Monday March 19th, 2012

Warren Sapp blended dominant play and a flair for the theatric. (Sports Illustrated)

As part of our offseason coverage, we're taking a look back at some of the best first-round draft picks since the AFL-NFL merger in 1970. We'll work our way up the draft board, starting with the best selection made with the No. 32 pick and ending with the top No. 1 pick. Track all the choices here.

The No. 12 Pick: Warren Sapp, 1995, Buccaneers

His Credentials: Seven-time Pro Bowl selection, six-time All-Pro, Super Bowl XXXVII champion, 1999 NFL Defensive Player of the Year, named to NFL's All-Decade Team for the 1990s and 2000s, finished with 96.5 career sacks

Others in Consideration: Haloti Ngata (2006, Ravens); Warrick Dunn (1997, Buccaneers); Jim Lachey (1985, Chargers); Clay Matthews (1978, Browns)

"Every defensive tackle that's drafted in the top five is supposed to be the next (me)," Warren Sapp said during the 2007 season, his final one in the NFL. "All of them have that tag. ... I've played the game pretty well, so if I'm the standard by which (they'll) be judged, that's tough, because I'd like to relive that guy, too. He's a bad boy. He's dead now. I give you flashes of him every now and then but, nah, that guy was sick."

Humble? No.

But Warren Sapp was a dominant defensive force during his 13-year NFL career, which began in 1995 in Tampa Bay and ended in Oakland. Right up until that final season, Sapp obliterated offensive linemen. He had 10 sacks in 2006, his next-to-last year, marking the fourth time in his career that he hit double digits in that category.

For a defensive end, that may not be a big deal, but Sapp's ability to get to the quarterback from his tackle position was relatively unprecedented in the league's history. His 96.5 career sacks are the 34th-most since the NFL started charting that stat in 1982 -- but he's second all-time among defensive tackles, trailing only John Randle (137.5). Sapp also provided a steady presence for Tampa Bay's dominating defense during its 2002 Super Bowl run, and his ability to clog the middle played a part in Derrick Brooks winning the Defensive Player of the Year honor that season.

He was also known as one of the league's most lively and outlandish players during his career, personality traits that he's carried on to his current job as a TV analyst.

The only question now is: Will Sapp get a Hall of Fame nod?

It seems easy enough to chalk Sapp up for a spot in Canton based on his stellar career. He will first be eligible, though, in 2013, a year that will also see names like Michael Strahan, Jonathan Ogden, Larry Allen, John Lynch, Morten Anderson and Steve McNair on the ballot, plus possible holdovers like Cris Carter, Bill Parcells and Andre Reed, all of whom missed out on induction this past February.

Though he may have to wait an extra year or two to receive the votes necessary, Sapp definitely put together a Hall-worthy run.

"I felt like having him here made me a better football player," former Raiders linebacker Kirk Morrison said when Sapp retired. "He was the leader of this defense. They say the middle linebacker is supposed to lead, but the guy has been in the league 13 years and he's seen it all. I leaned on him." Morrison could have found worse mentors. Even if his Hall of Fame fate has yet to be decided, Sapp enjoyed a spectacular career. Just ask him.

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