In the NFL, April is a month for guesses and gambles. It’s a time when countless hours of study, interviews and dissection of combine results are traded for choice. This can be a rewarding process, certainly, but drama is found in the risk.
Prepare for more. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ draft record over the past five years has included variety. It’s a resume that boasts bona-fide gems, diamonds in the rough and, yes, some fool’s gold.
On April 25, general manager Mark Dominik and coach Greg Schiano will begin their second draft together. But before moving forward, let’s glance back at the past half-decade, a time that saw the close of two eras – under Jon Gruden and Raheem Morris – and the rise of another with a first-time NFL head coach.
Guesses, gambles, great unknowns. Welcome to draft season.
2012: S Mark Barron, seventh overall (B+) – He’s a physical secondary player with upside who had 88 tackles and one interception as a rookie. Look for him to continue to develop alongside free-agent signee Dashon Goldson.
2012: RB Doug Martin, 31st overall (A) – The 5-foot-9, 215-pound Boise State product became one of the NFL’s most productive rookies by rushing for 1,454 yards and 11 touchdowns. He’s a Schiano selection, so he’s safe for the near future.
2011: DE Adrian Clayborn, 20th overall (C+) – He only played three games last season because of a torn ligament in his right knee sustained in a loss to the Dallas Cowboys in Week 3. He had 7.5 sacks his rookie season, so he can be a factor if healthy.
2010: DT Gerald McCoy, third overall (B-) – He recovered well last season with a career-high five sacks and 30 tackles after only playing six games in 2011. The Bucs would like to see more progress this season.
2009: QB Josh Freeman, 17th overall (B-) – He posted career-high numbers in passing yards (4,065) and touchdowns (27) last season. He can produce erratic play at times, though, so he has work to do to gain Schiano’s full trust.
2008: CB Aqib Talib, 20th overall (C-) – He’s physically gifted, but he lacked the self-discipline with the Bucs to reach his full potential here. A trade to the New England Patriots last November was best for both him and Tampa Bay.
2010: WR Arrelious Benn, second round, 39th overall – He never had more than 441 yards receiving in a single year (2011). By last season, his final one with the Bucs before signing with the Philadelphia Eagles, he hardly made an impact by only playing eight games.
2010: DT Brian Price, second round, 35th overall – He played 20 games combined with the Bucs in 2010 and ’11. Injury, tension with some teammates and personal misfortune – he lost his sister in a car accident last May – made his road difficult.
2008: CB Aqib Talib – He started well, earning a combined 15 interceptions in his first three NFL seasons. But it became clear by his final days with the Bucs that it was time to move on.
Late-round success stories
2011: S Ahmad Black, fifth round, 151st overall – He earned two interceptions and a career-high 36 tackles last season. Not bad for someone who played just four games as a rookie.
2010: WR Mike Williams, fourth round, 101st overall – He has emerged as one of the Bucs’ top targets. He had 996 yards receiving last season, his second campaign of at least 900 in the category.
2009: CB E.J. Biggers, seventh round, 217th overall – He started a career-high 12 games last season. His contributions made him valuable enough to catch the attention of the Washington Redskins, who reunited him in free agency with Raheem Morris, now the defensive backs coach under Mike Shanahan.
2008: LB Geno Hayes, sixth round, 175th overall – He played no fewer than 15 games each season in his last three years with Tampa Bay. He earned 16 tackles with the Chicago Bears in 2012.
Like most teams, the Bucs had some hits (Martin, Williams and Barron) and other large misses (Talib) in the past five years. Thirty-seven players were drafted in the span, and 22 remain on roster. Here’s the breakdown for a group that contributed to a record of 33-47 (no playoff appearances):
2012: 7 players drafted/7 remain on current roster
So the key lesson from the draft is this: All preparation in the world can’t account for X-factors, injuries, a player’s drive and other elements that make this time of year an inexact science in war rooms across the NFL. Soon, Schiano and Dominik will do this dance again. It’s their chance to mold a franchise in their image. But in the end, all they can do is watch, wait and wonder if it all will come together as planned.