TAMPA — The buzz surrounding this year's NFL draft is a class of talented quarterbacks deep enough to challenge the record six taken in the first round in 1983, a group that included future Hall of Famers John Elway, Jim Kelly and Dan Marino.
That's setting expectations high, and the Bucs wouldn't mind if this draft — which begins Thursday with the first round in Arlington, Texas — is a little closer to 1999's, which saw five quarterbacks taken in the first round. Tim Couch, Donovan McNabb and Akili Smith were the top three picks, and two more quarterbacks went in the top 12.
"It's a quarterback-driven league," NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock said. "I think it's going to be a crazy eight, 10, 12 picks, so many permutations of the quarterback conversation."
You can debate which of this year's top quarterbacks — USC's Sam Darnold, UCLA's Josh Rosen, Wyoming's Josh Allen and Oklahoma's Baker Mayfield — will be the most successful at the next level.
The Bucs — picking No. 7 overall, and well covered at quarterback with Jameis Winston — don't care as much which passer goes where, as long as quarterbacks are getting picked.
What's exciting for them is the player who went seventh in 1999, pushed down by those passers: 12-time Pro Bowl cornerback Champ Bailey, headed to the Pro Football Hall of Fame next year.
"It'll definitely impact the players that will be available," Bucs general manager Jason Licht said of the demand for quarterbacks high in the draft. "You hear a lot of different scenarios. … It's our job to go through all the scenarios and to be prepared for every single one."
The Bucs say they've even prepared for the extremely unlikely scenario that no quarterbacks go in the top six. When they last picked No. 7, in 2014, only one quarterback went in the top six, and Tampa Bay still got a future Pro Bowl receiver in Mike Evans.
But there are QB-needy teams at the top of the draft. The Browns are likely to use either their No. 1 or No. 4 pick on a quarterback, and the Jets, having paid a fortune to move up from No. 6 to No. 3, almost certainly will take one. Other teams, such as the Bills, could trade up into the top six to take another one ahead of the Bucs.
If four quarterbacks go in the top six picks, which has never happened, it would mean at least one of the draft's top three nonquarterbacks — Penn State running back Saquon Barkley, N.C. State defensive end Bradley Chubb, Notre Dame guard Quenton Nelson— would be available at No. 7, far later than they'd fall in most drafts.
If only three quarterbacks go in the top six, that could set up the Bucs to take advantage of the quarterback demand, trading down from No. 7 and potentially adding another first-round pick or multiple picks to help address their multiple needs.
Which quarterback will go where? ESPN's Mel Kiper has had Allen going to the Browns with the top pick since January. Some mock drafts have Rosen as the most likely to fall a bit Thursday. Don't forget about Louisville's Lamar Jackson, another likely first-round pick whose projections are all over the map.
Three teams traded up to take quarterbacks in the top 10 last year, and there's every expectation of more of the same this year. Teams tend to overpay to get a potential franchise quarterback, and the Bucs can benefit from that, either in the players pushed down in the draft or the windfall they could get in a trade.
Quarterbacks remain the biggest unknown at the top of the draft, making it more unpredictable than usual.
"That's what makes this a lot more fun for us, going through all these scenarios," Licht said. "That's the excitement of the draft. I remember as a kid watching it, listening to it, reading about it and trying to guess who's going to go where. We're doing the same thing now."
In 2014, Lovie Smith's first season as the Bucs head coach, he decided to set a trap before the draft. And Rick Stroud took the cheese. #Bucs #Buccaneers @NFLSTROUD @TB_Times #NFLDraft #Illini https://t.co/yxz6hSd3ZC pic.twitter.com/GX3XSnK7iR— TampaBayTimesSports (@TBTimes_Sports) April 20, 2018
Contact Greg Auman at [email protected] and (813) 310-2690. Follow @gregauman.