When it came to watching tape in preparation for this year's NFL Scouting Combine, Bruce Arians would've preferred to skip to dessert but knew he had to concentrate on the meat and potatoes first.
"I probably watched more offensive line than I have in years because, again, there's a lot of good, quality guys up and down [the line] – centers, guards, tackles," said the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' head coach. "I usually like watching skill players more but I spent a lot of time this year on the offensive line."
Yes, this draft may be historically deep in wide receiver talent, and that could definitely tempt the Buccaneers in April. But that feels like more of a luxury than the offensive line, where Tampa Bay may be looking for a top-of-the-line prospect it can plug directly into a starting role. Incumbent right tackle Demar Dotson is headed towards free agency and may or may not be back; either way, the Bucs haven't invested a first-round pick in an offensive tackle since 2001.
This year they have the 14th pick in the first round and while the pool of offensive line talent may not be quite as remarkably deep as the receivers it is definitely top-heavy with tackles who have good shots at being picked in the first round.
General Manager Jason Licht regards this year's class of offensive tackles to be the best one in "several years." That doesn't mean that the Buccaneers will drop everything and hone in exclusively on the position in the first round. However, they may have fewer competing needs at the top of their list this year, and that would be increasingly true if they succeed in bringing back most of their potential free agents on the defensive front.
"It's the same as any other year where it's strong at another position, and you may have a need there," said Licht. "At the end of the day, you want to take the best player. You're not going to go into a draft – no team is – with just one need, and you take that one player. You do have to take need into account when you're drafting, but I would say this year we don't have nearly as many needs as we've had in the past. So we have the luxury of being able to…if we're able to re-sign our guys, it gives us some options. It's also strong in some other areas in the draft, too, that I'd be excited about."
Of course, one of those guys the Bucs bring back could be Dotson, which might then reduce the perceived need at tackle. On the other hand, Dotson is not likely a long-term solution at this point in his career so the Buccaneers could actually do both, re-signing the veteran and still drafting one of the top tackles.
"That's one of the things we'll have to talk about some more, what we want to do there, but again, the price has got to be right [to re-sign Dotson]," said Arians.
No matter what happens with Dotson, it's hard to imagine the Buccaneers not at least being tempted by the available talent at offensive tackle. Arians clearly thought it was worth his time to take a deeper pre-Combine dive into the tape at that position instead of feasting on footage of Jerry Jeudy or CeeDee Lamb.
"There's about five or six tackles that are big time," said Arians.
Judging from popular opinion among draft analysts, those five or six probably include Alabama's Jedrick Wills, Iowa's Tristan Wirfs, Georgia's Andrew Thomas, Louisville's Mekhi Becton, USC's Austin Jackson and Houston's Josh Jones. It would be a surprise if at least two or three of those are not still available when the Buccaneers select at number 14. And maybe that will be the real luxury pick.