 to play for the Bucs (though Mike Evans remains the first receiver to be drafted by the Bucs at #7). Hilliard became a starter in his second season with the Giants, and over the eight years he was at New York, he caught 368 balls for 4630 yards and 27 touchdowns. Hilliard was a productive receiver, but was not a superstar by any means, never topping 1000 yards during his career - though he finished just four yards short in his best season, 1999, where he also set a career high for receptions with 72. He joined the Bucs in 2005, and spent four seasons mostly as a rotational player, though he started a majority of the 2007 campaign, the last time the Bucs saw the postseason. He was released as part of the Great Veteran Purge that marked the beginning of the Morris/Dominik era, and went into coaching shortly afterwards. He is currently the wide receivers coach for the Redskins.
The next receiver to be taken at #7 was Roy Williams, drafted by the Lions in 2004. Williams was pretty much an immediate starter for Detroit, appearing in 14 games and starting 12 as a rookie. His best season came during his third year in the league, where his NFC-leading 1310 yards saw him voted to his only Pro Bowl appearance. He finished his time with the Lions with just under 4000 yards and 29 TDs, before he was traded during the 2008 season to Dallas for a first-, a third- and a sixth-round draft picks. As part of the trade, Jerry Jones gave him a 6-year, $54 million contract. Despite being paid like a superstar, Williams never topped 600 receiving yards in any season while he was a Cowboy, and he famously had a very antagonistic relationship with a rookie Dez Bryant. He was released by the Cowboys during the 2011 training camp, after which he signed with the Bears on a one-year contract. He retired the following year.
A year after Williams, another receiver was taken #7 in the draft, as the Minnesota Vikings selected Troy Williamson. The trajectory of Williamson's career is most similar to that of Larry Burton's - lasting three years with the team that selected him, two years with another team, and then not finding another opportunity in the league. The Vikes drafted Troy Williamson to replace Randy Moss, hoping his 4.32 speed would translate into an elite receiver. Instead, Williamson never reached 500 yards in a single season, and caught just three touchdowns in his three years with the Vikes. He caught on with the Jaguars in 2008, but after just ten appearances, two starts, eight receptions and a single touchdown in his two years in Jacksonville, Williamson was released in the final roster cut down ahead of the 2010 season.
Finally, we get to Darius Heyward-Bey, the most recent receiver to be taken at #7 before Mike Evans. A classic later-years Al Davis draft pick, Heyward-Bey ran a 4.30 40 time at the combine, which was enough to make Davis pull the trigger on him at #7 in 2009 despite being considered the third-best receiving prospect behind Michael Crabtree and Jeremy Maclin. DHB's rookie season was plagued with hamstring issues, which led him to catching just 9 balls, despite starting 11 games that year - though that might have had something to do with the fact that Jamarcus Russell was throwing him the ball. He would have his best season to date in 2011, when he caught 64 passes for 975 yards, both career highs, and four touchdowns. He was released by the Raiders before last season, but caught on with the Colts, where he started 11 games, catching 29 balls for 309 yards and a touchdown. He signed with the Steelers in early April.
So, that's the history of everyone who's been in a comparable situation to Mike Evans. Hopefully his career will follow the trajectory of Sharpe's and Glenn's, rather than Burton's or Williamson's.