The Tampa Bay Buccaneers' intentions in the 2014 NFL draft are shrouded in mystery, but head coach Lovie Smith and general manager Jason Licht shed a little light on their approach to the draft today.
The Bucs will be going into the draft looking beyond their team needs, toward finding the best football players. "We want the best player," Licht said. "Our team needs in September are going to be totally different than what they are right now." Ignoring those needs is easier said than done, though, especially given the large needs at both wide receiver and offensive guard.
Aside from looking for the right kind of player -- the ones dedicated to football, with the right mental makeup -- the Bucs also want explosive athleticism in their draft picks. "We want to be a fast football team," Lovie Smith said. "So we like athletic ability, a little bit of quickness and speed at every position, even the quarterback position."
The fact that they value athleticism at quarterback is no secret, and part of why the team signed Josh McCown to take over the starting job. And while the Bucs are widely expected to draft a quarterback (and have come just inches away from saying so in the past), Lovie Smith refused to confirm that today, simply noting that there are many good quarterbacks in this draft and they want to keep the option of drafting one open. "We feel pretty good about our guys we have now," Smith said. "Even though there are plenty of good options at the position."
On that note, Johnny Manziel generating off-field interest was waived off as neither a detriment nor a positive, with Licht noting that he'd probably do some stupid things in Manziel's situation. "We're lucky to work for the Glazers who have hired us both to make what's the best football decision," Licht said. "So we would be basing the decision on whether or not he'd make us a better football team."
A potential draft pick at quarterback like Manziel may have to sit behind Josh McCown early in his career, although that's far from definite. That's not necessarily what the Bucs are looking for, though Lovie Smith certainly didn't rule it out, either. "As a general rule for the seventh pick, you want them to play fairly, fairly soon, I'd say. No rebuilding around here."
When asked about specific prospects, Jason Licht noted both Sammy Watkins' explosive ability and his angry running, and Mike Evans' speed and size. Licht sounded particularly impressed with both players, and either one could be the Bucs' first-round pick, although Sammy Watkins will likely be selected before the Bucs have a chance to take him.
Overall, Lovie Smith and Jason Licht were careful to leave every option open -- including trades, either up or down in the draft, and Licht noted that they'd already reached out to teams to gauge general interest in trades. But the overall tenor of their comments suggested a patient approach more than an aggressive search for specific prospects. "Be patient," Jason Licht said. "Don't get anxious and don't stress. Just be patient and let it come to you. And Lovie tells me that every day."
That fits with Licht's evaluation of the top 10 in the draft as being separated by very small differences in talent. "If you took our top 10 with all 31 other teams, I'll bet you you'd get 31 different variations of it."
Licht did finally let us know know how Lovie Smith grades players: there's players he likes, and players he loves. Here's to hoping they find the players he loves.