Welcome to The Hook, my weekly column that hooks you into a different Tampa Bay Buccaneers topic each Thursday, as well as some of my thoughts on the Bucs and the NFL at the end in a section called Cannon Blast.
I invite you to offer me some feedback on The Hook below in the article comments section.
It is no secret the Buccaneers haven’t been to the playoffs since the 2007 season.
That’s 12 years.
A myriad of issues have contributed to the failure to reach the postseason, including bad decisions by ownership, poor coaching and players, including most free agents signed over the past dozen years, that didn’t live up to expectations.
But perhaps the biggest answer to the question of why Tampa Bay has been stuck in quicksand in a quest for the playoffs, has been the poor drafts over the years. While the general manager takes most of the blame, as they should, their scouting staff, coaches – and even ownership – have a hand in it as well.
The Bucs have drafted 77 players over the last 12 years, and only eight have been to the Pro Bowl. Of those 77 players drafted, 38 of them are no longer in the NFL, which is half. Of those 38 players, 13 were drafted in the first three rounds.
Hindsight is 20/20 and that is one of the reasons why I love my job. I can sit back and second guess everything from Bucs uniform designs, to the brand of hotdogs sold at the stadium, to the players the Buccaneers draft.
Is it fair? Of course not. But NFL general managers earn in a couple weeks what I make for a salary in an entire year. That doesn’t even account for the brand new Mercedes Benz lease they get with the Bucs, while I am pushing 219,000 miles on my ol’ Chevrolet Malibu.
So I don’t really feel sorry for the general managers, scouting and coaching staffs. They do okay.
Now back to the fun part of my job. In this week’s Hook column I will take a look at the last 12 drafts by the Buccaneers and point out their dreadful mistakes and their successes – and also offer up who Tampa Bay should have drafted instead. This isn’t scientific, and I am not building a roster with a plan. I’m just playing Monday morning quarterback for the organization.
2008 First Round Pick: CB Aqib Talib – No. 20 overall
Should Have Drafted: CB Aqib Talib
Jon Gruden and Bruce Allen got this one right for the most part. Talib, despite being somewhat of a knucklehead in Tampa Bay, was an extremely productive player on the field for the Buccaneers before wearing out his welcome and being traded in 2012 by head coach Greg Schiano and general manager Mark Dominik. Over his career, Talib has nabbed 35 interceptions and scored 10 touchdowns. He made five Pro Bowls and helped the Broncos win the Super Bowl in 2015, but never made a Pro Bowl in Tampa Bay.
Other Draft Possibilities: DE Calais Campbell, RB Matt Forte, WR Jordy Nelson
2009 First Round Pick: QB Josh Freeman – No. 17 overall
Should Have Drafted: C Alex Mack
The Buccaneers needed a quarterback in 2009, but in hindsight, moving up to take Freeman didn’t pan out. While Freeman ended up flaming out midway through the 2013 season, he did lead the Buccaneers to a 10-6, 2010 season, where they narrowly missed the playoffs. He also became the Bucs’ all-time touchdown passing leader and became the first Tampa Bay QB to throw for 4,000 yards in a season before Jameis Winston topped him in those categories years later. At the end of the day there were a number of players that have went on to have more successful and more impactful careers in the league. Freeman’s own personal issues, combined with an oil and water relationship with then head coach Greg Schiano was one of the most frustrating things Bucs fans have seen over the years.
Other Draft Possibilities: Clay Matthews, LeSean McCoy, Patrick Chung
2010 First Round Pick: DT Gerald McCoy – No. 3 overall
Should Have Drafted: Gerald McCoy
McCoy was a consolation prize after the Lions selected Ndamukong Suh just ahead of the Buccaneers, but he ended up being a heck of a backup plan. McCoy played nine seasons for the Buccaneers and was one of the team’s best defensive players over the last decade. Six Pro Bowls and three All-Pro selections validate the selection by general manager Mark Dominik – even if the team originally preferred Suh. The two defensive tackles have ended up having nearly identical careers. While it is hard to argue the Bucs section of McCoy in the first round, the big blunder came a round later when the team took UCLA defensive tackle Brian Price and passed on tight end Rob Gronkowski.
