TAMPA — For too many years, the draft has burned like a match for the Bucs — bright and hot after the first day then just a lot of smoke.
Michael Clayton and Cadillac Williams shined as rookies. Davin Joseph has made a Pro Bowl. Barrett Ruud is worthy of one. Jeremy Trueblood and Arron Sears are starters. Aqib Talib tied for the club lead in interceptions.
But after the first two rounds under former GM Bruce Allen, it has been hard to tell if the Bucs have been using a draft board or a dartboard.
If new GM Mark Dominik is going to rebuild the Bucs, he has to reverse the curse of poor second-day choices. Among the 37 players selected on the second day (Rounds 3-7) since 2004, 13 remain with the team (excluding trades).
"I'm very pleased with (Aqib) Talib and Davin (Joseph) and a lot of the first-rounders," Dominik said. "So it's hard to sit here and say the way we did it in the past was the only way."
But Dominik admits the second day hasn't been very productive recently. For every Tanard Jackson (fourth round in '07) there has been an Alan Zamaitis (fourth in '06).
"Yes, but you can look at it a lot of ways," Dominik said. "Over the past few years, we've had a lot of seventh-rounders. Statistically speaking, they struggle to make football teams regardless. There's no doubt that those second-day players … are valuable special teams members. They're valuable contracts.
"They're going to be part of your football team. It's important there's a long-term plan for them but also a short-time capability of getting on the football field. I value them strongly."
IN A RUSH: The Bucs' biggest hole is at defensive tackle, but their biggest need is a pass rusher. Gaines Adams has 121/2 sacks in his first two seasons (team-high 61/2 in 2008).
In the past four seasons, the team has averaged 30.8. But in the eight preceding seasons, the Bucs averaged more than 43.
Currently, the Bucs have only four defensive ends on the roster: Adams, Jimmy Wilkerson, Stylez (Greg) White and Louis Holmes. It's unknown if they plan to re-sign Kevin Carter, but his days as a sackmaster are behind him.
Since the club's inception, the Bucs have selected 12 defensive ends in the first three rounds.
CONFLICT OF INTEREST? It's always fascinating the way dominoes fall.
Consider the case of three quarterbacks, all represented by Creative Artists Agency: Byron Leftwich, Charlie Batch and Josh Freeman, a prospect from Kansas State.
Leftwich wanted a chance to compete as a starter but could have returned to the Steelers as a backup to Ben Roethlisberger. It's also where Charlie Batch wanted to return. So Leftwich strikes a deal with Tampa Bay for two years, $7.5 million. That opens the door for Batch, who received limited interest as a free agent, to return to the Steelers.
But Leftwich's signing means the Bucs might bypass Freeman at No. 19, so he could tumble into the second round. Then again, if Freeman sneaks into the first round, all three get exactly what they want despite the daisy chain reaction.