Finding the second-day gems

More than 64 percent of Tampa Bay's final 53-man roster in 2006 was comprised of second-day draft picks or undrafted free agents. But did the Buccaneers get the most bang for their buck in that regard? Matthew Postins of BucsBlitz.com examines the Bucs' past drafts under Bruce Allen and the dueling philosophies when it comes to second-day draft picks in the NFL.

No one holds a party on the second day of the NFL Draft, and why would anyone? It lacks the glamour of the first round. You get Suzy Kolber instead of Chris Berman on ESPN. Many of the guys drafted on the second day are greeted with a "Who?" And by the time you figure out who that fifth-rounder is, the next two teams have already selected players.

The second day of the NFL Draft is the red-headed step-child of NFL events.

But don't believe for one second it's not important.

Consider the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' final active roster for the 2006 season. Were you aware that 64.1 percent of that roster — or 34 of the Bucs' 53 players — entered the league as second-day picks or undrafted free agents.

That number included 11 players who started at least half of last season's games — S Will Allen, P Josh Bidwell, CB Juran Bolden, PK Matt Bryant, T Anthony Davis, QB Bruce Gradkowski, G Sean Mahan, LB Ryan Nece, S Jermaine Phillips, LB Shelton Quarles and C John Wade.

"Sure, the first-rounders get a lot of attention, but we look at all of it," Tampa Bay director of college scouting Dennis Hickey said earlier this week. "We put a lot of stock in our second day."

So while Tampa Bay's first four picks on Saturday will get a lot of attention — so long as the Bucs hold on to those four picks — the five choices they'll make on Sunday might register just as profoundly.

Since general manager Bruce Allen took over after the 2003 season, the Buccaneers have had 22 second-day selections. The breakdown:

2004: Six selections, one current starter (Allen), two players still on the roster (G Jeb Terry, WR Mark Jones).

2005: Nine selections, no current starters, three current players (G Dan Buenning, S Donte Nicholson, WR Paris Warren).

2006: Seven selections, no current starters, five current players (CB Alan Zemaitis, DT Julian Jenkins, Gradkowski, TE T.J. Williams (on injured reserve), DE Charles Bennett).

In the second round under Bruce Allen, the Bucs have found just one current starter, and three other players (Buenning, Jones and Gradkowski) that have made significant contributions the past three seasons.

NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock said homework and the consistency of a coaching staff and a scouting staff that are married together are the keys to a successful second day of the draft.

And lately, he said earlier this week, he's seen less of that.

"That's not healthy (not having that marriage), especially when you get to the second-day kids," Mayock said.

Mayock said that two different schools of thought have emerged recently regarding the second day. The first is taking players that either slipped through the cracks or a guy that had off-the-field issues but has a "wow" factor. The second — and Mayock used Indianapolis and New England as primary examples — is to draft players that have been high-production people in college.

Mayock leans toward the latter

"Because if I find a guy that I know played, was a good football player in the Big 10 or SEC or whatever, measurables kind of balance out and he slides through because he's not quite as quick or not quite as big, I already know by watching tape that I'm getting a pretty good football player," Mayock said.

Drafting on the second day isn't an exact science. Consider the track records of these teams in the same time frame:

Successful

Patriots: S James Sanders, CB Asante Samuel, LB Tully Banta-Cain and DT Dan Klecko all made significant contributions. Samuel is the Pats' franchise player.

Chiefs: WR Samie Parker started last year, as did DE Jared Allen. DE Jimmy Wilkerson, T Kevin Sampson, T Will Svitek, OG Tre Stallings, WR Jeff Webb and S Jarrad Page are at least expected to vie for starting jobs this summer.

Colts: T Charlie Johnson, CB Jason David and G Jake Scott all started last year.

Chargers: LB Matt Wilhelm should start this year. P Mike Scifres, RT Shane Olivea and LB Shaun Phillips all started last year. RB Michael Turner would probably start for most teams.

Jaguars: WR Ernest Wilford, PK Josh Scobee, DE Bobby McCray, S Gerald Sensabaugh, FB Derrick Winbush all started last year.

Dolphins: Three starters — S Yeremiah Bell, G Rex Hadnot and CB Travis Daniels.

Bears: DE Mark Anderson, DE Alex Brown, S Chris Harris, LB Patrick Mannelly, QB Kyle Orton, RB Adrian Peterson and CB Nathan Vasher have all played significant roles the past three seasons.

Unsuccessful

Browns: No starters in 16 picks, but FB Lawrence Vickers is expected to start this season.

Cardinals: The only Day 2 player from the past three drafts still left on the team is G Nick Leckey. He started last year.

With just one of the Bucs' second-day selections during that same time frame — Allen — finishing last season as a starter, and with just three other serious contributors the past three years, one must wonder about the Bucs' ability to generate talented picks on the second day.

Generating solid Day 2 picks is important for NFL teams these days. As more talented veterans are cut for salary cap reasons, teams must find lower-cost talent to fill those gaps.

Hickey said the Bucs put in as much work rating prospects for Day 2 as they do for Day 1.

"You want to identify the player and rate the player," Hickey said. "Sure there are players that haven't had quite the production, but maybe their skill set is there, they just haven't had a lot of playing time. All that factors in."

Teams don't need to hit home runs on Day 2, just some doubles, as Bruce Allen termed it. Buenning was a full-time starter his rookie season before injuries derailed him last year. Jones has been the Bucs' primary punt returner the past two years. Gradkowski started 11 games as a rookie before yielding to Tim Rattay.

But when a team like the Patriots unearths a Hall-of-Fame gem like quarterback Tom Brady in the sixth round, everyone starts asking, "Hey, why not my team?"

Allen said part of it is luck.

"There are some really good players that get drafted later, and the key to it is creating an environment where everybody gets an equal opportunity on the second day, not only to make the team but to play," Allen said. "To show what they can do. There's dozens and dozens of players who will get cut in the final (roster) cut that aren't that much different than the ones that are starting. It's just that opportunity at that particular time has benefited them."

Allen used New Orleans wide receiver Marques Colston as an example. Colston was a seventh-round pick. The Hofstra product landed in the right place. He looked so good in training camp the Saints felt comfortable trading the enigmatic Donte Stallworth to Philadelphia, and Colston took advantage of that and Joe Horn's injury woes to post 70 catches, 1,038 yards and eight touchdowns as a rookie. He enters this season as the Saints' No. 1 wide receiver.

"He fit in instantly because they had a need at the position and it worked out," Allen said.

The Buccaneers have plenty of needs this draft, and even their four high picks on the first day won't be enough to fill them. The pressure is on, even if they won't admit it, to unearth some players on Sunday that can be immediate contributors.

Friday: Inside the "War Room."


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