After one of the worst seasons in team history, the Bucs deserve a high five.
Tampa Bay owns the No. 5 overall pick in the draft, its highest spot in 15 years, by virtue of its 5-11 record.
With a lack of playmakers on offense, it's probably a good position to be in.
Depending on what juniors declare for the draft, as many as three running backs could go in the first five picks. The list includes Auburn's Ronnie Brown and Carnell "Cadillac" Williams, and Texas' Cedric Benson, who gained 1,000 yards four straight seasons.
But the most intriguing player who might be available is Tampa's Mike Williams. The former Southern Cal receiver did not play in 2004 after the courts denied his entrance to the NFL draft, and he was declared ineligible by the NCAA. But he was dominant in two seasons at USC, with 176 receptions for 2,579 yards and 30 touchdowns.
"The draft obviously will be a possibility to help us," coach Jon Gruden said. "We do have 11 draft picks in this year's draft, which is a novelty to us. We have not had that in recent years. We'll look at the availability of players, and once we see who we can get back and who we have on our football team prior to the draft, we can address needs more specifically as we go.
"When you lose three defensive tackles, obviously, defensive tackle becomes a glaring need. When you lose wide receiving corps, basically, especially early in the season, you could lose another playmaker there."
Not only do the Bucs enter the draft with their full allotment of picks for the first time since 1999, they have additional choices in the third, fifth and sixth rounds, all acquired from San Diego as trade compensation for receiver Keenan McCardell and tackle Roman Oben. The Bucs' 11th choice is an undisclosed pick from the Giants for Jason Whittle.
It's an unusual position for the Bucs, who have not had their first and second choices in any of the past five drafts. In fact, in 2000, '02 and '03, the Bucs didn't own an opening-round selection.
That was the result of trades for Keyshawn Johnson and Gruden, who was acquired from the Raiders for two first-rounders, two second-rounders and $8-million.
"You have to be honest. The only way to get younger is to draft and draft well," Gruden said. "You have to do that, and in the last seven or eight years, I don't know how many first- or second-round choices are on this football team. You can do the research yourself and there aren't many guys that are here. I'm not pointing fingers.
"We made some significant trades to get a good receiver from the Jets in Keyshawn Johnson, who helped us win a Super Bowl. We traded up to draft Kenyatta (Walker) and Cosey Coleman. We traded a lot of picks to get a coach. There are a lot of first- and second-round receivers that aren't here on this football team. I saw Shaun King (Sunday), who was a second-round pick. There are a lot of guys who aren't here."
Despite having one of the oldest teams in the NFL, the Bucs were forced to utilize many of their younger players, particularly at the end of the season. The prize of the 2004 class was receiver Michael Clayton, who set club rookie records with 80 catches for 1,193 yards and seven touchdowns.
"Michael Clayton is a good start," Gruden said. "If you look at our offense play (Sunday), the left tackle in the second half was Anthony Davis, the center was Sean Mahan, the tight end was Nate Lawrie, the quarterback was Chris Simms, Earnest Graham is playing and Michael Clayton is a flanker. I can't get much younger now.
"The draft not only helps you get younger and build your future, it helps you with your salary cap because, fortunately, fourth-, fifth- and sixth-round draft choices don't make what some veterans make."
To understand how long it has been since the Bucs owned a top 10 pick, consider this: The last one was quarterback Trent Dilfer (6th overall, 1994). The last top-five pick was linebacker/defensive end Keith McCants (fourth, 1990).
Gruden admits there are several areas on offense the Bucs might target in the draft to help a rushing attack that ranked 29th this season.
"Obviously, that is going to be looked at carefully, everything from the play-side tackle to the back-side tackle, to the lead back, to the runner, to the scheme," Gruden said. "We are all going to be evaluated carefully on this. I can promise you that."
Specifically, the Bucs will use the draft to upgrade their offensive line.
"We'll look at the availability of players, and honestly, if there's a guy there who we think can come in and help us, not only immediately but in our future, we will obviously look to go in that direction."
WE'RE NO. 5!
List of players drafted with the fifth overall pick in the last 20 years.
Yr. Pos. Player Team
2004 S Sean Taylor Washington
2003 CB Terence Newman Dallas
2002 CB Quentin Jammer San Diego
2001 RB LaDainian Tomlinson San Diego
2000 RB Jamal Lewis Baltimore
1999 RB Ricky Williams New Orleans
1998 RB Curtis Enis Chicago
1997 CB Bryant Westbrook Detroit
1996 DE Cedric Jones N.Y. Giants
1995 QB Kerry Collins Carolina
1994 LB Trev Albert Indianapolis
1993 DE John Copeland Cincinnati
1992 CB Terrell Buckley Green Bay
1991 CB Todd Lyght L.A. Rams
1990 LB Junior Seau San Diego
1989 CB Deion Sanders Atlanta
1988 DB Ricky Dixon Cincinnati
1987 LB Mike Jurkin Cleveland
1986 LB Anthony Bell St. Louis
1985 LB Duane Bickett Indianapolis