Bucs' draft has to be about offense

There is a consensus on four or five top players in the draft, and one of those is defensive end Jadeveon Clowney of South Carolina.
There is a consensus on four or five top players in the draft, and one of those is defensive end Jadeveon Clowney of South Carolina.
Published May 4, 2014

TAMPA — Lovie Smith is a defensive coach. That's not a knock. It's just his background and, fundamentally, how he believes you win games.

And make no mistake, the Bucs' coach has won a lot of games. He has won them as a linebackers coach with the Bucs, as defensive coordinator of the Rams and as head coach of the Bears, where he averaged just under 10 wins per year in nine seasons.

But in Chicago, Smith's teams struggled at times on offense, never finishing higher than 15th overall in total offense. He also had four offensive coordinators.

That brings us to the NFL draft, which begins Thursday. Once again, Smith has a team that plays on a lopsided field.

The Bucs finished last in total offense last season. They have three proven playmakers: Vincent Jackson, Doug Martin and rookie Tim Wright. The lack of speed is glaring.

That's why the first draft under Smith and general manager Jason Licht has to be about offense. And frankly, they need everything.

"We definitely want an impact player. We definitely want to improve our speed on our team, and we know games are won and lost in the trenches," Licht said. "So I'll leave it at that. We do want the best player available, and we want it to converge with the best player of need on our board."

They own the seventh overall choice. There's virtually no way to predict what will occur during the six selections ahead of them.

Tampa Bay could force the issue. NFL observers are fairly certain the Bucs plan to take a quarterback, most likely early. The two who have drawn their attention are Johnny Manziel and Derek Carr.

"It has been documented … there are a lot of good players a little bit further down in the draft," Smith said. "At that seventh spot, though, we feel that we're going to get a pretty good player there. And how about moving up? What do you think about that?"

If the Bucs were to move up for Manziel, it would have to be to No. 2 overall, the Rams' pick, and the cost could be prohibitive. In addition to swapping first-round picks, they would likely have to part with their second-rounder and at least one or two other choices. Moving down would seem more likely, particularly if a receiver such as Texas A&M's Mike Evans is there.

Evans is a terrific talent and is most compared to Jackson in terms of his size and ability. But he runs a 4.53-second 40. That's great speed but not elite, and you could make an argument the Bucs could use someone faster to stretch the field.

It's a deep draft for receivers, and the Bucs have a lot of other needs. Start with the offensive line. They are set with left tackle Anthony Collins, right tackle Demar Dotson and center Evan Dietrich-Smith. But neither guard spot is secure, especially with the uncertain status of Carl Nicks.

The Bucs are saying all the right things about Nicks possibly being ready by training camp. But foot injuries with nerve damage don't mix well with 360-pound players who get paid to move piles. So it's a given the Bucs have to come out of this draft with a guard or, at the very least, a tackle who can play guard for a year or two before moving outside.

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There is a consensus on four or five top players in the draft: defensive end Jadeveon Clowney of South Carolina, Buffalo linebacker Khalil Mack, Clemson receiver Sammy Watkins, Auburn offensive tackle Greg Robinson and Texas A&M tackle Jake Matthews. After that, beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

A player who might be worthy of a top-10 choice is Pittsburgh defensive tackle Aaron Donald. Typically, he would be a three technique, and the Bucs are secure at that position with Gerald McCoy. But Smith is a defensive coach, and the thought of pairing Donald with McCoy might be intriguing.

By the Bucs trading down a few spots and picking up more selections in the top three rounds, Donald may still be available. And there is no shortage of potential partners. The 49ers and Lions are said to be high on Evans. The Niners have two second-round selections to use as currency.

But the way things are shaking out, it looks like the Bucs will love the player waiting for them at No. 7. And perhaps even more important, he will play offense.