Editor's note: This SR's Fab Five is a day late because Tuesday was my 30th birthday and I simply decided to take the day off to celebrate the end of my 20s and the fact that it's all downhill from here.
1. Let's start off this edition of SR's Fab Five with a player-by-player assessment of the Buccaneers' selections in the 2002 NFL Draft:
WR Marquise Walker - Very good pick. Walker can develop into a solid third wide receiver within a year or two, and a good second receiver in two to three years. He's got a chance to make an impact as a rookie, but with Keyshawn Johnson and Joe Jurevicius already on the roster and the way Jon Gruden plans on spreading the ball around, Walker will be lucky to get more than 35 catches this year. He can make the acrobatic catch and has the physical presence to overpower smaller cornerbacks. Once Keyshawn teaches him his patented "push off" move, Walker should be a dynamite pro.
RB Travis Stephens - Very good pick. Gruden has two work trucks in running backs Michael Pittman and Mike Alstott. Now he has a fast, little sports car to tool around with. Stephens is an ideal candidate as a third-down back, and will be a better fit in Gruden's offense than Warrick Dunn, who doesn't have Stephens' tackle-breaking ability. Stephens also comes much, much cheaper. He'll also have a chance at returning punts and kicks which would only increase his versatility. His hands remain a question mark only because he wasn't asked to catch the ball a lot at Tennessee.
S Jermaine Phillips - Good pick. The Bucs really liked Western Kentucky safety Mel Mitchell, but he was drafted ahead of Tampa Bay by New Orleans in the fifth round. Phillips is a hard-hitting safety with good ball skills. The Bucs like his character and leadership ability just as much. He's a great locker room guy and a real team player. He'll legitimately push John Howell and David Gibson for a roster spot and may even push starter Dexter Jackson. He'll start off a free safety, but has the size to move to strong safety as well. Both safety positions are almost interchangeable in Tampa Bay.
DE John Stamper - Not a very good pick. This is probably the least inspiring pick of the bunch. Stamper is cut from the same mold as John McLaughlin and Joe Tafoya, two defensive ends who were drafted late by Tampa Bay, and aren't on the roster any more. Like McLaughlin, Stamper has speed, but doesn't have great pass rushing ability and didn't put up very good sack numbers at South Carolina. I would have felt more comfortable with the selection of TE Tracey Wistrom or WR Aaron Lockett in the sixth round as opposed to Stamper. As of right now, I'd say Ellis Wyms and Ron Warner have a better chance of making the roster than Stamper does.
CB Tim Wansley - Fair pick. Wansley is coming off a broken leg, which took him off a lot of draft boards around the league. He's a workmanlike cornerback who relies on intelligence and instincts just as much, if not more, than ability. He's a small guy at 5-foot-8, who is probably a bit better than Corey Ivy and not as good as Ronde Barber. He was a very good contributor on special teams and that's where he'll have to make the roster.
WR Aaron Lockett - Very good pick. The Bucs got great value by taking him in the seventh round, and that's why he gets a high grade. The team finally wised up and drafted a return specialist. So many teams have thrived with a return specialist throughout the years -- Washington and Philadelphia with Brian Mitchell, Green Bay and Detroit with Desmond Howard, and Carolina with Michael Bates -- it's about time the Bucs committed to the idea of a return man. I used to get into wars with Joe Marciano all the time about how the Bucs needed to go get a return specialist. "We've got plenty of candidates with Reidel (Anthony), Jacquez (Green) and Karl (Williams)," he gruffed. The problem, as I told Marciano, was that none of those players did it in college. They were manufactured kick returners and that's probably why they didn't have much success, except for Williams. The Bucs need to replace Williams, who has been productive but is slow. Lockett might be the guy.
TE Tracey Wistrom - Very good pick. Like Lockett, this is a great value pick and that's why he gets a higher grade. As a K-State alum, I saw Wistrom destroy us on more than one occasion. This guy has Dave Moore written all over him. He'll have to make the team as a long snapper and a backup tight end, which is how Moore broke in with the Bucs. Wistrom, the brother of Grant, who plays defensive end for the St. Louis Rams, is a blue collar guy with an incredible work ethic. Todd Yoder, Mike Roberg and Damian Vaughn are going to have their work cut out for them when going up against this guy. He's got great hands, and is crafty enough to find the holes in zone coverage. He's not overly big, fast or strong, but can refine his game at the next level. I can't believe I am actually showering this much praise on a Cornhusker.
C Zach Quaccia - Fair pick. Folks, I had heard of and seen film on all of the other Bucs' picks. Not this guy. Going by what my insiders told me, he's a smart, versatile player who can play guard and center, which the Bucs like. He played in a successful, pro-style offense at Stanford and has played against big-time competition in the Pac-10. He won't make the roster, but he could make the practice squad. If Todd Washington beats out Jeff Christy this year for the starting spot, Christy could be gone by next year and then Quaccia could become the backup.
2. The idea of lining up Walker with Jurevicius and Johnson in red zone situations must scare the daylights out of defensive coordinators. Can you imagine the jump ball possibilities in the end zone with these three tall, rangy wideouts?
Former Tampa Bay offensive coordinators Les Steckel and Clyde Christensen would talk about looking for the mismatch and taking advantage of it, but never really did. You and I both know Gruden will. That's why the Bucs gave up so much to acquire him from Oakland.
