The Bucs had a good feeling that Gaines Adams would be available at pick #4 last season...Predicting the 20th pick this year is much harder
Sitting at the fourth pick in the 2007 NFL Draft, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' brass surely had a good idea which players would still be available when the clock began to tick on their selection.
With only three teams picking ahead of them, and a small handful of names being tossed about as possible selections in the first three picks, the Bucs had a limited number of realistic scenarios to prepare for when plotting out the first round.
As it turned out, the first four picks went just as the team expected. After JaMarcus Russell, Calvin Johnson and Joe Thomas were snatched up by the Raiders, Lions and Browns, respectively, the Bucs jumped at the chance to nab Gaines Adams at number four.
This year's draft is set up slightly different for the Bucs. Picking 20th after an NFC South championship season in 2007, there are seemingly innumerable ways 19 picks could play out before the Bucs are on the clock.
In fact, if you wanted to get technical about it, there are 121,645,100,408,832,000 (that's 121 quadrillion) ways that 19 draft picks could be ordered, assuming those 19 teams were picking from a pool of just 19 players. In reality, given that there are quite a few more than 19 players who could possibly go in those first 19 picks, the number of possible combinations leading up to pick 20 is astounding.
Compare that with last year, where mathematically only six different orders existed for three teams to choose from three different players, and many analysts believed only those three top players were being considered. The difficulty in predicting who might still be available at the 20th spot in this year's draft becomes evident in contrast.
Despite that uncertainty, the Bucs' strategy and preparation hasn't changed from last year to this spring, according to Director of College Scouting Dennis Hickey.
"You try to get somewhat of a feel [for how the first round will play out]," Hickey said. "Obviously, it was a little easier last year when you were picking fourth as opposed to 20th. You generate a certain pool of players – obviously, it's bigger the further away you are from the first pick – that you anticipate being there. But we're prepared – each player has been evaluated the same, from one to 350. So we're prepared for all the players, but there's a certain group that we think will be there in that range."
Endless preparation is the key, Hickey said. Having trusted evaluations of every player who could possibly fall to the Bucs at each level of the draft ensures the team will not be caught off guard by any of the possible ways the selections ahead of the Bucs play out.
"We try to eliminate as much of the surprise as possible, within our control," Hickey said. "The number-one thing, as I said before, is evaluating the players correctly. That's what we've been doing this whole past year. Coaches started to get involved in the process back in late January. We've spent the last two weeks talking about players, hashing through players, because there are disagreements. It's a subjective business.
"We're just trying to line those guys up, how we see them organizationally, these last two weeks. As always, there are some surprises. Maybe you thought a guy who would go later went earlier, those types of things. But for the most part, we want to be prepared for ourselves for whenever we pick."
Although Hickey and the rest of the Bucs' brain trust have spent countless hours preparing for this weekend's draft, one thing is for certain – anything can happen.
Teams will make so-called "reaches," making surprise picks of players earlier than pundits think they should have, and a handful of teams will trade up or down.
But Hickey again stated that the Bucs strategy would be unaltered by any of the madness surrounding them.
"It doesn't really affect [us], because we still have our pool of players," Hickey said. "Maybe there's a player we're targeting that has moved up in the draft or moved back. We just adjust, but we're always prepared with our pool of players that we would consider there."
The NFL Draft has evolved into quite a spectacle, as fans and the media alike follow every tidbit of information fervently. While the Bucs' first round pick in this year's draft falls much later than in 2007, does that mean any less importance is placed on the selection, or that there is any less pressure to pick well? Not according to Hickey.
"I treat it the same regardless of where we're picking," Hickey said. "We feel like we're going to get good players, quality players, in every round. We have the mindset regardless of whether we're talking about a fifth-round prospect or a first-round prospect. They're important and we want to get them right. That's our job as scouts, to know the player backwards and forwards. We know how we feel about them, how they fit with our team. We treat them all as important."
So when the 19th selection in this year's draft is announced and the clock officially begins ticking on the Bucs at No. 20 (barring a trade up or down), fans can be assured that all the requisite hard work and preparation will have been put into not only the team's first selection, but each successive one in the draft as well.