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Will the Bucs play the draft waiting game at No. 32?

With 22 returning starters, Jason Licht could package picks and make an aggressive move up in the first round.
Published Apr. 28
Updated Apr. 28

TAMPA — The Bucs have wants, not needs, in the NFL draft. That’s what happens when you win a Super Bowl, return 22 starters and more than a few key backups.

There aren’t that many roster spots available. You don’t need rookie players to make an immediate impact.

The Bucs’ approach will be refreshingly simple Thursday night: select the best player remaining on the board at No. 32.

The analogy going around the Bucs’ training facility goes like this: It’s like going to an unbelievable buffet at a five-star restaurant when you’re not really hungry. Just box the food up for later.

But there is a big addendum. The Bucs may get hungry earlier than you think.

In other words, with a window to stack some Super Bowl wins behind Tom Brady closing fast, the Bucs don’t have a need for all eight of their 2021 draft picks. They may prefer to package a few of those selections to move up in the first round.

It’s the kind of luxury that is afforded defending Super Bowl champions that aren’t hostage to selecting a player at any specific position.

“There are opportunities for us to get better in terms of our depth,” Bucs general manager Jason Licht said. “You never know how these players come in. They could challenge for a starting spot somewhere. But we are excited about the fact that in a lot of drafts, you have a lot of needs but now we have a lot of wants.

“We do have some decisions and some depth and some areas where we may need help in the future that we’re looking into.”

Most NFL drafts have anywhere from 15-20 players that are consensus first-round picks. The elite of the elite. After that, beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

This year, that list of top players includes as many as four quarterbacks: Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence, Alabama’s Mac Jones, North Dakota State’s Trey Lance and Ohio State’s Justin Fields.

The Bucs may want to consider adding a young quarterback to develop behind Brady, though it’s unlikely they would have enough draft capital to acquire one of those guys.

“Tom still has it. I’m done guessing when he’s not going to throw anymore,” said Bucs director of player personnel John Spytek. “I’ve seen a lot of guys’ legs leave them and their arms leave them; I have no prediction when it’s going to happen to him … we’re in rarified air.”

The Bucs biggest needs are on the interior offensive and defensive lines. They also could use another edge rusher with not much depth behind Jason Pierre-Paul and Shaquil Barrett.

If they stay at No. 32, would they have any shot at selecting Alabama defensive tackle Christian Barmore? Or could they take a chance on an edge rusher such as Washington outside linebacker Joe Tryon, Miami defensive lineman Gregory Rousseau — both of whom opted out in 2020 — or Alabama center Landon Dickerson, who is coming off an ACL injury?

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Perhaps Licht will get tired of waiting and package the No. 32 overall selection, their second-rounder and/or third-rounder and move up higher in the first round for a player such as Georgia edge rusher Azeez Ojulari, Southern Cal guard Alijah Vera-Tucker or Hurricanes edge rusher Jaelan Phillips.

What if one of the draft’s elite running backs, like Alabama’s Najee Harris or Clemson’s Travis Etienne, are within range? Sure, the Bucs are well-stocked at that position with Ronald Jones, Leonard Fournette and Giovani Bernard. But none of those players has a contract beyond this season.

The Bucs aren’t used to being in this position and may have to wait until early Friday morning before making their first selection. Or will they want a more hearty snack before midnight?

NFL draft

Thursday: Round 1, 8 p.m

Friday: Rounds 2-3, 7 p.m.

Saturday: Rounds 4-7, noon

TV/streaming: ESPN, ABC, NFL Network

Bucs picks: 32nd overall (Day 1); 64th and 95th (Day 2); and 137th, 176th, 217th, 251st, 259th (Day 3)

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