What would be a good rookie season for Gaines Adams? It's a question that has created some buzz among Buccaneers fans this offseason (the proof is on the BucsBlitz.com message board), probably because the Buccaneers have been a bit cagey about how they're going to use Adams.
He's a right end. He played that position his entire career at Clemson. But there's a big roadblock to playing time at the position in the form of Simeon Rice.
So, wouldn't it make sense then to move Adams to left end and start him opposite Rice? Certainly Adams is much younger and faster than current left end Greg Spires. But, so far, Adams has worked only on the right side.
Why? Jon Gruden said during mini-camp that defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin wants Adams well versed in playing right end — since it would appear he's Rice's eventual replacement (Rice is a free agent after this season). Gruden said once Adams has that position down cold they'll consider moving Adams around. Plus Adams, at 6-foot-5, 265 pounds, doesn't necessarily fit the build of a left end rusher in a Monte Kiffin defense (see Spires or Chidi Ahanotu). Kiffin likes his speed rushers on the right side. Most defensive coordinators share that with Kiffin.
So Adams' Defensive Rookie of the Year candidacy — being a No. 4 pick he would certainly be a candidate — depends on a great many factors. How much playing time will he get? Will he rotate with Rice on the right side? Will he be featured in any exotic packages? Will he pick it all up in time to be a factor on the left side?
The track record of defensive ends selected in the Top 10 of the NFL Draft since 1992 — a 15-year period — is that most become full-time starters as rookies. It makes sense because most of the teams drafting in the Top 10 were losing teams looking to fill a key need.
From 1992-2006, a total of 17 defensive ends were selected in the Top 10. Of those, 13 were considered "usual starters" as rookies, according to the ESPN Pro Football Encyclopedia. That includes Rice, who as an Arizona rookie in 1996 tied the NFL's rookie sack record with 12 ½ sacks (since broken by Jevon Kearse, 14 ½). That also includes San Francisco's Bryant Young, who was drafted as an end in 1994 and was converted into a defensive tackle, where he was named UPI's NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year (Rice took the same AP prize in 1996).
The four that didn't start immediately? They are:
Cedric Jones, New York Giants, 1996: Selected fifth overall, but the Giants has two capable ends in Michael Strahan and Chad Bratzke. He finally cracked the starting lineup in 1999, but was released two years later.
Grant Wistrom, St. Louis, 1998: Selected sixth overall, but was stuck behind Mike D. Jones for a year. He's put together a solid career since.
Jamal Reynolds, Green Bay, 2001: The last of four ends to be taken that year in the Top 10, No. 10 overall. Reynolds was a bust. He never started for the Packers.
It would seem that Adams is in a similar situation to these four ends. He's been drafted to be an "end of the future," not necessarily an end of the present.
Suggs proves that you don't have to be a starter to be productive, just as players like Tampa Bay's Eric Curry (No. 6, 1993) and Cleveland's Courtney Brown (No. 1, 2000) show that being handed a starting job doesn't mean immediate production.
Consider the 13 players that were starters their rookie season. Only two recorded double-digit sacks: Rice and Carolina's Julius Peppers (12 in 2002). Cincinnati's Justin Smith was next with 8.5 sacks in 2001.
The average of those 13 rookie starters is 6.3 sacks. The average of the entire group of 17 players is 6.0.
It appears that a productive season for a player like Adams would be six sacks. Certainly there's more that goes into being a defensive end — quarterback pressures, deflected passes, defending the run, etc… — but sacks are the one statistic that every teams keeps, and therefore is the easiest to compare.
It seems to be a logical figure to expect from a player like Adams, who must not only adjust to the pro game but must also steal time away from one of the most productive ends in the NFL the past 10 years.
Rookie defensive end production, 1992-06
The sack totals for NFL rookie defensive ends taken in the Top 10 of the draft from 1992-06 (years where no end was taken are omitted):
1993: John Copeland (No. 5, Cincinnati) — 3; Eric Curry (No. 6, Tampa Bay) — 5.
1994: Bryant Young* (No. 7, San Francisco) — 6.
1995: Kevin Carter (No. 6, St. Louis) — 6; Mike Mamula (No. 7, Philadelphia) — 5 ½.
1996: Simeon Rice (No. 3, Arizona) — 12 1/2; Cedric Jones (No. 5, New York Giants) — No record.
1998: Andre Wadsworth (No. 3, Arizona) — 5; Grant Wistrom (No. 6, St. Louis) — 3.
2000: Courtney Brown (No. 1, Cleveland) — 4 ½.
2001: Justin Smith (No. 4, Cincinnati) — 8 1/2; Richard Seymour (No. 6, New England) — 3; Andre Carter (No. 7, San Francisco) — 6 ½; Jamal Reynolds (No. 10, Green Bay) — 2.
2002: Julius Peppers (No. 2, Carolina) — 12.
2003: Terrell Suggs (No. 10, Baltimore) — 12.
1996: Mario Williams (No. 1, Houston) — 4 ½.
* — played tackle for the 49ers in1994.
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.