After decades of Mel Kiper pontification, this much remains true: For all the film and 40 times, all the background checks and bench presses, the NFL draft remains a crap shoot to some degree.
Exactly no one can project the career trajectory of the Bucs’ initial pick (No. 32 overall) in the 2021 draft. While thorough dissection may offer a clue, it can’t provide a foolproof forecast.
Even history — which we consulted — offers no clear answers.
We examined the 32nd overall picks dating to the NFL-AFL merger (1966), but focused heavily on the last 20 years. Sure enough, nearly every draftee who flourished was offset by one who foundered. Here are the bona fide stars — and the busts — we discovered with our research of that draft slot over the last two decades.
(For the purposes of this exercise, the last two No. 32 picks — Chiefs tailback Clyde Edwards-Helaire and Patriots receiver N’Keal Harry — weren’t considered simply because their careers barely have begun.)
Top five No. 32 picks since 2001
5. DE Mathias Kiwanuka, Boston College (Giants), 2006
The 2004 Big East Defensive Player of the Year, Kiwanuka evolved into a significant cog in the Giants’ daunting defensive end rotation that won a pair of Super Bowls. He played all 16 regular-season games in six of his nine years in the league, totaling 38.5 sacks, 97 quarterback hits, 13 forced fumbles and even three interceptions.
4. OT Ryan Ramczyk, Wisconsin (Saints), 2017
If he doesn’t play another snap, Ramczyk already has fulfilled the value reasonably expected from a 32nd overall pick. A product of Wisconsin’s offensive tackle assembly line, Ramczyk was a second-team All-Pro by Year Two and a first-teamer in Year Three, when he allowed no sacks at right tackle and was Pro Football Focus’ highest-graded tackle.
3. OG Logan Mankins, Fresno State (Patriots), 2005
A brawny, bearded portrait of toughness (he played a whole season with a torn ACL), Mankins made the NFL’s 2010s all-decade team and earned second-team all-pro honors five times during his nine seasons in New England. He was traded to the Bucs in 2014 after refusing a pay cut, and made the last of his seven Pro Bowls in 2015.
2. QB Lamar Jackson, Louisville (Ravens), 2018
Three seasons into his NFL career, Jackson — the fifth quarterback selected in 2018 — is developing into quite the draft steal. Exhibit A in the case that dual-threat quarterbacks can prosper at the pro level, Jackson has led the Ravens to three playoff berths in as many seasons, and became only the second unanimous selection as league MVP in 2019.
1. QB Drew Brees, Purdue (Chargers), 2001*
Bypassed in the first round due to questions about his stature (6 feet) and arm strength, Brees ultimately delivered the greatest value of any 32nd overall pick in NFL history. He initially struggled in San Diego before evolving into a 13-time Pro Bowler and Saints icon who retired with no fewer than a dozen NFL records.
Bottom five No. 32 picks since 2001
5. QB Patrick Ramsey, Tulane (Washington), 2002
Perhaps Ramsey’s greatest claim to fame is the fact he was the first player ever drafted by Steve Spurrier. He made 24 starts over four seasons in Washington, winning only 10 before embarking on a nomadic five-year run that included stops with eight teams. His career quarterback rating (74.9) is lower than that of Josh Freeman (77.6) and Jameis Winston (86.9).
4. DE Phillip Merling, Clemson (Dolphins), 2008*
This former Clemson behemoth’s greatest claim to fame is a pick-six of Brett Favre in Week 17 of his rookie year. In parts of six seasons, Merling (6-foot-5, 315 pounds) totaled 3.5 sacks and never forced a fumble. In 2010, he was charged with aggravated battery against his pregnant fiancee, though the charges were dropped.
3. RB David Wilson, Virginia Tech (Giants), 2012
Though hardly a bust, Wilson’s pro career lasted only 21 games. As a rookie, he led the NFL with 1,533 kick-return yards, and became the first player in NFL history with at least 200 kick-return yards and 100 rushing yards in the same game (a 52-27 romp of the Saints). But he was diagnosed with spinal stenosis five games into the 2013 season, and never played again.
2. OT Derek Sherrod, Mississippi State (Packers), 2011
A first-team All-SEC pick as a senior in 2010, Sherrod broke his right leg in December of his rookie season, and missed all of 2012 while rehabbing. His career never recovered; Sherrod appeared in 20 games over parts of four seasons in Green Bay before being waived in November 2014. The following September, he was among the Chiefs’ final cuts.
1. S Matt Elam, Florida (Ravens), 2013
The Ravens drafted this Gators All-American as the heir apparent to eventual hall of famer Ed Reed. Today, he’s considered one of the franchise’s biggest busts. In parts of three seasons, he totaled half a sack and one interception, missing all of 2015 with a torn biceps. He was released in February 2017 after his arrest on drug-possession charges (later dropped).
Other prominent No. 32 picks:
2014: QB Teddy Bridgewater, Vikings: Made Pro Bowl, led Vikings to playoffs before a devastating knee injury.
1991: DE Mike Jones, Cardinals: Only significant because he was picked one spot ahead of Brett Favre.
1983: WR Henry Ellard, Rams: Three-time Pro Bowler for good Rams teams of prior era.
1980: C Ray Donaldson, Colts: Six-time Pro Bowler played 17 seasons.
1979: DT Fred Smerlas, Bills: Five-time All-Pro is member of Bills’ 50th anniversary all-time team.
* First pick of second round
• • •
Sign up for the Bucs RedZone newsletter to get updates and analysis on the latest team and NFL news from Bucs beat writer Joey Knight.