Before the 2020 NFL draft, and about a month after the Tampa Bay Buccaneers had signed Tom Brady, General Manager Jason Licht and Head Coach Bruce Arians said they were interested in finding a developmental quarterback in the draft. It just had to be the perfect intersection of right player and right pick.
Those two lines apparently never crossed for Licht and Arians on draft weekend because the team did not use any of their seven selections on a quarterback. The Buccaneers used their Day Two picks to add to the safety and the running back position and then spent Day Three hunting depth at defensive line, linebacker and running back, again.
There was only one quarterback picked on Day Two, as the Eagles took Oklahoma's Jalen Hurts eight spots after the Bucs landed on Minnesota safety Antoine Winfield, Jr. in the second round. Both teams are surely happy with those decisions. There were, however, two more quarterbacks selected in the fourth round, one each in the fifth and sixth rounds and four more in the seventh round. Only two of those eight players threw a pass last season – Jaguars sixth-rounder Jake Luton and Cowboys seventh-rounder Ben DiNucci – and it didn't go particularly well for either of them.
Any one of those passers could still pan out, of course, but the Buccaneers never saw any of them as the right fit at the right time. One year and one Super Bowl championship later, the Bucs are in mostly the same situation but with only two quarterbacks on the roster after Ryan Griffin re-signed to continue backing up Brady. And Licht and Arians are still interested in landing a quarterback but they remain adamant about doing so for the right reasons.
"You just want to make sure that you're not picking a quarterback just to pick a quarterback," said Licht in his annual pre-draft press conference. "You want everybody to be onboard, and the guy's got to have the right mindset. He's got to be, obviously, talented and can through the ball, but he's got to be somebody that we all feel comfortable with above the neck. There's always positives to drafting a quarterback if all those things align."
With no glaring needs on the current roster but also no clear succession plan for the eventual post-Brady era, the Bucs are a common team for draft analysts to match up with a quarterback. NFL.com's Chad Reuter's projections for the Bucs' eight picks on Thursday had the team potentially taking Texas quarterback Sam Ehlinger in the fifth round. CBS Sports analyst Josh Edwards was even more aggressive in his Thursday mock draft, sending quarterback Kellen Mond of Texas A&M to the Bucs at the end of the second round, as the first passer off the board after Day One.
"Good Morning Football" host and friend of the Buccaneers Peter Schrager chose TCU safety Trevon Moehrig for the team at the 32nd pick in his new mock draft this week. However, in Schrager's first version he used that final spot in the first round to pair the Bucs with Stanford's Davis Mills as the sixth quarterback in the round.
"I don't know where Mills goes exactly, but the buzz around the league is that he could be a first-round pick and will most likely be the sixth quarterback selected," wrote Schrager. "I'll throw him to Tampa Bay, where he can learn from a pretty good QB1."
Obviously, any young quarterback would relish the opportunity to begin his career in the same QB room as Tom Brady, but that's far from the only advantage to landing in Tampa right now. In fact, it is the very strong support system in place that increases Licht's desire to draft a quarterback…again, if the fit is right. In addition to Brady, a rookie passer at the AdventHealth Training Center would get tutelage from Arians the "QB Whisperer," former NFL starter and Offensive Coordinator Byron Leftwich, noted Quarterbacks Coach Clyde Christensen and seen-it-all Assistant Coach Tom Moore.
"Well, there's always pros to drafting a quarterback for us because of our coaching staff," said Licht. "Bruce and Byron and Clyde and Tom Moore – I mean, you couldn't think of a better staff to groom a quarterback."
This is not something the Buccaneers have done often, either before or during Licht's tenure as general manager. Since the draft was shortened to seven rounds in 1994, over a span of 26 drafts, the Bucs have taken three quarterbacks in the first round, but they've otherwise only done so once in the second round, twice in the third round and once each in the fourth, fifth, sixth and seventh rounds.
For one reason or another, most of those non-first round quarterbacks did end up playing for the Bucs pretty quickly. That's a group that includes Craig Erickson, Shaun King, Chris Simms, Bruce Gradkowski and Mike Glennon. None become long-term answers at the position, as that's simply a hard thing to find after the first round.
Licht believes this year's talent pool to be a bit tilted towards the offense, and indeed this year could be a record-breaker if more than 19 offensive players are selected in Round One. Starting with the strong possibility of five quarterbacks in the first 10 or so picks makes that more likely. He also knows there is only so much NFL talent to go around in each draft. Can the Bucs find that talent at quarterback this time around? Depends on how the draft board falls.
"That's not to say that there aren't players at every position that we have targeted throughout the entire draft," said Licht. "You always have what you want going into the draft. You don't necessarily come out of it with everything that you went in trying to get, because it depends on if the player is there. If you need a certain position or you want a certain position, it's not as easy as just picking any player at that position. It's all just going to kind of depend on who's there on the board."