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The NFL Draft is not an exact science. However, the teams that hit on the majority of their draft picks usually are the ones that remain competitive for several consecutive seasons.
The ones that don’t struggle to compete and often times find themselves using free agency to make up for their draft day mistakes, which can later lead to salary cap problems.
Tampa Bay is in the process of determining its 2007 roster, and some of the Bucs' final roster cuts could be some of the team's previous years' draft picks, such as last year's fourth-round pick, cornerback Alan Zemaitis, who has not lived up to the Bucs' expectations.
The Bucs have had their fair share of hits and misses on draft weekend, and in this installment of Flynn’s Focus, we will take a look at least one wasted pick from each of Tampa Bay's draft classes since 2000 and use hindsight to reveal which player(s) the Bucs could have – and probably should have – drafted in their place.
It's important to note that there's no guarantee that any of the players that the Bucs passed on in previous drafts would have had the type of success they have had with their respective teams. However, it's still interesting to go back in history and think about what what might have been for the Bucs.
2006 NFL DRAFT
With the 156th overall pick in the 2006 NFL Draft, the Bucs selected defensive lineman Julian Jenkins, who played collegiately at Stanford. The Bucs liked Jenkins’ versatility, which is why the selected him over defensive end Mark Anderson, who went to the Chicago Bears three picks later.
That turned out to be a big mistake. Tampa Bay’s defense generated just 26 sacks, 19 of which came from the defensive line. Jenkins saw limited action and had little impact as a rookie. Anderson, on the other hand, worked his way into the rotation in Chicago and notched 12 sacks in the regular season and added one quarterback takedown in the playoffs en route to helping the Bears make a trip to the Super Bowl. To make matters worse, Jenkins might not even make Tampa Bay’s 53-man roster in 2007.
2005 NFL DRAFT
Tampa Bay traded wide receiver Keenan McCardell to San Diego in October of 2004 in exchange for the Chargers’ third- and fifth-round picks in the 2005 NFL Draft. With the third-round pick, which was the Bucs’ second selection in the third round that year, Tampa Bay opted to take North Carolina State offensive tackle Chris Colmer with the 91st overall selection despite the fact that he missed his entire junior season with Parsonage-Turner Syndrome, a rare virus that typically affects the shoulder and doesn’t have a specific treatment. Colmer was inactive for every game in his rookie season and missed the entire 2006 season due to the same virus. Colmer failed a team physical and was released by the Bucs in June. He never played a down in a regular season game for Tampa Bay and is one of the franchise's all-time busts.
Instead of taking Colmer, the Bucs could have drafted Dallas running back Marion Barber, who went to Dallas with the 109th overall pick, wide receiver Jerome Mathis, who joined Houston with the 114th overall pick in the draft, or safety Kerry Rhodes, who was selected by the New York Jets with the 123rd pick.
Mathis averaged 28.5 yards per kickoff return and scored two touchdowns as a rookie en route to making the Pro Bowl. To this date, the Bucs have never returned a kickoff for a touchdown in a regular season game.
Barber has rushed for 1,192 yards (4.4 avg.) and 19 touchdowns while hauling in 41 passes for 311 yards and two touchdowns. Barber scored a total of 16 touchdowns in 2006.
Rhodes, a player former Bucs DBs coach Mike Tomlin really liked, has notched six sacks, four forced fumbles, five interceptions and 20 passes defensed while establishing himself as New York’s starting strong safety.
Tampa Bay rolled the dice with its 2005 fifth-round draft pick when it selected Pearl River Community College wide receiver Larry Brackins with the 155th overall pick. Brackins had great athleticism and size, but he was untested against superior competition. He didn’t come close to panning out at the pro level. Brackins was released and signed to the practice squad in his rookie year and was cut before the 2006 training camp even began.
There weren’t a ton of great players that the Bucs could have taken instead of Brackins, but linebacker Michael Boley certainly was an option. Boley, who was selected the Atlanta Falcons with the 160th overall pick, played for Tampa Bay’s coaching staff at the Senior Bowl and likely would have been a good fit for the Bucs, who had to draft a pair of LBs in 2007 (Quincy Black and Adam Hayward).
2004 NFL DRAFT
The Bucs used the 15th overall pick in the 2004 NFL Draft to select LSU wide receiver Michael Clayton, who exploded on to the scene as a rookie by catching a team-leading 80 passes for 1,193 yards and seven touchdowns. However, Clayton has struggled with injuries and dropped passes since then. In fact, he’s caught just 55 passes and one touchdown over the past two seasons and was recently mentioned as a candidate to be traded in a NFL Network report.
Had the Bucs not selected Clayton, they could have had some very good players, including linebacker D.J. Williams (17th overall – Denver), defensive end Will Smith (18th overall – New Orleans) or running back Steven Jackson (24th overall – St. Louis).
