Head Coach Raheem Morris knows that any pick in the draft can produce a key player, as the Bucs' fourth-rounder in 2007 did with S Tanard Jackson
In the past month, the St. Louis Rams have been married to Ndamukong Suh, Gerald McCoy and, most recently, Sam Bradford.
Of course, these highly-rated draft prospects have been betrothed to the Rams by various analysts, working off sound theory but not necessarily any inside information. Have Suh, McCoy, Bradford or any other of the hundreds of available prospects really been jockeying for position on St. Louis' draft board over the past few weeks? Only a select few in the Rams' organization truly know the answer.
It's quite possible the Rams have already zeroed in on their top choice, around which they may have also based a full draft strategy and an organizational plan for the near future. Or perhaps they are still weighing their options. One thing is certain: St. Louis, and the other 31 teams hungrily eyeing next month's purportedly loaded draft, have significantly more information on which to base their strategies now that the 2010 NFL Scouting Combine has taken place.
After the Rams, every team in the league has to have multiple strategies for its highest pick, even the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who stand third behind the Detroit Lions. The Buccaneers haven't picked that high since taking Vinny Testaverde first overall in 1987, and they've never picked specifically third. It's uncharted territory for them, but obviously not for the league as a whole; discussed recently here on Buccaneers.com the third pick has produced some intriguing talent over the last 20 years, from Joe Thomas to Larry Fitzgerald to Simeon Rice to Steve McNair. It has also uncovered some busts, including Akili Smith, Andre Wadsworth and Bruce Pickens.
What that pick hasn't produced much of in recent years is variety. The last dozen #3 picks have all been players at five positions: quarterback (four), wide receiver (three), defensive end (three), tackle (two) and defensive tackle (one). Actually, that trend applies to all the picks in the top three; over the last decade, the 30 picks in the top three of the draft have been used on 10 quarterbacks, six tackles, five receivers, five defensive ends, two running backs, one defensive tackle and one linebacker. Nary a defensive back, interior lineman or tight end in the bunch. Just last spring, Wake Forest linebacker Aaron Curry was thought to be a lock for the top three in the assorted mock drafts, only to go fourth when the Kansas City Chiefs opted for an end, Tyson Jackson, instead.
Will those trends - or more accurately whatever position-by-position scales of player worth behind the trends - affect what the Buccaneers do with their first #3 pick ever. Upon returning from the Combine on Tuesday, Head Coach Raheem Morris says that history is not a factor in the Bucs' future.
"You've got to look at everybody on an individual basis," said Morris. "You've got to let the draft board play out as you see it as an organization, as a team. That's what we'll do. We'll take the best player in order for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to have success. We're going to continue to stay with that theory. Once you start to get into where a guy should go, that's when you get into trouble. Sometimes you fall into a bad place and we don't want to be involved with that."
The Bucs know it is critical to avoid any pitfalls this April, as they have pinned the next step in their franchise rejuvenation on the '10 draft. The organization spent the last year stockpiling picks for that draft, and now they intend to spend them as productively as possible. In addition to that #3 selection, the Bucs also own #35, #42 and extra picks in the fifth and seventh rounds. As fourth-rounder Tanard Jackson demonstrated in 2007 and seventh-rounder Sammie Stroughter emphasized last year, core players can be found at any point in the draft.
"We have 10 picks and they're all very important picks," said Morris. "A lot of these guys that we will pick up will be integral parts of our team next year, not to mention the 10 or 12 guys we bring in in free agency. Those guys can also be a part of the team, like we saw last year. We saw guys like Sammie Stroughter emerge and really help us and help develop where we want our football program to go."
NFL team architects returned from Indy, the site of the Combine, this week to find the countdown clock to free agency nearly at zero. However, there are also university Pro Days for draft prospects just ahead, not to mention hundreds of hours of internal meetings and film sessions still to be done. The Combine may be over, but draft preparations still take center stage at One Buccaneer Place.
"We're really focused on the draft," Morris said again. "Free agency is what it is right now. We'll go out there and see if we can get anybody that we think can be a part of our direction, be a part of that forward progress. But we had all our scouts and guys down in Indy last week, evaluating players. We're really looking forward to the upcoming draft in April and that's going to be a big part of our development and our growth that we started right from the beginning."
Some individual player stock rose and fell in Indy during 40-yard dashes and bench press sessions, though teams have learned to absorb those numbers with a healthy dose of perspective. The potentially more important information - and certainly the newer information - was what came out of the evening interviews and the close-up medical examinations.
"It's always good to meet the guys, to have an opportunity to get with them in different settings," said Morris. "You get to know them a little bit and they get to know you. When they work out it's really just icing on the cake for those guys, after everything they've done in college. It's always fun to go out to the Combine, meet with the players and get some evaluation done.
"This year you have more juniors coming out than ever, so there's more people for us to get a chance to evaluate. We look forward to using the 10 draft picks that we have, and all the stuff Mark Dominik will be able to do in the draft."