TAMPA — As widely speculated, the Bucs indeed traded their second-round pick Saturday and selected a receiver on the first day of the draft.
But the result likely came as a surprise.
Tampa Bay moved six picks down in the second round, from 52nd to 58th, in a trade with Jacksonville (getting a fifth-round pick for today and 2009 seventh-rounder) and selected Appalachian State's Dexter Jackson.
Bucs coach Jon Gruden said the 5-foot-9, 182-pound speedster gives his team an explosive playmaker, someone who could help as much on special teams (punt and kick returns) as receiver.
Jackson averaged 22.9 yards per reception last season as a slot receiver and split end, but for a franchise that boasts just one kick return for a touchdown in its 32-year history, the Decatur, Ga., native offers the Bucs a much-needed home run threat.
"He's a quick-strike guy," Gruden said. "You see him catch balls down the field. You see him catching quick screens. If he can make one guy miss and find a crease, he's capable of hitting it."
Just ask Michigan.
Jackson became the face of the I-AA Mountaineers' 34-32 upset last season, scoring two touchdowns and earning a spot on the cover of Sports Illustrated.
Jackson said the Michigan game helped his stock, which rose dramatically since the beginning of the season, when, "I was already thinking free agent."
After he ran a 4.37 40-yard dash at the NFL combine and had a strong pro workout day, he believed he would go in the late second or early third round. But when Jackson saw no receivers picked in the first round Saturday (for the first time since 1990), he "started to worry a lot."
But a quick conversation with Gruden fixed that.
"I was very overwhelmed," Jackson said. "It was a blessing."
The Bucs were believed to have targeted Cal receiver DeSean Jackson (who was picked by the Eagles earlier). But Gruden said he believed the two Jacksons and Houston's Donnie Avery were similar in size and speed.
Jackson said the success of the Patriots' Wes Welker, who wreaked havoc in the slot with 112 catches in 2007 despite his 5-9 frame, increased his value.
"I just feel like the mismatches, it makes other teams draft nickels and fast corners to guard us in the slot," Jackson said. "I feel with my size, I might not be the tallest thing. But I feel like my work ethic and my speed can really make some problems for the defense."
Joe Smith can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.