Retooling Buccaneers high on tall draft picks
MAY 17, 2014 6:11p ET
TAMPA, Fla. (AP) The Tampa Bay Buccaneers drafted three tall, physical players who were once basketball standouts with aspirations of playing in the NBA, prompting general manager Jason Licht to jokingly refer to the team as the Dunkaneers.
Receiver Mike Evans, tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins and tackle Kevin Pamphile are all listed at 6-foot-5 and figure into plans to improve an offense that was among the worst in the NFL last season.
All were basketball stars in high school.
Seferian-Jenkins tried his hand at being a two-sport athlete at Washington. Evans and Pamphile gave up their hoops dreams late in their prep careers and have only been playing football for a relatively short period of time.
Licht and coach Lovie Smith, who have been overhauling the Bucs since being hired in January, said it's purely coincidence that half the team's draft picks have basketball backgrounds.
But both feel, however, that Evans, Seferian-Jenkins and Pamphile have a chance to be productive pros, in part because of skills they honed as basketball players.
''My experience with that is that it's hard playing basketball. Anybody can't go out there and play basketball. It takes a good athlete with quickness, size. It's a lot of different things you get playing basketball, and if everybody can't do it normally that translates to getting good production on the football field,'' Smith said. ''Same thing with everyone can't run fast. All of those things if can do something exceptional, it can help you as a football player.''
The Bucs envision Evans, the seventh overall pick in the draft, and second-rounder Seferian-Jenkins teaming with veteran Vincent Jenkins, another 6-5 receiver, to give quarterback Josh McCown three big, physical targets capable posing matchup problems for opposing defenses.
McCown, signed in free agency to be Tampa Bay's starter and being a backup for most of his career, is coming off his best NFL season. He threw for 1,829 yards, 13 touchdowns and just one interception in eight games (five starts) for the Chicago Bears, who featured a couple of big, physical receivers in Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery.
''I saw what two big receivers can do,'' Smith said. ''It's a tough matchup if you just look at the average height of most cornerbacks in this league. You might have a 6-foot corner, but you normally don't have two big guys that can match up like that. We want to score points any way we can. This is a combination that looked pretty attractive to us.''
Evans averaged 18.3 points, 8.4 rebounds and 5.2 assists as a senior in his school. The same year, he took up football and did well enough to land a scholarship offer to Texas A&M, who he evolved from a raw prospect into one of the nation's best receivers.
The first-round draft pick has learned to use his basketball background to his advantage.
''It helps a lot. When you see me go up for catches, I'm treating it like a rebound ... using my God-given talent and big body to box guys out for catches,'' Evans said.
Seferian-Jenkins joined Washington's basketball team as a freshman walk-on, serving a reserve forward for the Huskies, who won the Pac-12 Conference regular season championship and reached the semifinals of the National Invitation Tournament.
''Being able to play basketball at a high level, adjusting to the ball in the air, quick feet, quick hands and all that stuff definitely translates to playing tight end in the National Football League,'' said Seferian-Jenkins, who had 146 receptions for 1,840 yards and 21 TDs in three seasons at Washington.
''Foot work, hand-eye coordination. There's a lot of things,'' the 262-pound tight end added. ''If you just watch basketball, you can tell where it would help someone who's receiving the ball.''
Pamphile is another former hoops star who didn't start playing football until a coach at Miami Central High persuaded him he could excel at both sports.
''He kept hounding me, telling me I should go play football. After my junior year of playing basketball and (receving) no scholarships, i came and gave it a shot,'' said Pamphile, who went on play at Purdue, where he made the transition from defensive line to offensive tackle as a redshirt sophomre.
Less than two years later, he's in the NFL as a fifth-round draft pick.
''I didn't think it was going to happen this fast or happen the way it is happening right now,'' Pamphile said. ''I'm just happy and blessed.''
AP NFL websites: www.pro32.ap.org and www.twitter.com/AP-NFL