TAMPA — Let's say the NFL held the draft today. The 2-12 Bucs would select No. 3 overall behind St. Louis (1-13) and Detroit (2-12), an order based partially on strength of schedule.
The consensus highest-rated player available is Nebraska defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh (pronounced En-dom-ah-ken Soo).
By earning their second victory with a 24-7 win at Seattle last week, the Bucs dropped one spot in the draft and presumably out of the running for the No. 1 choice.
Suh is considered by many to be the best defensive player to enter the draft in the past 10 to 15 years. Unusually strong, the 6-foot-4, 300-pounder had 82 tackles — including 23 for a loss — 12 sacks, an interception, a fumble recovery and 24 quarterback hurries this season.
A player with an unusually high motor who will instantly make those around him better, he would fill the biggest need on the Bucs defense.
General manager Mark Dominik said recently that Suh will be the top player on a lot of draft boards, but he questioned how perceptions could change if Suh has few sacks as a rookie.
It would be a nice problem for Dominik to have.
Just because the Bucs likely won't pick first doesn't mean they can't wind up with Suh.
A lot can happen between now and April. For starters, the Bucs could attempt to wrestle away the No. 1 pick from the Rams.
That would take bargaining, which brings us to Dominik.
First, he must persuade Rams executive vice president Kevin Demoff to trade the top pick to the Bucs. That won't be easy. Passing on a rare talent such as Suh could be a big mistake, and Rams coach Steve Spagnuolo was defensive coordinator with the Giants. But the Rams used their first-round pick in 2008 on defensive lineman Chris Long.
The Rams' biggest need is a quarterback, and the player who could sneak into the top 10 is Oklahoma's Sam Bradford, who had shoulder surgery in late October and is expected to recover in four to six months. Notre Dame's Jimmy Clausen has been projected as a top five pick.
The Rams might need another miserable season to be in position again to address their biggest need, so they are going to entertain trade offers.
Dominik and Demoff worked closely together in the Bucs' front office under general manager Bruce Allen and speak frequently.
According to the NFL draft value chart, the compensation for the Bucs to move from No. 3 overall to No. 1 overall is their first- and third-round picks.
Remember, the Bucs have a pair of second-round selections, including one they acquired from the Bears for defensive end Gaines Adams. Dominik loves the idea of owning four picks in the top 73 choices. Certainly, the Bucs are more than one player away from becoming a playoff contender.
But if the Rams demanded a second-rounder from the Bucs to swap spots, should Dominik make the deal?
And if so, which second-rounder should the Bucs be willing to part with? In a way, the pick acquired from the Bears is house money. Think of it as trading Adams and a first-rounder for Suh.
The fallback pick at No. 3 overall might be Tennessee safety Eric Berry. Good player, solid pick and a good addition to the defense with Tanard Jackson. But a player such as Suh changes the whole defense for the better. He improves the pass rush by drawing double-teams, the run defense by becoming disruptive and penetrating the backfield, and the secondary by putting teams in predictable passing situations.
So even if the Bucs continue to win, it doesn't mean they have lost an opportunity to draft Suh.