TAMPA — As general manager Mark Dominik left One Buc Place after the first round of the NFL draft early Friday, he could not stop thinking about free-falling Clemson defensive end Da'Quan Bowers.
Listed as the No. 1 pick in at least one ESPN mock draft as recently as Feb. 10, Bowers led the nation with 151/2 sacks and 26 tackles for loss last year. But that was before a torn meniscus in Bowers' right knee caused teams to give a stiff arm to the best pass rusher in college football.
"In my mind — and I said to a few people in the organization — if Da'Quan is there at (No.) 51, we're going to take him," Dominik said Friday. "And I stuck to that."
The Bucs completed their set of bookend defensive ends, selecting Bowers in the second round, 51st overall. Thursday, the Bucs drafted Iowa's Adrian Clayborn 20th in the first round.
Bowers had arthroscopic surgery in January. But Dominik said that without the knee injury, Bowers was "obviously a top-10 talent. No debate."
The Bucs' emphasis on defense continued in the third round when they selected Washington linebacker Mason Foster.
Barrett Ruud, Quincy Black and Adam Hayward are all potential free agents. And the 6-foot-1, 241-pound Foster has been a good pass rusher, with 61/2 sacks last season.
"He's one of the guys who has the mental makeup to play all three linebacker positions," coach Raheem Morris said. "The thing that intrigued the most … was at the Senior Bowl. I watched him practice, and he hit everything that moved. Then you got a chance to meet him and you could see how much he loves football."
While Clayborn, who arrived at One Buc Place on Friday, was Tampa Bay's first-round pick, Bowers might create the most buzz.
Dominik said Bucs team doctors don't believe Bowers will have any long-term affects from his knee surgery and expect him to play in 2011.
"The last 24 hours have been crazy long. It's been grueling, just waiting for that one phone call," Bowers said. "I'm just glad for the opportunity Tampa Bay gave me. I just want to show them they made a great pick and it wasn't a mistake picking me.
"I didn't expect the wait to be this long. I was expecting to go off the board in the first round."
Bowers, who will play left end, completes the construction of a new defensive front for the Bucs, who finished tied for 30th in the NFL in sacks last season with 26.
A year ago, Tampa Bay used their first- and second-round picks on defensive tackles — Oklahoma's Gerald McCoy and UCLA's Brian Price.
McCoy went nine games without a sack and finished with three despite missing the final month of the season with a torn left biceps. Price was limited with a stress fracture near his pelvis and was placed on injured reserve. Both are expected to recover fully.
Several NFL teams reportedly took Bowers off their draft board after his medical evaluation. ESPN's Chris Mortensen reported Friday that Bowers might eventually need another surgery and could take more than six months to recover.
But the Bucs obviously believed Bowers was a great value late in the second round and wanted to upgrade their pass rush.
"For me, the value for this pick was too strong," Dominik said. "I feel like we're in a spot on the defensive line and really as an organization where we're building this thing. I felt like it was worth this selection."
The plan, Dominik said, is to give Bowers time to let his knee completely heal. But he is confident the Clemson star will play next season.
"I'm sure this has been a tough ordeal on Da'Quan," said former Bucs safety John Lynch, who read Tampa Bay's second-round pick at New York's Radio City Music Hall. "His name was on everybody's draft board before the injury and to have this fall, it felt good to break the good news.
"I love what the Bucs are doing there. I'm a huge believer you build up front on back and from the middle on out and good things will happen. Last year, they got the two defensive tackles and now they get two bookends. I applaud them for having the guts to pull the trigger."