INDIANAPOLIS — Give them Saquon Barkley. Think how far his legs would carry the Bucs. Plug in Bradley Chubb. Sacks would be up, quarterbacks would go down. If only they could select Quenton Nelson. A changing of the guard would commence immediately in the NFC South.
But whether you're talking about the Penn State running back, the North Carolina State defensive end or the Notre Dame guard, the Bucs can't catch a break in the NFL draft.
Blame it on the touchdown catch Chris Godwin made in the final seconds of Tampa Bay's 31-24 win over the Saints in the season finale. That play pushed the team's draft order down two spots to No. 7 overall, which means the Bucs may be a digit or two short of the winning lottery ticket.
If you follow the Bucs, this is nothing new.
For years, Tampa Bay always seemed to be picking just a spot or two outside of where the consensus star players are selected.
In 1989, the Bucs took Nebraska LB Broderick Thomas No. 6 overall. He wasn't even the best Thomas in the draft. Derrick Thomas went to Kansas City two spots earlier. And at No. 5 overall? Deion Sanders to the Atlanta Falcons.
In 1991, the Bucs took Tennessee OT Charles McRae No. 7 overall. One pick earlier, DT Eric Swann went to the Cardinals. McRae was a bust. Swann became a two-time All-Pro.
Sometimes, the Bucs do it to themselves. In 1990, Tampa Bay owned the No. 4 overall pick and selected LB Keith McCants, who had played for Tampa Bay coach Ray Perkins at Alabama. With the next pick, the San Diego Chargers selected LB Junior Seau, who had a Hall of Fame career.
What the Bucs are rooting for at this NFL scouting combine and during the next month is for teams to fall in love with all the top quarterbacks in this draft.
Southern Cal's Sam Darnold, UCLA's Josh Rosen, Wyoming's Josh Allen and Oklahoma's Baker Mayfield all could go before the Bucs are on the clock. It's almost imperative they do if Tampa Bay is going to have a consensus elite player left on the board in the first round.
Several teams picking ahead of Tampa Bay absolutely could use a quarterback: The Browns, Giants, Broncos and Jets.
But Cleveland has the No. 1 and No. 4 overall selections, so one of those position players is probably gone.
Barkley put on such a show this past week that he may become the first running back to be selected No. 1 since Penn State's Ki-Jana Carter in 1995. At 233 pounds, Barkley ran 4.41 in the 40-yard dash, did 29 reps of 225 pounds and had a 41-inch vertical jump.
He has interviewed with the Bucs, but even if all four QBs go ahead of Tampa Bay's pick, it's hard to imagine Barkley falling to No. 7.
Chubb is the best edge rusher in the draft with 20 sacks and 44 tackles for loss in the past two seasons. The Bucs were the only team that had fewer sacks (22) last season than the Colts (25), who pick third.
Nelson would provide an instant upgrade at a Bucs position of need with guards Kevin Pamphile and Evan Smith expected to hit free agency. The Giants, Browns and Broncos all need offensive line help, so if any of those teams addresses the quarterback position in free agency, Nelson will be gone.
That leaves the possibility of Alabama DB Minkah Fitzpatrick being on the board if the aforementioned quarterbacks go in the top six picks. Fitzpatrick would be a perfect strong safety to pair with Justin Evans, but that's a lot of resources to spend on that position that the Bucs will try to address in free agency.
TRADE RUMBLINGS: Not sure why the Bucs didn’t land Rams DE Robert Quinn, who was traded to the Dolphins for a fourth-round pick and a swap of sixth-rounders.
Quinn, 27, has two years remaining on his contract which will pay him $24 million. He had 81/2 sacks last season. The Bucs were interested, but it's unclear if they made an offer or didn't offer as much as Miami or if the Rams preferred to deal him to an AFC team.
HONEY BADGER: The Bucs spent some time this week watching film of Cardinals S Tyrann Mathieu. The Cardinals owe Mathieu $18.75 million in guaranteed salary if he is on the roster March 17. He could be made available for trade, and Tampa Bay may have an interest. Former Cardinals defensive line coach Brentson Buckner is now on the Bucs staff. Mathieu, who turns 26 in May, played a league-high 1,263 snaps last season and finished with 74 tackles, two interceptions and seven pass breakups. The question is, where does he fit? Evans is more of the rangy, ball-hawking safety who plays the deep middle. At this stage of his career, that’s maybe what Mathieu does best. There’s also a possibility he makes it to free agency.