TAMPA – This is the Rubiks Cube of NFL drafts. It can be twisted and turned it in any direction. Not many know how everything will line up.
For the Bucs, the puzzle is simple. Since they have the No. 7 overall pick, they need four quarterbacks — in any combination — already to be taken.
Why? That would push one of the three marquee position players to Tampa Bay: Penn State running back Saquon Barkley, North Carolina State defensive end Bradley Chubb or Notre Dame guard Quenton Nelson.
"I don't like picking at seven just because it means it's a repercussion of your season, the disappointment of the season before,'' Licht said. "But, with Mike Evans (in 2014), it worked out. So hopefully it's a lucky number seven.''
There's an unlimited amount of scenarios that could play out in the draft. Trades are unpredictable and there could be many in the first round. But here's what the Bucs will be watching closely for and how they may respond.
If four quarterbacks go ahead of the Bucs — Southern Cal's Sam Darnold, Wyoming's Josh Allen, UCLA's Josh Rosen and Oklahoma's Baker Mayfield — general manager Jason Licht will do backflips. Or at least dignified somersaults.
Barkley is one of the highest-rated players in the draft, a freakish athlete at 6-foot, 233-pounds with 4.41 speed in the 40-yard dash, a 41-inch vertical and flypaper hands. It's unlikely he gets past the New York Giants at No. 2 or the Browns No. 4 overall pick. Running back is a need position for the Bucs and it's a deep draft at that position, but if Barkley were there for the Bucs, it's a no-brainer.
After that, Chubb is the best edge rusher in the draft. After quarterback, a pass rusher has the highest value. Either the Giants (2), Browns (4), Broncos (5) or Colts (6) are bound to gobble up the N.C. State star. Even though the Bucs traded for Giants defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul and signed Eagles free agent Vinny Curry, they couldn't look past Chubb in this scenario.
But the most likely player to fall to the Bucs is Nelson. ESPN draft guru Mel Kiper has him ranked as the fourth best player in the draft. At 6-5, 325-pounds with an insatiable nasty streak, he would be a good fit in the middle of the offensive line with center Ryan Jensen and left guard Ali Marpet.
What's more, right tackle Demar Dotson recently had knee surgery, meaning Caleb Benenoch may be forced to move from guard to tackle. Guard J.R. Sweezy also is recovering from surgery and Nelson would fortify a strong offensive line.
Even though the Bucs have bigger needs on defense and safeties such as Florida State's Derwin James and Alabama's Minkah Fitzpatrick could be on the board, it's believe Tampa Bay would stay true to their draft board and take Nelson.
Rick Stroud answers your #NFLDraft questions, including who the Bucs might take at No. 7, which running backs they might be looking at, whether Taven Bryan could slip to them in the second round and more. #Bucs #Buccaneers @NFLSTROUD @TB_Times https://t.co/Zt4AOGcFNq— TampaBayTimesSports (@TBTimes_Sports) April 25, 2018
Another FSU pick?
What that means is only three quarterbacks were taken in the top six picks. If that were the case, the Bucs would field a lot of phone calls from teams such as the Dolphins (11), Bills (12) or the Cardinals (15) to move up. We'll deal with that in a minute.
But let's assume the Bucs rebuff those offers and make a selection.
"There are enough players there, if no quarterback went above us…we would be very excited about if we stayed put," Licht said.
ESPN draft analyst Todd McShay believes the Bucs would take James. "It seems like they have narrowed in on Derwin James," McShay wrote in his analysis. "James going to Tampa Bay seems like the worst-kept secret in the NFL right now."
That's because it seems clear the Bucs have James rated slightly ahead of Alabama's Minkah Fitzpatrick. The Bucs need help in the secondary and James is a true strong safety who can make plays at the line of scrimmage or in coverage. He can blitz. He's very versatile. The Bucs could pair him with Justin Evans for many years to come.
"I don't want to make it sound like we're telling you guys who we're zeroing in on but all of these players, we have to have a plan with," Licht said.
The parrot is delivering the name to an announcer, not actually reading out the pick. Potential problem? "Zsa Zsa only likes blond women." #Bucs #Buccaneers #NFLDraft @gregauman @TB_Times https://t.co/gTQ2lEXlMf— TampaBayTimesSports (@TBTimes_Sports) April 24, 2018
This would have some appeal for the Bucs, although it doesn't seem as likely as it once did. It all depends on how far Licht would be comfortable falling.
"If there's a player that you really like and you feel very, very confident in, you shouldn't hesitate to take the player,'' Licht said. "Sometimes getting cute, moving back, can cost."
If the Bucs traded down to No. 12 with the Dolphins, for example, they would have to be okay with any of the next five players on the board. But the upside is they likely would recoup at least the third round pick they sent to the Giants for Pierre-Paul, if not substantially more.
Under a trade down scenario, a player such as Washington defensive tackle Vita Vea or Ohio State cornerback Denzel Ward comes into play for the Bucs.
If we judge Jason Licht's drafts by whether he has beaten expectations, they haven’t been as bad as you might think. #Bucs #Buccaneers @Buccaneers #NFLDraft @tometrics @TB_Times https://t.co/6ASLRJSksY— TampaBayTimesSports (@TBTimes_Sports) April 24, 2018
It sounds crazy, right? But stick with me. Licht and coach Dirk Koetter know they are out of mulligans. Why not mortgage a piece of the future to get the player you want? One that can push your team over the finish line?
What if Barkley unexpectedly falls to the Broncos at No. 5 or the Colts at No. 6 and those teams wanted additional picks and were willing to move down a few spots. Would the Bucs do it? Would they do it for Chubb? Nelson?
If you agree there are really only three quarterbacks and three position players that are elite by consensus, and a perceptible drop-off in talent occurs after that, moving up makes some sense.
"We have a lot of people that worked very hard on this year's draft and our goal is to nail it,'' Licht said.