TAMPA — Bottom's up in the draft, where the cellar dwellers in the standings get to go from worst to first in picking college talent.
The Bucs' lousy 3-13 record in 2009 is the reason for their good fortune beginning Thursday as they own the No. 3 overall pick.
"It wasn't exciting building up to it and how we got there," coach Raheem Morris said. "But it's very exciting that we're there now, and we have to draft the best player."
If ever you wanted to be selecting players early in reach rounds, as the Bucs will, this is the year. With so many players fearing a rookie salary cap and potential lockout a year from now, underclassmen left school in record numbers.
A format change, which spreads the draft over three days with Round 1 commencing Thursday, was another bonus.
"I'm very excited about our opportunity with the first pick, but I also like the way the draft is actually formatted with the first round being Thursday night then Friday night the second and third round and then Saturday," general manager Mark Dominik said. "Because of where we are positioned, it gives us not only time to formulate our strategy of what is on the board and what makes sense, but it also gives teams time to decide if they want to make a decision in moving up instead of a typical seven- or five-minute window where you only have X amount of time.
"Now you're giving clubs behind us 24 hours, in some cases, (to ask) is this a place I want to be and how bad do I want to be there. It also gives me 24 hours to say, 'That sounds good, but I like a player and I want to pick them. I might want to move up two spots to St. Louis' selections, or you know that I like the offer but I just got an offer from another club that I like a little better.' And I'll have time to battle that back and forth. In terms of being at the No. 3 spot, it is actually very beneficial to this organization, especially with where we pick."
The Bucs own the third pick in every round but the fifth. With 11 picks, including three of the top 42 and four of the top 67, Dominik hasn't tried to gloss over the importance of this draft. In fact, he said if the 2010 draft class isn't successful, he won't be either.
That's why Dominik has spent the past half-year studying the successful draft strategies of elite organizations such as the Steelers, Colts and Patriots.
"I've spent time over the last six to eight months studying the Pittsburgh Steelers drafts, especially the drafts of the '70s, which was one of the finest drafts of all time when they got Mike Webster and that crew of receivers," Dominik said. "I spent a lot of time researching Bill Polian through his time with Buffalo, Carolina and the Colts. I spent a lot of time researching New England and why they've had continued success, especially in the early periods that built that franchise to what it was going forward.
"There's a lot of time you spend finding elements or correlations, and I think there are some things you can glean out of those things. I certainly hope and think we can do that."
RUNNING OUT OF TIME: CB Ronde Barber, who turned 35 this month, doesn't have much time to wait for the Bucs to build a winner.
In fact, this is his last year under contract and could be his last season in the NFL.
But the Bucs' long-term plan to build through the draft doesn't bother Barber.
"I'll play this year," he said. "Maybe we'll find a way to turn it around, one year away. I'd like to think that. I think that's why I'm still around, to give my senior expertise to some of these young guys. If it takes longer than I'm here, I'm fine with that, too.
"You look for a guy (at No. 3 overall) that can play for us, that can be a franchise kind of guy. We think we got that in a quarterback last year, and whatever they pick this year, whatever the position, whether it's (defensive tackle) or whether it's something else, you want that guy to be one of the rocks of your team. You've got to find that in your first-round pick. If you play bad the year before, you deserve the right to pick somebody that is going to be the foundation for your team."
Times staff writer Joe Smith contributed to this report.