With four highly-regarded quarterbacks in the prospect pool and several QB-needy teams at the top of the round, the 2018 NFL Draft is likely to be influenced early and often by that position. Some analysts believe all four – Josh Allen, Sam Darnold, Baker Mayfield and Josh Rosen – could come off the board before the Tampa Bay Buccaneers pick at number seven.
Virtually no one believes that all four of those quarterbacks will remain undrafted through the first six picks. But if that were to happen, Jason Licht and the Buccaneers would be ready.
Preparing to draft a new class of players – perhaps the most important job of an NFL general manager – involves investigating every possible scenario. There are admittedly fewer possible iterations for Licht to consider this year, with his team picking seventh rather than 19th, where he landed Alabama tight end O.J. Howard last year. And some of them – three or four quarterbacks in the top six – are more plausible than others – all the quarterbacks left waiting in the Green Room. Still, Licht and the Bucs' player personnel staff can't afford to be unprepared for any possibility, no matter how slim.
The good news is, that endless playing out of scenarios is actually enjoyable for Licht and those with the same passion for team building and player evaluation. And the fact that there is still no consensus as to where those quarterbacks will land, less than a week before the draft, just amps up the experience.
View photos of the fourth mock draft by Buccaneers.com contributors Carmen Vitali and Scott Smith. Photos by AP Images.
"[There is] a little bit [of uncertainty], just because of the quarterbacks," said Licht on Thursday in his annual pre-draft Q&A session. "I'll be honest, that's what makes this a lot more fun for us, going through all of these scenarios. That's the excitement of the draft. I remember as a kid, watching it, listening to it, reading about it and trying to guess who's going to go where. We're doing the same thing right now, going through all of the scenarios."
In fact, Licht said he had already gone through two rounds of "mocking" out the draft with his staff in the morning prior to meeting with the press. There is at least some consensus in the media that the Browns (at pick #1) and the Jets (at pick #3) are going to dip into the QB pool, and there's a chance the Giants (at pick #2) and the Broncos (at pick #5) will do the same, or potentially trade with another team that wants a passer. Therefore, it is most likely that Licht and company are focusing more on those scenarios. The simplest way to distill it down for the Buccaneers, however, is to rank the top seven players they would like to land. And, according to Licht, there are at least seven that would make the Bucs very happy.
"I don't like picking at seven just because it means it's a repercussion of your season, the disappointment of the season before," he said. "But, with Mike Evans it worked out. So hopefully it's a lucky number seven. There are enough players there, if no quarterback went above us, that we would be very excited about if we stayed put."
That's a particularly interesting point because this year's draft is widely considered to have three non-QB prospects who stand out from the rest in Penn State running back Saquon Barkley, North Carolina State defensive end Bradley Chubb and Notre Dame guard Quenton Nelson. For those who agree with that assessment, the Buccaneers are in a touch-and-go spot at the seventh pick because the number of quarterbacks drafted early will probably determine if any of those three are still on the board. However, the Bucs are less beholden to what the teams in front of them do if their list of top-tier prospects is a little longer.
Licht's point would also suggest that the Buccaneers would be willing to entertain a trade down if one of the top four quarterbacks is still available at number seven and an interested team wanted to move up to get him. However, Licht won't trade simply for the sake of doing so, and if he has a highly-coveted player in his sights at number seven he could be loath to give up that pick. That exact scenario played out four years ago when he was prepared to take Texas A&M wide receiver Mike Evans but he also had a very attractive trade offer on the table. It was a tough decision, but Licht decided to stay put and he has obviously not regretted that decision. Evans is one of the league's top wideouts and he just recently got a second contract from the Buccaneers.
"If there's a plyer that you really like and you feel very, very confident in, you shouldn't hesitate to take the player," said Licht. "Sometimes getting cute, moving back, can cost. It goes back to how are you going to feel in bed at night after the first day, the second day? Are you going to feel good or are you going to feel bad that you passed an opportunity to take a guy that you really liked?"
So the Buccaneers have game-planned every possibility in the last four months, including moving back, an option that obviously increases the possible combinations of picks prior to Tampa Bay going on the clock. With so much uncertainty this year, however, it's anybody's guess as to which of the many considered scenarios will unfold next Thursday night, and which prepared strategy they'll have to enact.
"Once again, it depends on who's going to be there," said Licht. "You have to go through a ton of scenarios, I don't want to say more difficult. But sometimes in drafts like these where there is uncertainty, like you said, you have to wait until draft day and be ready for any call that could come."