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What Bucs absolutely should not do in draft's first round

General manager Jason Licht speaks during a press conference announcing the upcoming season of HBO's "Hard Knocks" featuring the Buccaneers at One Buccaneer Place in Tampa, Fla., on Wednesday, April 19, 2017. The show focuses on behind-the-scenes moments to give viewers a deeper look into NFL teams.
General manager Jason Licht speaks during a press conference announcing the upcoming season of HBO's "Hard Knocks" featuring the Buccaneers at One Buccaneer Place in Tampa, Fla., on Wednesday, April 19, 2017. The show focuses on behind-the-scenes moments to give viewers a deeper look into NFL teams.
Published Apr. 26, 2017

At approximately 10:30 Thursday night, commissioner Roger Goodell is expected to walk to the podium at the NFL draft holding a card that announces which player the Bucs will select with the 19th pick.

Many Bucs fans are hoping for Florida State running back Dalvin Cook. Mock drafts galore have Cook going to Tampa Bay. And if not Cook, there's a pie-in-the-sky dream that LSU's Leonard Fournette or Stanford's Christian McCaffrey lands here.

After all, the Bucs look like they need a running back, and this draft has plenty of good ones.

So let's say no team takes a running back in the first 18 picks and the Bucs have their choice of every back in the land. Which one should they take?

None of them.

Taking a running back in the first round is just not smart.

Plenty will disagree with that theory, and history has its share of first-round picks who went on to be sensational running backs with long careers. Emmitt Smith, Walter Payton, Barry Sanders, LaDainian Tomlinson, Eric Dickerson, Tony Dorsett — all first-round picks.

But in today's game, with an emphasis on throwing the ball, with a shorter shelf life for backs, with specialized backs, with so many backs available to be acquired outside the first round, the top of the draft should be used for something other than running back.

Defensive line. Offensive line. Cornerback. Linebacker. Those are hard positions to fill. Typically, you need to draft those players and draft them high.

Elite left tackles, star defensive tackles, shutdown corners — those guys are hard to find in free agency. If they're good, their teams don't let them make it to free agency. If they're really good, they aren't waiting to be picked late in the draft.

RELATED STORY: Tom Jones on why it's a bad idea to wait on running backs

But running back? Times have changed. Spending a high draft pick to get one is not necessary.

Go back to the golden age of running backs — the 1970s. Back then, 1,000-yard rushers were the center­piece of any good offense and the key to a championship-caliber team. Those 1,000-yard rushers usually were a result of high draft picks. The 1971 draft had seven first-round backs. The 1970 draft produced five first-round backs. So did the 1969 draft. That's 17 running backs taken in the first round of three drafts.

There have been a grand total of three backs taken in the first round of the past four drafts. There must be a reason for that.

Look back to last season. Of the NFL's top 10 leading rushers, you know how many were first-round picks? One.

Seven were taken in the third round or later, including one (LeGarrette Blount) who wasn't drafted at all.

And check this out: Four of the top 10 rushers played for teams for which they didn't start their careers.

So why in the world would you take such a valuable asset — a first-round pick — and spend it on a player you can get later in the draft or in free agency?

Well, some might argue, there are always exceptions to any rule. Look at what the Cowboys did last year. They used the fourth overall pick on Ohio State's Ezekiel Elliott, who led the NFL in rushing with 1,631 yards. The Cowboys made the playoffs, mostly because Elliott had a stellar season leading an offense missing quarterback Tony Romo. No question that Elliott pick was a good one.

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So far.

But let's not get ahead of ourselves.

If you judged Doug Martin's career after one season, we would have said the same thing.

Martin was a first-round pick for the Bucs in 2012 and he, too, had an excellent rookie season, rushing for 1,454 yards — fourth-best in the NFL. Yet, five years in, Martin's career has been disappointing with injuries stalling three of his seasons. Maybe the Bucs would have been better off using the Martin pick to, instead, take Pro Bowl corner Janoris Jenkins or Pro Bowl linebackers Bobby Wagner or Zach Brown.

Remember when the Bucs took Cadillac Williams with the fifth overall pick of the 2005 draft? After one season in which Williams rushed for 1,178 and was the offensive rookie of the year, no one seemed to mind that the Bucs took him instead of linebackers DeMarcus Ware, Shawne Merriman, Thomas Davis or Derrick Johnson or a quarterback named Aaron Rodgers. But what about five injury-plagued seasons later?

While hindsight is 20/20, the point is we can't declare the Cowboys' pick of Elliott a success after one good season.

Yes, the Bucs seem like they need a running back. Who knows if Martin has anything left to offer. Jacquizz Rodgers might be the best option at the moment. Maybe the Bucs can find a reliable back later in the draft.

The Bucs do have other needs.

They could always use a pass rusher. They could use a defensive tackle. Offensive line is never a bad pick. Safety is a need.

There are plenty of things the Bucs could do with the 19th pick.

But one of them should not be choosing a running back.


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