The Bucs want to make sure they know a player will fit in their locker room, as Aqib Talib has done, before they grade him highly on their draft board
In just two days, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' leadership will make some very important decisions, ones that will still be affecting the franchise years down the road.
The 2009 NFL Draft will begin at approximately 4:00 p.m. ET on Saturday. A few hours later, the Buccaneers will make their first pick, perhaps at the number-19 spot in which they are currently slotted. They'll have 10 minutes to make that decision. Later on draft weekend, Buccaneer decision-makers like Mark Dominik, Raheem Morris and Dennis Hickey will have just five minutes each to make a handful of picks in Rounds Three through seven.
Ten minutes to make a move that may still resonate in 2012 or 2015. That's a scary formula.
And not entirely accurate.
Obviously, these decisions are too important to leave to the inexorable demands of a ticking clock. That's why the Buccaneers' leaders are making those decisions now, when there is time for discussion, re-evaluation, and more discussion. By the time Tampa Bay's clock starts on Saturday, it should be easy.
"That's what we're finishing up now," said Hickey, who took a break from the team's literal all-day draft meetings on Wednesday to address the local media regarding the upcoming draft. "We want to make the decisions on players now, when we still have time to go back to the tape."
Tampa Bay's draft room, located just down the hall from Hickey's office and right next to Dominik's is a busy hive of activity this week. It's been that way for all of April, really. Various boards with magnetic strips bearing player names hang on the walls and stand on easels, and videotape machines whir constantly. Consensus opinions that first started germinating 11 months ago are taking their final shape. The big board is still getting tweaked, here in the last few hours before the big weekend, but soon it will be set. All the information for pick 19 will be on that board, and in the heads of Hickey, Dominik and the rest.
"If there are any questions, maybe different opinions, [we can] get our guys in the room [and say,] 'Hey, let's hash it out. Let's put on three tapes here of the individual player and let's see where we are at the end of that,'" said Hickey. "So we want to make decisions now on these players. Of course, we have to react to what happens [on draft weekend]."
In other words, the Bucs can form rock-solid opinions on who they like, but it's impossible to be sure what the teams in front of them are going to do. But that simply reinforces the point. Without an assurance of just who will come off their board before they are on the clock, the Bucs have to be ready for any number of possibilities. If one targeted player flies away before the Bucs can pick, they can't waste time re-evaluating other prospects or reworking their strategies. These predraft days are the time to take care of that business.
And, of course, that applies to the Bucs' later picks, only more so. There are infinite draft combinations that could proceed the Bucs' pick at #233 overall in the seventh round, so the only workable approach is to thoroughly scout hundreds of young men. Hickey said the Bucs would have about 330 players ranked from number one on down, and up to 950 players overall in the computerized database that is at their fingertips.
Later-round picks draw considerably less media attention but are treated just as seriously by the Bucs and those in competing draft rooms. Hickey believes the Buccaneers can find helpful additions with all eight of the picks they currently own.
"I think there's going to be value with each position at each round," he said. "Maybe there's more depth at certain positions than others in individual rounds, but there's going to be value everywhere there."
Part of the Bucs' preparations this year have included consultations with the new coaches on the staff, particularly Offensive Coordinator Jeff Jagodzinski and Defensive Coordinator Jim Bates. Especially on the defensive side of the ball, the Buccaneers have been drafting to fit the same specific scheme for quite some time. Bates' system may work better with different types of players. However, Hickey downplayed how much difference that makes in the players that are selected.
"Obviously there's a new scheme and we've seen a mini-camp of it," he said. "We go back in the history of it and we see how their defenses are played. But again, our focus is on getting quality football players. If you get the right player, he's going to fit regardless of what scheme [is used]."
One thing hasn't changed: Hickey and the Buccaneers' scouting department works tirelessly to make sure the team is as prepared as possible on draft weekend. That preparation is about to meet action, and Hickey believes the result will be a success.
"I approach it every year the same way," he said. "As scouts, as personnel people, we're trying to improve the talent of our football team, to bring us to a championship. We had a championship in 2002; until we reach that championship I'm not going to be content."