The Tampa Bay Lightning drafted forward Brayden Point in the third round in the NHL's 2014 Entry Draft, after trading up one spot to make sure they got their man. Point was a bit overlooked because of his size, but the Lightning's draft process included a little trick that helped them hone in on undervalued talent. While talking to other prospects, Lightning personnel evaluators would ask who they considered to be the toughest players they had faced. Point's name kept coming up.
Point, of course, has developed into a star for the Lightning and is a key figure in the team's incredible postseason success in recent years. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who have had their own share of recent playoff glory, employ a similar scouting approach, and it played a part in their decision to draft North Dakota State offensive lineman Cody Mauch in the second round of the 2023 NFL Draft on Friday night.
"One of the things that we do when we have kids come through on the interview circuit and at the Combine is ask them who's the best player they played against," said Buccaneers Vice President of Player Personnel John Spytek. "Who's the best player you played against in college or at the Senior Bowl? The amount of D-Linemen who brought up Cody Mauch from the Senior Bowl after not knowing anything about him was astounding, and is something we always pay attention to. Through the course of the process, the sheer numbers from those guys was incredible. They think about it for a minute and they put some thought into it and they say, 'That lineman from North Dakota State, he was really good. He was hard. He made me work.'"
The Buccaneers didn't need testimonies from opposing prospects to fall in love with Mauch, but it certainly didn't hurt. It was similar to how the Lightning became fully sold on Point. Coincidentally – or perhaps not – the Buccaneers also made a small trade up on Friday night to make sure they didn't miss out on landing Mauch.
"The amount of people that said, 'This kid is the real deal [about Point],' made them take a second look," said Spytek. "I'm not saying it made us take a second look but it certainly factored into it. These kids are good football players at the Senior Bowl and they acknowledged him over and over and over again."
Mauch played left tackle at North Dakota State but is likely to move into the interior line at the next level. This is a conversion that has previously worked for the Buccaneers with the likes of Hobart's Ali Marpet and Humboldt State's Alex Cappa, both from smaller football programs like Mauch.
"We envision him playing as a guard inside, maybe a center in time," said Spytek. "He played all the spots in college. He was a left tackle primarily but then in the Senior Bowl moved inside and played guard and actually did some center, too, and did a good job. If you kind of follow what we do here a lot, it's a small-school tackle that we move inside. I think the playbook is out on us right now. We've just had a lot of success with it and this is another kid we have the same thought with."
The 6-5, 302-pound Mauch is a high-intensity mauler who blocks very well on the move and has nimble feet. His movement skills would seem to make him a natural fit in the new offensive scheme being imported by Offensive Coordinator Dave Canales, but Spytek says the Bucs would have been just as high on Mauch a year ago.
"We would have liked him no matter what offense we were in," he said. "I think Dave's scheme probably fits him a little bit better, a little bit more than what we had last year, but this kid's such a smart and instinctive, tough-minded football player that he's going to fit in most any system.
"He is a natural football player. He plays with great angles. He plays like the game makes sense to him. Things happen fast and he's always in front of it. When he runs into space his angles are always on point. When he works with teammates inline he's great with double-teams. He just has great timing in the field to all the inline movements. It's very natural to him, is kind of the best way to say it. It's almost like he's made to play O-Line. The game just makes sense to him in a way that…yes, you can teach people to be better at it, but he functions at a high level from a mental standpoint. He's high-energy, he finishes plays, he has the right kind of mentality. When we talk about, 'I'm that man,' around here, this is the kind of kid we're talking about."
Mauch joins an offensive line crew in Tampa that also features such potential interior-line candidates as Nick Leverett, Matt Feiler, Luke Goedeke, Robert Hainsey and Aaron Stinnie. The Buccaneers have some shuffling to do up front after releasing long-time left-tackle stalwart Donovan Smith and trading starting guard Shaq Mason to Houston. Mauch steps right into the middle of that O-Line reformation.
"Everything around here is a competition," said Spytek. "I think he's good enough to put his hat in that ring and compete and see what happens. Obviously, we took him high and traded up to get him so we have a lot of belief in him. But he's not being promised anything but the chance to come in here and compete."
View pictures of North Dakota State's Cody Mauch, who Tampa Bay selected in the second round of the 2023 NFL Draft.