Picking last on Day 1 of NFL draft is not necessarily a bad thing

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Rick Stroud, Tampa Bay Times
·6 min read
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TAMPA — Winning a Super Bowl has its perks. And some punishment.

Finishing first in the NFL means you pick last in the following draft. It’s a parity-based league, but to be honest, the Bucs are not about to complain about owning the 32nd overall selection.

No one wants to put the champagne back in the bottle.

In fact, the Bucs have owned a top-10 pick in the draft 19 times in their 45-year history. That doesn’t include trading away a few of those high draft choices in 1979, 1983 and 1992.

The decision-makers in the Bucs’ front office are happy to hit the buffet for about three hours April 29 until the final choice in the first round is called.

“Picking at 32 is a really cool spot to be in because you just won the Super Bowl,” said Mike Biehl, the Bucs’ college scouting director. “It also means you probably have a pretty good team, so picking the best player really comes into play even more when you’re down there and I almost think that’s the position we’re in.”

The Bucs did a great job of retaining most of their own free agents. In fact, they’re the first defending Super Bowl champs to return all 22 starters since the Raiders did the same after they won it all in 1977.

The Bucs didn’t have a first-round selection after winning Super Bowl 37, having traded it to the Raiders as part of the bounty for coach Jon Gruden.

Because there aren’t any position openings, the Bucs believe they can take the best player available at No. 32. (With the exception of kicker; the Bucs are all set there, general manager Jason Licht adds).

Of course, when teams say they want the best player available, what they really mean is the best player available at the position of need.

“If anybody is telling you they’re picking the best player available, they’re kind of lying to you, right?” said John Spytek, the Bucs’ director of player personnel. “But it’s kind of a sliding scale. If you’re picking high, you want it to be the best player available at a position of need.

“It’s a little truer for us this year than it would be other years. I would look at it as where are we a little bit light in depth? Where are we a little bit older? If this is an area we feel we’re a little light, this guy may be able to play for us by Week 5 if somebody gets dinged up. He can jump in and play pretty well. And some of our guys are older and they’re not going to be here three years from now, maybe two years from now.”

The Bucs have some needs, especially at defensive line, linebacker and on the interior offensive line where they have some older veterans.

Of course, any list would include quarterback. Tom Brady will be 44 in August. A couple of mock drafts have linked the Bucs with quarterbacks such as Stanford’s Davis Mills or Florida’s Kyle Trask.

The No. 32 spot has produced quarterbacks before. The Ravens selected Lamar Jackson with the final pick in the 2018 draft. The Chargers took Drew Brees 32nd in 2001.

In fact, Licht acknowledged the Bucs are in a position to take a developmental player that may not pay off until 2022 or 2023.

“Absolutely. It’s a luxury that we could have this year,” Licht said. “Now, of course, in a perfect world you want to pick players that can come in and help and contribute right away, but we do have the luxury of having a guy being able to sit back and learn and watch and get developed by a coaching staff and veteran players.”

Interestingly, the final pick of the first round has been one that has received a lot of interest from other teams. Four times in the past 10 years, it has been associated with a trade.

The advantage for making a pick in the first round is that the player you select comes with a fifth-year club option. But it’s virtually impossible to completely predict which players may still be available at the bottom of Day 1.

It’s not the routine the Bucs are used to. Six times in the past seven years under Licht, the Bucs have never picked lower than 12. In fact, they traded down five spots to selected Vita Vea 12th overall in 2018.

“There’s a lot more variables, right?” Spytek said. “We’ve kind of obsessed. In the past, when you’re picking five, it was, ‘Who is going to go in front of us? If these two guys go and these three guys are left, will we trade out? But what if these four guys go and there’s only one guy left, would we trade out?’

“That was an exercise Jason would have (director of football administration Mike Greenberg) and myself do almost to exhaustion. We’d tried to come up with every scenario we possibly could and ultimately what Jason would do. We’d give him a copy and he’d cross stuff off. So the Vita (Vea) trade for example, when we were picking at seven, we laid out scenarios like will trade, won’t trade, will definitely trade. We won’t be doing that this year.”

The Bucs’ scouts have prepared the same as they always do for the draft, but Biehl, Spytek and Licht have had to play some catchup due to the season extending by five weeks thanks to the Super Bowl run.

Again, you won’t hear any complaints. Strange as it may sound, their goal is to never be in position to take the best player in the NFL draft again.

“I think there’s a pressure — at least in my mind — when you’re picking as high as we are the last three drafts,” Spytek said. “Just take Vita, Devin (White) and Tristan (Wirfs). You don’t want to be up there. It’s kind of like the great line from (Steelers coach) Mike Tomlin when he was mic’d up and talking to (Washington pass rusher) Chase Young when he said, ‘I don’t want to pick people like you because I got to lose 15 games to pick people like you.’ ”

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