Several times during his pre-draft press conference on Tuesday, Tampa Bay Buccaneers General Manager Mark Dominik described this year's class of prospects as "thick." As with a bankroll, a hollandaise sauce or a cloud cover on a training camp afternoon, that was meant to be a positive assessment.
Basically, Dominik was agreeing with the general perception of this year's talent pool as somewhat low in star-power – particularly in terms of blue-chip quarterbacks or running backs – but possessing intriguing depth, especially along the front lines. As it turns out, if that assessment proves true it will be the perfect draft landscape for the Buccaneers and their newly-rearranged situation.
The Buccaneers spent their highest pick a little early, devoting the #13 overall selection (plus a conditional mid-rounder in 2014) to the trade that brought in the NFL's premier cornerback, Darrelle Revis. Now their first two selections are numbers 43 and 73, about a third of the way into the second and third rounds, respectively, and the breadth and depth of this draft class should serve Dominik and company well.
"Yeah, I would say that it's a thick draft," said Dominik. "It's a "depth" draft, is the way to say it. Certainly there are stars in this draft class and it's going to be real interesting to watch the first picks peel off. I do think there's thickness in this draft class and that's why it was important and it's nice that we still have the two and three, the two fours and four picks in the top-four rounds. There is still is a chance to do some work and to get some better talent in here and continue to add with guys like a five and two sixes. I actually like this draft class, I like where we are situated…and I like our first-round pick right now."
As Dominik spells out, the Buccaneers came out of the Revis trade with a draft hand that is still flush, perhaps more so than most analysts expected. With their newest defensive star already tucked in with the first-round pick, the Bucs still own seven selections – one each in the second through sixth rounds and an extra one each in the fourth and sixth stanzas. By hitting the most pressing and obvious need on the depth chart with Sunday's trade, the team also put itself in a better position to maximize numbers 43 and 73.
"I think the main think with Darrelle Revis being on the football team is it allows us to have more flexibility," Dominik explained. "It doesn't hold you as hostage to a cornerback. Obviously everybody knew that that was a position of need for this football team in terms of just continuing to develop the competition at a high level. So I think it actually expands our draft board. I think it allows us flexibility starting with pick number 43, the ability to consider going up but also allows you to stay there or move back. I think you don't feel like your hostage to a position. That's a tough place to be in the draft and that causes mistakes and we're trying not to do that. I think our draft board, now, opens up very well for the entire draft to look at almost every position. We're starting to talk about possibly staying right there at 43 in the second round."
Dominik is known for his willingness (and ability) to aggressively move around the draft board, as he did a year ago in swinging three deals that led to the selections of Mark Barron, Doug Martin and Lavonte David. The fact, however, that he and Head Coach Greg Schiano consider the "staying put" strategy to potentially be the best one in the second round is an indication that there is depth matching up with the Bucs' desires.
No NFL general manager is going to openly discuss his team's evaluation of prospects before the draft, but when questioned in general terms about the talent at certain positions, Dominik did concede that the cornerback and defensive tackle spots appear to have good depth. He also said he was "not opposed" to adding a young quarterback to the depth chart in a class that seems more suited for mid-round selections than top-10 picks, but emphasized that he wouldn't "force it." Of those positions, defensive tackle might be the most intriguing, especially for a team that lost a starter, Roy Miller, to free agency.
"I think defensive tackle quite frankly is one of the deeper positions in this draft," said Dominik. "I think a lot of people feel that way. It's true. So, do you have the chance to pull a guy at 43 or 73, even? I think there's an opportunity for that. I think it's a good class in that regard and that will be one of the positions that will be interesting to watch. But I wouldn't pigeon-hole myself in terms of that's the position we want to go get."
The Revis trade and the "thickness" of this year's class should allow Tampa Bay to stick closely to its draft approach, often described as "the best available player for the Buccaneers." If drafting for need and drafting the best available player are on opposite ends of the spectrum, the above strategy is closer to the best-available-player approach, but with the concession that depth chart needs do color the decision.
However, Dominik cautions that those needs aren't always as obvious as they seem.
"Your best strength today might be your biggest weakness tomorrow," he said. "We dealt with that at guard this last year, thinking that we were walking into the season with the two best guards and we never played one game with them [together]. You can end up in a situation where you lose some players at a position and you suddenly say, 'Boy, if I would have just taken him last year we'd be in a lot better shape.' So you try to stay with the level of the talent of the player and that's why everybody says, 'We'll take the best player for the Bucs.'"