Handicapping the rookie roster race

A reader posed a question the other day: How many of the drafted rookies will make it to opening day in Seattle? That's an awfully good question. The Buccaneers will likely keep most of their 10 draft choices, if recent history is a guide.

The Buccaneers have sought to make their roster much younger since going 5-11 in 2004. Tampa Bay has spent 32 draft picks in three years trying to do just that. Most NFL scouts won't grade any draft until at least three years afterward, saying it's almost impossible to gauge a player's impact on the roster until then.

Tampa Bay has sought to give those more recent young players a chance, though. Of the 22 draft picks in 2005 and 2006, 16 of those 22 made the opening-day active roster. One made the practice squad, one went to injured reserve and the other four failed to make the team. What's more, 15 of those 16 are still with the team.

But players like Cadillac Williams and Barrett Ruud can't be fully graded for another year. And looking at the three draft classes before this youth movement, there's not much to be happy about if you're Tampa Bay.

Only seven of their 21 selections are still on the roster. Only three are starters (S Jermaine Phillips, WR Michael Clayton and S Will Allen). Clayton's hold on his starting job is tenuous. G Jeb Terry, CB Torrie Cox and WR Mark Jones are fighting for work. QB Chris Simms has nearly a season's worth of NFL starts, but is now behind Jeff Garcia.

If you're looking for reasons for the Bucs' recent downturn, consider that track record from 2002-04. Yes, the Bucs were without first-round picks in 2002 and 2003 due to trades for Jon Gruden and Keyshawn Johnson. But great NFL teams are built on Day 2, not Day 1, of the draft. Tampa Bay appears to be having problems identifying those players on the second day that can help their team improve.

A look at the 2007 Draft class, and with an idea Tampa Bay wants to get younger, especially on defense, expect at least seven of these draft picks to make the opening day roster.

DE Gaines Adams (1st round): The only way he's not on the opening-day roster is if he's on injured reserve. The Bucs didn't draft him to sit on the bench. Finding him reps, however, will be another matter. You can't just leave him on the bench behind Simeon Rice, right? Odds: 100 percent.

OG Arron Sears (2nd round): He has the size to compete in the NFL right now, and the Bucs want him in the lineup on opening day. Two things are standing in his way. There's Anthony Davis, the starting tackle turned guard, and the "minor issues" that kept Sears out of the final mini-camp this spring. Odds: 100 percent.

S Sabby Pisctitelli (3rd round): Tampa Bay decided to create competition at safety by drafting three defensive backs instead of seeking veteran help. Piscitelli might have been a slight reach in the third round, but the guy can hit, there's no denying that. He'll make a nice backup and special teams standout, if everything the Bucs believe is true. The safety field isn't too crowded, either. Odds: 90 percent.

LB Quincy Black (3rd round): This guy has a gear few players in the NFL have. The question will be whether the Bucs and Black can harness that speed in the Cover 2. He's not starting on opening day unless there's a serious injury bug at linebacker. He needs time to develop and learn the scheme. Odds: 90 percent.

DB Tanard Jackson (4th round): He's on a team where the scheme suits him. He can move from cornerback to safety and back without much hassle. His speed and cover skills are solid. Now, what can defensive backs coach Raheem Morris make of him? And how will the apparent resurgence of Phillip Buchanon affect his roster possibilities? Odds: 80 percent.

DE Greg Peterson (5th round): I envision this guy ending up on the practice squad. The Bucs took him too early. He didn't face the best competition at the Division I-AA level, either. He needs time to develop, and the Bucs can't waste the active roster spot on a project. Odds: 50 percent.

LB Adam Hayward (6th round): Another speedy Division I-AA standout, but also has Division I-A experience. His versatility and speed will help him during the final cuts. He can play defensive back, safety and linebacker in this scheme. Odds: 70 percent.

OT Chris Denman (7th round): Another practice squad candidate. There are too many veteran offensive linemen on this team for Gruden to justify keeping Denman, unless the Fresno State product has an off-the-charts training camp and preseason. Denman will make it to the final cut, and then head to the practice squad. Odds: 40 percent.

CB Marcus Hamilton (7th round): He could also be a victim of the numbers game. After Ronde Barber, Brian Kelly, Phillip Buchanon and Tanard Jackson, do you take Hamilton as a fifth cornerback? If Jackson projects at safety, does that mean Hamilton slides in? I think he's competing with Torrie Cox, Alan Zemaitis or Sammy Davis. It's a tough call. Working in Hamilton's favor will be the Bucs' desire to get younger and possibly sever ties with Cox, who has never fulfilled his potential. Odds: 40 percent.

RB Kenneth Darby (7th round): He has to do one thing — beat out Earnest Graham. And, as everyone knows, Graham always brings it in August. Odds: 30 percent.

Matthew Postins covers the Buccaneers for BucsBlitz.com and the Charlotte Sun-Herald in Port Charlotte, Fla. He is a member of the Pro Football Writers Association. Included among his more than two dozen writing and editing awards are national awards from the PFWA, the National Newspaper Association and the Associated Press Sports Editors, and state awards from the Florida Press Club and the Florida Sports Writers Association, for his coverage of the Buccaneers since 2004.

Looking back at the draft

BucsBlitz.com catalogued all five NFL Drafts with Jon Gruden as head coach. Here's how those drafts worked out for the Bucs then and now:

2002

Still in Tampa: S Jermaine Phillips

Made it to opening day 2002: S Jermaine Phillips, WR Marquise Walker, RB Travis Stephens, CB Tim Wansley.

Didn't make the cut: TE Tracey Wistrom, WR Aaron Lockett, C Zack Quaccia, DE John Stamper.

2003

Still in Tampa: QB Chris Simms, CB Torrie Cox

Made it to opening day 2003: Simms, Cox (on IR), DE Dewayne White, C Austin King, G Sean Mahan

Didn't make the cut: T Lance Nimmo

2004

Still in Tampa: WR Michael Clayton, S Will Allen, G Jeb Terry, WR Mark Jones

Made it to opening day 2004: Clayton, Allen, Terry, LB Marquise Cooper.

Didn't make the cut: TE Nate Lawrie, Jones (later re-signed), FB Casey Cramer, CB Lenny Williams

2005

Still in Tampa: RB Cadillac Williams, LB Barrett Ruud, TE Alex Smith, OG Dan Buenning, S Donte Nicholson, WR Paris Warren.

Made it to opening day 2005: Williams, Ruud, Smith, Buenning, Nicholson, Warren, T Chris Colmer, DT Anthony Bryant, FB Rick Razzano, WR Larry Brackins (practice squad), WR J.R. Russell.

Didn't make the cut: S Hamza Abudullah

2006

Still in Tampa: G Davin Joseph, T Jeremy Trueblood, WR Maurice Stovall, CB Alan Zemaitis, DT Julian Jenkins, QB Bruce Gradkowski, TE T.J. Williams, DE Charles Bennett.

Made it to opening day 2006: Joseph, Trueblood, Stovall, Zemaitis, Jenkins, Gradkowski, Williams (IR).

Didn't make the cut: CB Justin Phinisee, TE Tim Massaquoi.


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