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NFL Draft: Where the Bucs could find a development quarterback

Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston (3) at midfield after the game between the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and New Orleans Saints in Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Fla. on Sunday, Dec. 11, 2016. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers beat the New Orleans Saints 16 - 11.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston (3) at midfield after the game between the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and New Orleans Saints in Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Fla. on Sunday, Dec. 11, 2016. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers beat the New Orleans Saints 16 - 11.
Published Apr. 25, 2017

TAMPA — The Bucs, quite blissfully for their fans, do not need to draft a starting quarterback this week.

Appreciate that fact, as teams that don't have an answer at football's most crucial position scramble to try to find one. For all the drama involved in trading up or reaching for a quarterback at the top of a draft, the Bucs can be bystanders, knowing that each passer taken in the top 18 picks is another talented non-QB available to them at No. 19.

Jameis Winston has twice thrown for 4,000-plus yards, and the Bucs aren't likely to spend a draft pick on a backup. The main uncertainty with 27-year-old Ryan Griffin, in line to take over as Winston's top backup, is that he's never played in an NFL game — a rookie would come in with that same question mark and less experience in Dirk Koetter's offense.

None of this year's top quarterbacks have the No. 1 overall buzz that Winston and Marcus Mariota had two years ago —- UNC's Mitch Trubisky, Clemson's Deshaun Watson, Notre Dame's DeShone Kizer and Texas Tech's Patrick Mahomes are likely first-round picks, but that speaks more to the demand at the position than this year's supply of potential starters.

That's not to say the Bucs won't have a quarterback at their rookie minicamp next week, or that they won't sign one to compete with Sean Renfree to make a case for a No. 3 quarterback on the 53-man roster this fall. Perhaps the Bucs carry only two on the roster, using a rookie on the practice squad as their No. 3 quarterback, freeing up a roster spot for depth at another position.

The Bucs have ties to quarterback prospects in this class — QBs coach Mike Bajakian was Tennessee's offensive coordinator in 2013-14 when Josh Dobbs was there, but he's likely a mid-round pick, too high for the Bucs.

Offensive coordinator Todd Monken has ties to two quarterbacks more likely to be available for a practice-squad job — Southern Miss quarterback Nick Mullens, who threw for 62 touchdowns in the last two years, played for Monken in Hattiesburg, as did Kyle Sloter, who transferred to Northern Colorado and threw for 29 touchdowns there last season.

Logic says the ideal backup behind a quarterback like Winston is a player established enough that the team could have a good chance to win in the starter's unexpected absence — a rookie would allow for more development and upside, but would put even more of a question mark on the dropoff if Winston were to get hurt. Toward that end, the Bucs are unlikely to use a draft pick on any quarterback this week, happy to know they have the kind of answer other teams still seek.

LATE-ROUND/FREE AGENT OPTIONS

Alek Torgersen, Penn: Ivy Leaguer played in Shrine Game and proved himself an accurate QB in college -- 36 TDs against 7 INTs the last two years, completing 67 percent of his throws as a senior.

Seth Russell, Baylor: Missed end of last season with an ankle injury, but has recovered -- 49 TDs against 14 INTs his last two years in Baylor offense.

Cooper Rush, Central Michigan: Had 90 TDs as four-year starter in college -- Bucs assistant Butch Barry was a Chippewas offensive assistant with him in 2013-14.

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