Other Draft Possibilities: S Eric Berry, S Earl Thomas, DB Devin McCourty
2011 First Round Pick: De Adrian Clayborn – No. 20 overall
Should Have Drafted: DE Cameron Jordan
Clayborn was a solid player for the Buccaneers but never a star. Clayborn was often injured during his four seasons in Tampa Bay, playing in all 16 games just twice. His best season came in 2011 as a rookie where he collected 7.5 sacks and three forced fumbles. The former Iowa standout had continued to bounce around the league since his time in Tampa Bay including last season with the Falcons. Meanwhile, Jordan has terrorized the Bucs ever since, recording 87 sacks for division rival New Orleans and making five Pro Bowls.
Other Draft Possibilities: RB Mark Ingram Jr., QB Andy Dalton, QB Colin Kaepernick
2012 First Round Pick: S Mark Barron – No. 7 overall
2012 First Round Pick: RB Doug Martin – No. 31 overall
Should Have Drafted: LB Luke Kuechly
Yikes! This one was a tough pill to swallow in hindsight. Barron was okay in Tampa Bay but never really excelled, and the Bucs ended up taking Lavonte David in this draft which may be Dominik’s best pick during his tenure. But the team passed on Kuechly, who went onto to become a megastar in Carolina and give the Bucs’ fits for nearly a decade. Imagine having both David and Kuechly on Tampa Bay’s defense? Of course maybe the Bucs don’t take David if they had drafted Kuechly, but the possibility of having both of top-notch linebackers on the same defense still causes Bucs fans indigestion when they think about it.
Other Draft Possibilities: DT Dontari Poe, S Harrison Smith, LB Bobby Wagner
2013 First Round Pick: None (Traded for CB Darrelle Revis)
Should Have Drafted: RB Le’Veon Bell
The Buccaneers pulled off a blockbuster trade prior to the draft, acquiring Revis, who was a star cornerback, but coming off a serious knee injury. Revis lasted one season in Tampa Bay and was never a great fit in the Bucs zone-based defensive scheme. He made the Pro Bowl in 2013 off his reputation, but was released the next year during a regime change. Tampa Bay selected another cornerback, Johnthan Banks in the second round, who was mediocre at best with the Buccaneers. Trading away a first-round pick to rent a player like Revis for a year was a serious blunder as Tampa Bay went 4-12.
Other Draft Possibilities: TE Tyler Eifert, CB Desmond Trufant, CB Xavier Rhodes
2014 First Round Pick: WR Mike Evans – No. 7 overall
Should Have Drafted: WR Mike Evans
Jason Licht nailed his first pick as the Buccaneers general manager with the selection of Evans, who has went on to become one of the best receivers in the league and a three-time Pro Bowler. Evans has been a workhorse, has been durable for the most part, and his enormous wingspan and overall size make him huge target for whoever is under center for the Buccaneers. Evans has been Tampa Bay’s best draft pick over the last 12 years and is on a Hall of Fame trajectory.
Other Draft Possibilities: DT Aaron Donald, C Zack Martin, LB C.J. Mosley
2015 First Round Pick: QB Jameis Winston – No. 1 overall
Should Have Drafted:QB Jameis Winston
You have to roll the dice sometimes and that is exactly what the Buccaneers did in 2015. Even knowing how it turned out, Winston was still the right choice, especially over Marcus Mariota. Arguments can be made and debates can be had all day long, but had Winston been able to conquer his penchant for throwing the ball to the other team, he would have justified his draft position. He wound up as the franchise’s all-time leading passer, career TD pass leader, single-season TD pass leader, and the QB with most 4,000-yard seasons. His 5,190 passing year last season was the most yards in a single season and led the NFL. Tampa Bay needed a quarterback badly in 2015, and the drop off after Winston and Mariota was huge that year.
Other Draft Possibilities: RB Todd Gurley, DT Leonard Williams, RB Melvin Gordon
2016 First Round Pick: CB Vernon Hargreaves III – No. 11 overall
Should Have Drafted: S Keanu Neal
This was a bad draft. Actually, it was an awful draft, starting with Hargreaves, who was oft-injured and often beaten. Tampa Bay dropped back a couple spots (from No. 9 to No. 11), and picked up an extra draft pick which they used to select a kicker, who will remain nameless. If Jason Licht could invent a time machine and go back to that April weekend in 2016, things would be much, much different.
Other Draft Possibilities: OT Laremy Tunsil, DT Sheldon Rankins, WR Michael Thomas
2017 First Round Pick: TE O.J. Howard – No. 20 overall
Should Have Drafted: RB Dalvin Cook
When the 2017 draft started, no one expected Howard to slip to No. 20 where the Buccaneers were picking. Many had Howard as a Top 10 selection and at worst felt he would be selected in the top 15. So when the Titans took cornerback Adoreè Jackson at No. 19, the Bucs war room was elated. Since then, the excitement has cooled off somewhat as Howard had underwhelmed at times. The team still believes he has more of a ceiling than he has shown, and picked up his fifth-year option for 2021. The jury is still out, but Cook, who slid to Minnesota in the second round, would have given Winston a heck of a running game and things may have turned out differently for Winston and the Bucs.
