He was the BPA: DT Anthony McFarland was too good to pass up in 1999, even though the Bucs had Warren Sapp already
This year, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are determined to get their man.
We can't tell you what position he plays, what school he comes from or what his 40-yard dash time is, but we do know his monogram: BPA.
The Bucs have pledged their devotion to this man before. This year, they're serious. Here's the tough part: it's the same player every team claims to be after. He is, supposedly, the ultimate goal on draft day.
He is the Best Player Available.
In the weeks leading up to the draft, every war room pays lip service to the Best Player Available. Some teams mean it, some don't. Some think they mean it until they're on the clock, then succumb to the charms of the yin to the BPA's yang: the Need Player.
How do you get the Best Player Available? Well, if you're the Bucs and you're picking 15th in the first round, you rank the top 15 players on your board and you take the highest-ranked player left when your time rolls around. And maybe you keep your trade options open, moving up if a player you have ranked highly is slipping and trading down if a lot of your best-ranked players are left. Whichever route you choose, it should be a liberating philosophy. If you've done your homework well, you can't help but get a good player.
Teams tell themselves to go after the BPA with every pick because chasing the Need Player can get you into trouble. If you one player ranked a grade better than another player on your draft board, you can convince yourself that your need at the second player's position makes up the difference. In the long run, it rarely does.
In 1990, the Bucs took pass-rushing defensive end/linebacker Keith McCants with the fourth overall pick, certain they needed a pass-rushing force. We can't know, 14 years later, if Tampa Bay actually had McCants with a better grade than Junior Seau, Richmond Webb, Lamar Lathon and Emmitt Smith – all players who went shortly thereafter – but we can certainly see the results.
In hindsight, if Seau was the BPA on the Bucs' board at that time, they should have jumped.
"I say that every year when I talk about the draft, but that is the right thing to do," said Bucs Director of College Scouting Ruston Webster. "When you get tied into a position, you have a tendency to make mistakes to pass on players. Maybe they're blue-chip, Pro Bowl players but you passed on them because you had a need at guard or whatever. Down the road, you regret that. That goes for every spot, every round. It's true in the fourth, it's true in the fifth."
But it is especially true on the draft's first day, which covers the first three rounds. There are examples from recent years that Tampa Bay has actually stuck to its BPA guns on several draft weekends. In 1999, the Bucs took defensive tackle Anthony McFarland 15th, the first defensive lineman off the board, despite having Warren Sapp and a very productive Brad Culpepper in the middle of their line. Last year, both defensive end Dewayne White and quarterback Chris Simms, the last picks of the second and third rounds, respectively, smacked of BPA leanings. Tampa Bay wasn't particularly thin at either of those spots.
Webster says that's exactly what the Bucs did with Simms. Nobody in their war room expected the talented passer to be available that late in the proceedings.
"There are always guys who drop in the draft and you have to be willing to take them," said Webster, who has aided the Bucs in their last 16 draft efforts. "That's what we did with Chris Simms last year. We were willing to take him. We felt like he dropped, and he was there in the third, a great value, and he's got a chance to be a good player. So we'll see what happens."
What makes Tampa Bay more likely to stick to its BPA guns this year is the unbelievably active month of March it just finished. The Bucs may have been the league's most active free agent shoppers, mostly eschewing the extremely high-priced tickets to add a wide swatch of depth to the roster. Before March, the Bucs could have been said to have a number of significant holes, particularly on the offensive line and at receiver. Now, they feel pretty comfortable most everywhere and can legitimately take an impact player at any position.
"Well, we were very active in free agency, and I think that's going to enable us to take the best player available," Webster confirmed. "And the 15-hole looks great, especially from where we've been picking the last two years. I think we are open to everything. We'd be willing to trade down or go up…we're not just tied into staying at 15. So it will be interesting to see what happens."
Nothing goes better with the BPA strategy than a deep draft, and that's what just about every NFL pundit is calling the Class of '04. General Manager Bruce Allen hopes to get three or four players next weekend who will make a difference for the Buccaneers this coming fall. Webster thinks the pool is deep enough to make that a reality.
"I think it's probably one of the deeper drafts that I can remember," said Webster. "I think, position-wise, there are a lot of players at every position; probably, though, there are a lot of receivers this year, a lot of linebackers, corners. Those are real strong positions. That's always good, because in that case you may get a guy in the fourth round or fifth round at a position who got pushed back, and in another draft maybe he goes in the second. But, because it was so deep, you got him in the fourth."