Tampa Bay’s history of holding the No. 1 pick in the NFL Draft
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have held the No. 1 pick in the NFL Draft a total of six times in the team’s 39-year history. Tampa holds the first selection this year for the seventh time. The Bucs are expected to select Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston. The last quarterback Tampa selected No. 1 overall is the team’s all-time passing leader and had a 21-year NFL career.
The Bucs had the first pick in the 1976 draft when they entered the NFL as an expansion team along with the Seattle Seahawks. Surprisingly, the Seahawks are one of four NFL teams to have never held the top pick in the draft.
Tampa used that pick to select Oklahoma defensive end Lee Roy Selmon. The Bucs then took Selmon’s brother, Dewey, in the second round. While the team did not win a single game in its inaugural season, Selmon had a great rookie year. He wound up going to six straight Pro Bowls and was the NFL’s Defensive Player of the Year in 1979. After 78.5 sacks, 380 quarterback pressures and 28.5 forced fumbles, Selmon was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1995.
The Bucs were winless in 1976, so they had the first pick in the 1977 draft as well. They used it on USC running back Ricky Bell ahead of Pittsburgh’s Tony Dorsett, who won the Heisman Trophy and wound up having a Hall of Fame career with the Dallas Cowboys. Bell joined his former USC coach, John McKay, in Tampa but struggled until his breakout season in 1979. With Selmon leading the defense, Bell carried the offense with 1,263 yards in 14 games. The Bucs lost to the Los Angeles Rams in the NFC championship game after claiming their first-ever division title and beating the Philadelphia Eagles for their first playoff win.
Unfortunately for Bell, he was diagnosed with dermatomyositis – a disease that took his life in 1984. He spent five seasons in Tampa before getting traded to the San Diego Chargers in 1982, his final NFL season before his weight loss and muscle aches forced him into retirement. His 1,263 yards in a 14-game season is still fourth-best in Buccaneers history.
The Bucs also held the No. 1 pick in 1978, but traded it to the Houston Oilers, who took future Hall of Famer Earl Campbell. Tampa selected Grambling quarterback Doug Williams with the 17th overall pick. Tampa traded away the top pick in the draft in 1984 as well. The New England Patriots used that pick on Nebraska wide receiver Irving Fryar while Tampa Bay did not select until the second round, picking USC linebacker Keith Browner 30th overall.
The success of 1979 was short-lived for the Bucs, who went 5-10-1 the very next year. Tampa did go 9-7 in 1981 to again win the NFC Central, but got shellacked by Dallas in a 38-0 playoff defeat. A 5-4 record in a strike-shorted 1982 season, and another playoff loss to the Cowboys followed. The Bucs were back to the bottom of the league in 1983 with a 2-14 mark.
It was the first of 14 consecutive losing seasons for the Bucs, who used the first pick in the 1986 draft on Auburn running back Bo Jackson. But the 1985 Heisman winner chose to play baseball for the Kansas City Royals instead. He was selected in the seventh round of the 1987 NFL Draft by the Los Angeles Raiders, and decided to play both sports. He remains the only athlete to play in both the MLB All-Star Game and the Pro Bowl, but a hip injury cut both careers short – forcing his sports retirement in 1991.
While Williams led the Bucs to the playoffs three times, he left for the upstart USFL following the 1982 NFL season. Tampa had no stability at quarterback for the next four seasons and used the first pick of the 1987 draft on Miami quarterback Vinny Testaverde.
The 1986 Heisman winner spent the first six of what was a 21-year NFL career in Tampa. Testaverde struggled as a rookie, completing only 43 percent of his passes for 1,081 yards with five touchdowns and six interceptions in six games. His first year as a starter was in 1988 and things got worse. Testaverde completed less than 48 percent of his passes for 3,240 yards with 13 touchdowns and 35 interceptions – second behind only George Blanda’s 42 interceptions thrown in 1962. Testaverde through more interceptions than touchdowns in each of his six seasons with the Bucs. He eventually found NFL success, going to the playoffs five times and finishing his career with 275 touchdowns and 267 interceptions to go with 46,233 yards. His 14,820 passing yards with the Bucs remain a franchise high.