Somewhere this fall there will be a 5-foot-8 cornerback who will line up in at his own 12-yard line in man coverage over the 6-foot-5 Jurevicius and absolutely soil himself. Gruden will instruct his starting QB, whoever he is, to throw JJ's way. And he will. Score six for the guys in pewter and red.
3. Here's my quick take on the drafts of the Bucs' NFC South counterparts:
NEW ORLEANS - The Saints had to hit a home run on draft day after all of the losses they incurred in free agency. A home run? They knocked it out of the ball park. Every single one of their picks could make the roster this year. Receiver Donte` Stallworth was a strong first-round pick, but I think he's overrated. He's fast, but he was always hurt at Tennessee and never had a 1,000-yard season. Plus, he played opposite Kelly Washington and the Vols always had a strong running game for foes to worry about. Still, his speed makes him a threat. Defensive end Charles Grant filled a need, but he may be nothing more than a just a good player in the pros. Second-round center LeCharles Bentley is an outstanding pick, as is outside linebacker James Allen, who could start as a rookie. Getting cornerback Keyou Craver in the fourth round was a steal. Free safety Mel Mitchell is an athletic ballhawk with starting potential. Quarterback J.T. O'Sullivan was a nice addition in the sixth round. Tight end John Gilmore and defensive end Derrius Monroe bolster depth at need positions.
ATLANTA FALCONS - The Falcons got reamed by pundits for overlooking the receiver position and taking running back T.J. Duckett in the first round. A quick look at Atlanta's backfield tells me that Jamal Anderson's career may be over after his second torn ACL. If he can come back, he'll be a shell of his former self. Backup Maurice Smith is also coming off a knee injury, which leaves fullback Bob Christian and newly acquired Warrick Dunn as the only healthy running backs. Dan Reeves isn't counting on Anderson and Smith, so Duckett makes sense to me. Defensive end Will Overstreet is hustler who isn't flashy, but gets the job done. He'll be a good fit in their 3-4 scheme. Guard Martin Bibla and quarterback Kurt Kittner were good value picks in the fourth and fifth rounds, but the real sleeper is sixth-round pick Kahil Hill, who is a tall receiver who can also return kicks.
CAROLINA PANTHERS - Their draft went downhill after the first pick. Defensive end Julius Peppers will start as a rookie and could post 10 sacks this year. He's an impact player like Tennessee's Jevon Kearse. Running back DeShaun Foster is a boom-or-bust type player. He's got Corey Dillon-like qualities in terms of size, speed and tackle-breaking ability, but he has some character issues and is a fumbler. Linebacker Will Witherspoon is a decent prospect at a need position, but after the third round, the Panthers' draft lacks any impact players. For a team with a lot of needs, there are very few starters outside of Peppers, Foster and Witherspoon.
4. The NFL has agreed to let teams wear an alternate color or throwback jersey for one home game this year to pay homage to a particular playoff team, anniversary or significant franchise event. Cleveland plans to forego the brown home uniforms for an orange home jersey for one Sunday this year, and about 12 other NFL teams plan to introduce an alternate jersey. But don't think that the Bucs will bring back Bucco Bruce, even for just one game.
Rightly or wrongly, the Glazers consider the birth of the Bucs franchise to be 1997 when the red and pewter was introduced and the team won a Wild Card playoff game -- not even 1996 when they purchased the team. The orange and white and winking pirate is dead -- evidenced by the skull on the Bucs' new red flag. In the Glazers' mind, 1997 is when the history of the team started.
When they first donned the red jerseys in 1997, the Glazers asked if they could have a pewter jersey as an alternate colored jersey, but the league said no at that time. I asked general manager Rich McKay if the Bucs were planning on using an alternate colored jersey this year and he said no. He said that the Glazers would like to have a pewter jersey to go with the pewter helmets (which would look good with white pants), but were told by the league that pewter was too neutral a color and was turned down.
I asked him if the Bucs would don the black jerseys at some point in time, which the team okayed to license to jersey manufacturers for retail sale, and he said no to that, too. McKay said that he didn't think the Bucs would have an alternate jersey that they would wear this year.
Personally, I think the black jerseys look cool, but when you put the pewter helmet next to the black jerseys it just doesn't go together. What would be cool is to have an alternate black helmet with the red flag along with the black jerseys and white pants. But the Glazers love the fact that the Bucs are the only team that has pewter in their color scheme. They like the uniqueness of that color and that's why they favor pewter over black, which is used by Oakland and Atlanta.
5. McKay shared a quick draft story with the media on Sunday that I'll share with you. Coming out of the University of Miami, athletic defensive tackle Warren Sapp ran the 40-yard dash in an amazing 4.65 seconds at his pro day workout in front of scouts and NFL assistant coaches in 1995. Surly Arizona defensive line coach "Mean" Joe Greene openly remarked about how out of shape Sapp looked at the workouts.
Sapp overheard the comments, frowned, glared at Greene and mouthed off, "Did you catch the 40-time?" Then Sapp turned his back to Greene and walked away. Greene and others on hand were probably stunned by the fact that some young upstart like Sapp would give him any back-talk. But his 40-yard dash time proved that Sapp was quick and athletic despite his body shape.
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