Williams has established himself as a solid defender in Denver. Smith has proven to be one of the league’s best pass rushers, recording 26.5 sacks and 11 forced fumbles in three seasons with the Saints. Jackson, whose knee injury caused him to drop in the draft, has rushed for 3,247 yards (4.4 avg.) and 25 touchdowns while catching 152 passes for 1,315 yards and five touchdowns in three seasons with the Rams.
If you don’t want to label Clayton as a bust, linebacker Marquise Cooper certainly fits that description. The Bucs used their third-round pick (79th overall) to select Cooper in 2004. He never cracked the starting lineup and was released during the 2006 preseason.
Instead of Cooper, the Bucs could have drafted tight end Chris Cooley, who has caught 165 passes for 1,822 yards and 19 touchdowns for the Washington Redskins, who landed Cooley two picks after the Bucs selected Cooper.
2003 NFL DRAFT
The Bucs had two fourth-round draft picks in 2003, and they invested them in tackle Lance Nimmo (130th overall pick) and center Austin King (133rd overall selection). Neither player made an impact in Tampa Bay.
Take your pick, but the Bucs could have drafted defensive end Robert Mathis in place of either one of these players. Mathis, who has recorded 35 career sacks and 19 forced fumbles since 2003, was selected by the Colts with the 138th overall pick in the 2003 NFL Draft.
2002 NFL DRAFT
The Bucs were without their first- and second-round picks in the 2002 NFL Draft due to the trade with Oakland that sent head coach Jon Gruden to Tampa Bay. The Bucs used their third- and fourth-round picks to select wide receiver Marquise Walker (86th overall) and running back Travis Stephens (119th overall pick), respectively. Walker was slow, had an attitude and also had trouble learning his playbook. He was placed on injured reserve his rookie season and traded to Arizona for RB Thomas Jones in the summer of 2003.
The Bucs could have drafted Villanova RB Brian Westbrook, who went to the Eagles with the 91st overall pick in the draft, instead of Walker. Westbrook has rushed for 3,452 yards (4.7 avg.) and 20 touchdowns and caught 257 passes for 2,436 yards and 18 touchdowns since 2002.
Stephens struggled as a runner and couldn’t catch a cold, let alone a pass, which led to his eventual release. Tampa Bay would have been better off using that pick to select running back Najeh Davenport (4.7 career rushing average) or defensive tackle Rocky Bernard (21.5 career sacks), who later went to Green Bay and Seattle, respectively.
2001 NFL DRAFT
Tampa Bay traded its first (21st overall) and second-round draft picks to the Buffalo Bills to move up to the 14th overall pick and select tackle Kenyatta Walker in the 2001 NFL Draft. Although Tampa Bay won a Super Bowl with him as its starting right tackle, Walker moved bounced around along the line struggled with illegal hands to the face penalties and never lived up to his potential. He was released during the 2007 offseason.
The fact that the Bucs traded up in the first round wasn't the problem. it was who they decided to draft. Had the Bucs still traded up with the Bills in that draft, they could have selected wide receiver Santana Moss, tackle Jeff Backus or running back Deuce McAllister instead of Walker.
Backus has served as Detroit’s franchise left tackle, Moss has caught 290 passes for 4,689 yards (16.2 avg.) and 34 touchdowns, and McAllister has rushed for 5,586 yards (4.3 avg.) and 44 touchdowns while catching 212 passes for 1,577 yards and four scores.
Had Tampa Bay stayed at No. 21 overall, it likely would have been in position to select cornerback Nate Clements, a player the Bucs liked who has hauled in 23 interceptions and became the highest-paid cornerback in the NFL this offseason when he signed with San Francisco in free agency.
And with the 58th overall pick in the draft, which the Bucs surrendered to the Bills in the trade up to get Walker, Tampa Bay could have used it to select defensive tackle Shaun Rogers, who was taken by Detroit with the 61st overall pick. The 6-foot-4, 345-pound Rogers has recorded 22 sacks and been a force against the run for the Lions.
2000 NFL DRAFT
The Bucs opted to use their fifth-round pick (157th overall) in the 2000 NFL Draft to select tight end James Whalen, who injured his shoulder during his rookie season and didn’t stick around long.
There’s never any guarantee that fifth round picks are going to pan out, but what makes the Whalen pick look bad in hindsight is the fact that the Bucs could have drafted quarterback Marc Bulger or defensive end Adalius Thomas in his place.
Bulger has played exceptionally well for St. Louis and is a Pro Bowl quarterback. He has completed 64.4 percent of his passes for 16,233 yards and tossed 95 touchdowns and just 59 interceptions.
Thomas is one of the NFL's best defensive ends. He has notched 38.5 sacks with Baltimore before signing with New England in free agency during the 2007 offseason.
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