Other Draft Possibilities: DB Budda Baker, WR JuJu Smith-Schuster, RB Alvin Kamara
2018 First Round Pick: DT Vita Vea – No. 12 overall
Should Have Drafted: QB Lamar Jackson
I would love to say the Buccaneers should have taken safety Derwin James instead of Vea, as I was very vocal at the time that Tampa Bay was making a huge mistake. And James could go on to have a better career than Vea. But as of now it is hard to fault the Buccaneers for taking Vea, who had blossomed into one of the best run-stuffers in the NFL – and he can still get a lot better. James had a Pro Bowl rookie season, but a serious foot injury ended his second season before it really got started. The Buccaneers didn’t need a quarterback in 2018, or at least didn’t feel like they did, but in hindsight, how could you not love what Jackson has done in the NFL so far, including being named the NFL MVP in 2019?
Other Draft Possibilities: WR Calvin Ridley, RB Nick Chubb, EDGE Marcus Davenport
2019 First Round Pick: LB Devin White – No. 5 overall
Should Have Drafted: To be determined
The jury is still out on White, but after one season you can see the traits that attracted the Buccaneers who selected the former LSU star to replace Kwon Alexander. He had 91 tackles in 13 games, four fumble recoveries, three forced fumbles, 2.5 sacks, two defensive touchdowns and one interception in his rookie season, so he’s off to a very good start.
Other Draft Possibilities: EDGE Josh Allen, DT Jeffrey Simmons, RB Josh Jacobs
Well there you have the re-drafting of the Bucs’ first round. It’s clearly not scientific, but it shows the hits and misses over the last 12 drafts.
What do you think Bucs fans? Who would you have other seen Tampa Bay take?
Let me know in the comment section below.
Cook’s musings and ramblings about the Buccaneers and the NFL. Good stuff. Check it out.
• COVID-19 be damned, the NFL is charging ahead to have a season in 2020! And that is a good thing – maybe. If the league can pull it off. I am still skeptical how it will happen, but maybe things get better in a month by the time camps open up.
Earlier this week a report come out that the NFL wants to reduce the preseason by at least two games, and perhaps even eliminate all four.
Hallelujah! This is the best news I have heard all year.
I get why teams like to have four preseason games. The evaluation process is tedious and more than one player has become a star after making a team with a great fourth preseason game. Remember Adam Humphries versus Miami in the 2015 preseason?
So I get it. But making fans pay full price to watch an exhibition stadium? To sit in a stadium on a Thursday night dodging lighting bolts and rain delays to see a majority of players who will be long forgotten?
And while we complain now about four preseason games, I am old enough to remember when teams played SIX preseason games. True story. Look it up.
• I had a great week of vacation last week spending time down at the beach. Sure, wearing a face mask isn’t fun, but it was still better to do it walking around the Ringling Museum of Art than doing it walking around at my local grocery store. We ate way too much, got a little too much sun, and I had my annual margarita at the Bridgetender Tiki Hut.
But now here is my PSA for all of us old guys. Especially ones like myself with some diabetic issues.
WEAR YOUR SHOES AND DON”T WALK ON THE HOT SAND WITHOUT THEM!
Yeah, I was that dummy. First day on vacation and I decided to walk down to the water without my flip flops or any shoes.
At noon. With the sand over 100 degrees.
The crazy thing is I didn’t even feel the heat. Which should have been a dead giveaway. And it wasn’t until the next day when I was sitting in my room just rubbing my feet and noticed something funny feeling. Oh, it was only my skin peeling off. So guess who spent the next six days taking it easy, with bandages on my feet and wearing socks and shoes everywhere I went including down on the beach? Yeah, this guy.
Fortunately, they seem to be getting better and haven’t turned into any diabetic ulcers. But let me tell you, not being able to get in the water, and walking around looking like a tourist from Newark wearing socks and shoes instead of flip flops, isn’t the ideal way to spend your vacation.
In the words of America’s poet and philosopher Wilford Brimley, “Check your blood sugar and check it often. And don’t walk on the hot sand without shoes, you big dummy.”
Do I even need to say anything?
— NFL Memes (@NFL_Memes) June 30, 2020