MOBILE, Ala. — For as much discussion as there will inevitably be during the next few months about what the Bucs will do in the NFL draft, in the end, it's not totally up to them.
What the Bucs settle on with the third overall selection in April will depend on what happens just before then. What do the Rams do with the top overall pick? Do the Lions finally go with defense at No. 2?
Beginning with the Senior Bowl this week, there are many scenarios being thrown around. So much time remains before the draft that players' stocks could change dramatically, but at the very top of the draft, a likely scenario is emerging.
It involves Nebraska defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh going No. 1 to the Rams, followed by Oklahoma defensive tackle Gerald McCoy to the Lions at No. 2.
Though clubs rarely acknowledge a player's status publicly, Suh, the Lombardi Award winner as college football's top lineman, is the closest thing to a consensus No. 1 pick. It appears he tops just about everyone's draft board.
"He should be. He's earned that," Bucs general manager Mark Dominik said. "I think if I sat here today and said he's not going to be at the top of our board, people would look at me and say, 'Why is this guy in charge of our franchise?' So, Suh is going to be one of those guys who you have to do due diligence on."
What could change? For one, the Rams could trade down, but teams will be very reluctant to part with the draft picks it will take to swing such a deal (a first- and a third-round pick at minimum), particularly in a year in which the free-agent class looks to be inconsequential. The Rams almost certainly won't take a quarterback unless they trade down, though it's arguably their greatest need. No quarterback seems worthy of the top pick, especially considering a rare talent like Suh is available.
"People are going to argue about (Sam) Bradford and (Jimmy) Clausen, but I don't see either one of them as a top-five pick," said NFL Network's Mike Mayock, a top draft analyst. "You could make the argument that maybe Bradford is a top-10 pick. But as far as 2 or 3, no, not in my opinion."
The Lions could feel an obligation to draft a defensive player. And after Suh, the best defender is likely McCoy. Detroit has drafted an offensive player in the first round in nine of the past 10 drafts, the exception being Florida State linebacker Ernie Sims in 2006. Add the fact that the Lions yielded 494 points, the league's fourth-most in a single season, and it's clear defense is a glaring need.
Under this scenario, Tennessee safety Eric Berry might be the top remaining player on the Bucs' draft board. No. 3 seems rather high for a safety because the position is not considered a priority in the draft, but if the Ed Reed comparisons are accurate, then perhaps the Bucs can live with him.
"You better be less concerned about whether the guy fits a certain profile as far as position and all that," Mayock said. "Safeties typically aren't considered positions of value. Now, if you get a playmaker at safety. …
"Safeties typically aren't top-10 picks. They're rare. The question is, is Berry rare? He probably is."
The Bucs have options. They can trade up as they possess five of the first 99 choices. And though it's less likely, Dominik is open to trading down. Whatever happens will come back to what occurs in picks 1 and 2.
Dominik wouldn't say whether the projections are accurate, but he and his staff are working hard to handicap things.
"You have a feeling for what's going on," he said. "It's still early in the process. I feel like we had a pretty good grasp as an organization of what was going to happen last year in terms of who was possibly going to go where. I feel like we're in a good spot where we're going to have options in any direction or stay put.
"I actually feel very good about where we are today."
Stephen F. Holder can be reached at [email protected]