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In this NFL draft, the Bucs have desires not needs

John Romano | The 32nd pick is not as sexy as a top-10 selection, but that doesn’t mean the Bucs can’t turn it into something bigger.
Published Apr. 20
Updated Apr. 22

TAMPA — It must be said, the first round of the NFL draft does not end with a crescendo. It’s not an encore, it’s not a flourish, it’s not a peak. It’s more like the crumbs at the bottom of a cookie jar. By the time the first round ends, so does Mel Kiper’s usefulness for another full calendar.

This is what Bucs fans have to look forward to. Thirty-one of the best college football players in the land will be claimed and acclaimed by the time Tampa Bay is scheduled to make its first pick at the end of the first round next week.

So maybe you’re wondering if it’s okay for you to skip all the pre-draft hype. To ignore the mock drafts, and to plan on letting the DVR do all the work for what is sure to be a late-night/early-morning pick on a school night.

That’s certainly one strategy. I mean, how many of Tampa Bay’s Super Bowl-winning players were chosen after the 32nd pick?

(Flipping through the pages of the Bucs media guide.)

Okay, so four of the five starting offensive linemen were picked sometime after No. 32. So were five of their top six receivers. And eight of the nine Bucs who got interceptions last season. And, from what I understand, Tom Brady also had a lonely first day of the 2000 draft.

In other words, championships are built on the backs of guys exactly like No. 32.

Related: Bucs’ 2020 hindsight led to one of their best draft classes

It’s not likely to be a sexy pick and the player may not even crack the starting lineup in 2021, but history says about half the players chosen at the end of the first round and the beginning of the second round end up being useful for multiple seasons.

So having said all of that, what should the Bucs do next week? They’re in the rare position of having all their starters returning on an elite team, which means they can look for whatever opportunity would have the highest ceiling, as opposed to picking someone to plug a hole or a weakness.

Should they draft an heir apparent for Brady? It’s not a bad idea if they think the right quarterback is still sitting there. Just in the last dozen years, Lamar Jackson, Andy Dalton, Teddy Bridgewater and Colin Kaepernick were all drafted between 32-36, and that doesn’t even include Russell Wilson (75), Nick Foles (88), Kirk Cousins (102) or Dak Prescott (135).

If the Bucs decide to draft a quarterback on Day 1, even late-round guys do go on to have successful NFL careers. Just ask Teddy Bridgewater.
If the Bucs decide to draft a quarterback on Day 1, even late-round guys do go on to have successful NFL careers. Just ask Teddy Bridgewater. [ BRIAN BLANCO | AP ]

Trade down and pick up extra players in later rounds? Considering future salary cap concerns, there’s an argument to be made that Tampa Bay will need an army of younger, lower-salaried players down the line.

Trade up and maximize their chances in 2021 by getting maximum impact with one player? To me, this makes the most sense. The Bucs have already shown a willingness to go for broke this season by re-signing all of their key free agents. And with as many talented players as they already have, the chances of later draft picks making this roster seems unlikely.

Of course, it’s impossible to make this case without knowing what players would still be left on the board or what other teams are going to want in return for swapping first-round picks.

Related: Could Quinn Meinerz become latest lineman Bucs elevate from obscurity?

But based on the NFL’s recent trade history — and Jimmy Johnson’s famed draft value chart — the Bucs likely could move up five spaces or more at the cost of their fourth-round pick. There’s not a tremendous difference between choosing at No. 27 and No. 32, but if the right player is available, it would seem to make more sense for the Bucs to do whatever necessary to get the player they want and be in position for Super Bowl 56.

Tampa Bay has had some success in the past few years getting safety Jordan Whitehead and linebacker Anthony Nelson in the fourth round so it’s not without risk. But it’s hard to see a player drafted that low making an immediate impact on the 2021 team.

General manager Jason Licht has not expressed a preference about staying put or trading, but he did say the unique nature of the roster means the Bucs are going to be focused on getting a player with a high ceiling in years to come as opposed to immediately cracking the lineup.

“It’s possible, it’s possible,” he said about getting an immediate starter. “Like we’ve said, it’s a luxury we have this year that we can pick who we think is going to be best player in two years. That’s how we always set our draft board: what this guy is going to be in two years. In today’s day and age everybody wants it to be it to be in two games.

“But we’re going to take the long view here and take the player we’re going to be happy with in the long haul.”

So what do you get a team that has everything?

Turns out, whatever it wants.

John Romano can be reached at jromano@tampabay.com and @romano_tbtimes.

NFL draft

April 29: Round 1, 8 p.m

April 30: Rounds 2-3, 7 p.m.

May 1: Rounds 4-7, noon

TV/streaming: ESPN, ABC, NFL Network

Notable: Bucs pick 32nd (Day 1), 64th and 95th (Day 2), and 137th, 176th, 217th, 251st and 259th (Day 3).

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