TAMPA — The approach, in NFL draft shorthand, is called "BPA."
Forget about your most glaring needs. Disregard your returning personnel. Simply take the best player available. It's a luxury not afforded many teams coming off a 4-12 season, but it's an option for the Bucs with the No. 7 overall selection.
That's the rationale that has Tampa Bay considering Pittsburgh defensive tackle Aaron Donald, whose stock has risen steadily to the top half of the first round. The Bucs, of course, have an All-Pro in Gerald McCoy, started a rookie last season in fourth-rounder Akeem Spence, then pushed him to the bench by signing Clinton McDonald from the Super Bowl champion Seahawks.
But the tackle position is considered the most important in the defense of coach Lovie Smith — it goes from the front back, they keep saying — so there's pause when considering adding to a team strength with greater needs elsewhere.
"What we've said all along is we want the best player," general manager Jason Licht said last week. "Our team needs in September are going to be totally different than what our team needs are right now. The player you take, you may not think we have a need for him now. But a lot of times, you're thankful you have them when the season starts."
Don't underestimate Smith's desire to set the tone for his defense with pressure at the line of scrimmage. His first two draft picks as Bears coach in 2004 were tackles Tommie Harris and Tank Johnson, and he used another second-round pick and three third-rounders on tackles in his nine drafts.
Along the same lines, the Bucs could address defensive end in the first three rounds even though their most expensive addition was Bengals end Michael Johnson, and they have a 2011 first-rounder in Adrian Clayborn on the other side as well as a promising second-year player in William Gholston.
It's unlikely the draft's top two defensive players, end Jadeveon Clowney and linebacker/end Khalil Mack, will be available at No. 7. One pass-rusher difficult to place is UCLA's Anthony Barr, once projected as a top-10 pick but now seen by many analysts as a late first-rounder.
"There aren't a bunch of edge rushers in this draft," NFL Network analyst Charles Davis said last month. "So right now, I would guess he'd be probably the third-ranked edge rusher. (That's) starting with Jadeveon Clowney as a pure defensive end and Khalil Mack as a 3-4 outside linebacker. And now Anthony Barr, to me, is a 3-4 outside linebacker although I think some teams are convinced he can play 4-3 defensive end."
End is a position that could see major change for the Bucs, who last week declined a 2015 option on Clayborn, setting up this season as make or break for him. Another player needing to step up in a hurry is 2011 second-rounder Da'Quan Bowers, who was limited to seven tackles last season.
If the Bucs aren't happy with their returning depth, they could take an outside pass-rusher in the second round, when Stanford's Trent Murphy (led Division I-A with 15 sacks last season), Auburn's Dee Ford and Missouri's Kony Ealy could be around.
Defensive line isn't seen as a deep position in the draft, so the relative value could drop compared with other positions by the third day.
"The edge draft isn't great this year," NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock said last week. "If you're looking for a defensive tackle, defensive end, it's not real good."
Greg Auman can be reached at [email protected]