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Even the Bucs can’t whiff on this one. Maybe

Josh Allen might be Tampa Bay’s ticket in this draft.
Kentucky linebacker Josh Allen (41) stands at the line of scrimmage during a game against Vanderbilt in October in Lexington, Ky. [AP Photo/Bryan Woolston]
Published Apr. 24
Updated Apr. 24

TAMPA — The NFL draft begins tonight. And we might have finally come to the point in Bucs draft history, a Rorschach for the ages, where maybe even the Bucs can’t mess it up. But never say never.

We always used to say the Bucs always get the same guy in the draft: the wrong guy. But here’s their chance, picking fifth, to get the right guy.

It’s Josh Allen.

Allen is the tall, rangy, super quick, super strong outside linebacker from Kentucky, an edge rusher, emphasis on edge, with a wing span ready to fly high in a 3-4 defense, just the kind the Bucs should be transitioning to under new defensive coordinator Todd Bowles.

Bruce Arians had a talent like Allen this in Arizona, namely Chandler Jones. The 6-5, 258-pound Allen runs a 4.59 40-yard dash and conjures comparisons, right or wrong, with Von Miller.

I know we’ve talked about the Bucs pass rush forever, but this draft is sick with pass rushers and it’s time to load up. I’d use the second round to get a defensive lineman too. Things might be lined up right for the Bucs, so right that GM Jason Licht might not be able to figure out a way around it.

A few things must fall into place. First, Arians’ old team in Arizona must take former Oklahoma quarterback Kyler Murray with the first pick. The Cardinals would own the dreaded distinction of being the first team to take a QB in the first round of consecutive drafts.

Then the 49ers have their pick of defensive lineman Nick Bosa or Quinnen Williams. Then the Jets take who the 49ers don’t. Then comes crazy Chucky Gruden and the Raiders. They could foil a Bucs plan by trading back with a team that wants to get ahead of the Bucs to take Allen. But the Raiders already own two other first-round picks, so why trade back?

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So, there it is. At long last, a sweet spot for the Bucs. They are just high enough in the draft order to get their man. And their man should be Josh Allen.

That’s the way they’ve needed to go once they decided to draft nose tackle Vita Vea in the first round on the 2018 draft. It’s a 3-4, and Allen fits.

This isn’t the time to talk about how long the Bucs have been looking for an edge rusher, and they still should even with Jason Pierre-Paul on the premises. This isn’t the time for the Bucs to lament how many pieces they need. It would take until next draft to count them up.

Focus on the now.

With all due respect to former LSU inside linebacker Devin White, a fine talent, in a 3-4 scheme your outside guy, one like Allen, is the most important piece, especially in the NFC South. Mission One: You’ve got to hit Drew Brees. You’ve got to go hit Matt Ryan and Cam Newton. Stop us if you have heard this before. It has always been that simple. You get a chance to get your 15-sack guy, you don’t pass that up.

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If someone grabs Allen ahead of the Bucs, the Bucs should move back, because they can still get a defensive lineman, maybe a Montez Sweat, heart irregularities and all, or maybe one of the 12,000 Clemson linemen. If Allen is gone, and knowing it’s a deep draft for D-line, you drop down and let a team come deal with you to get that second QB ahead of the Giants, who pick sixth.

One thing: If Allen is there, and you pass, it’s a bad sign.

Or, as we like to say, it’s the Bucs.

If you trade back with Allen sitting there, shame on you. The Bucs would effectively saying (Licht is saying) we have no idea what we’re doing. You don’t trade away from all-pro potential at a spot you need. You can’t help everything else you need. The time to do that was last trade deadline, when you didn’t make moves to compile draft picks. Don’t try to make up for it now.

I’m taking what this draft offers. Allen is the perfect fit at the perfect time for a team that’s in transition on defense.

It doesn’t mean you win right away. Not at all. The Bucs hands are tied. Their GM helped tie them. There is only thing they can do: try to secure an instant starter and future Pro Bowler. You take your medicine next season and bank on his future. You’re not going anywhere anyway. Try and think 2021. Try to help Arians’ offense with a worlds-better defense.

“You want guys who can not only beat the tackles, but also run down these new-type quarterbacks,” Arians said Tuesday at voluntary minicamp.

Let’s not complicate this or be troubled by visions of Eric Curry or Gaines Adams, rest his soul. Bucs draft history is always going to be what it is. And the Bucs aren’t going to be a playoff team next season. But at least they could be a better team. Drafting Josh Allen would be part of that.

Contact Martin Fennelly at mfennelly@tampabay.com or (813) 731-8029. Follow @mjfennelly

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