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2014 NFL Draft: How should the Tampa Bay Buccaneers balance needs and value?

The Buccaneers enter the 2014 NFL Draft with needs, but no need is more significant than the need for smart drafting and getting good value with their selections.

How will Jason Licht approach his first draft as GM of the Buccaneers?
How will Jason Licht approach his first draft as GM of the Buccaneers?
Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

When new Tampa Bay Buccaneers' general manager Jason Licht was hired, he provided the media with the same quote most GMs love to use when talking about their team building philosophy.

"Our philosophy will be to build through the draft," Licht said during his introductory press conference. But after a spring spent signing, trading and releasing a large portion of the roster in Tampa, what does building through the draft mean at this point, anyways?

For a brief moment (before Jeremy Zuttah and Mike Williams were traded away), the Buccaneers seemed to have minimal needs, and could truly seek "value" in the draft. This fell in line with Licht's offseason comments, that the team would seek to fill holes before the draft, and use the draft to "find stars."

But have things really changed since then? Let's consider where the Buccaneers stand, and what they are poised to do a month from now when the draft kicks off.

Best Player Available

One of the most commonly used phrases around draft time is "best player available." Fans of teams with few needs will beg for "BPA!" while fans of teams with a plethora of issues will beg for the day when their team can draft luxury players rather than being stuck picking for need.

But the truth is, "Best Player Available" isn't an absolute, but rather a fluctuating idea that takes into consideration value, fit, scheme, and need.

The idea of taking the best player at any point in the draft is about return on investment. Using a draft pick is the same as spending money in free agency or making a trade. A team is giving up a pick and a salary to bring in a player to do a job. This means there are more considerations than just "how good is he?"

Take, for example, Pittsburgh's Aaron Donald. A late-riser in the 2014 Draft, Donald is now being projected as high as the top-10 in mocks, and is coveted by many Bucs fans as a possible "best player available" when the Bucs select at the seventh pick.

And while there's no doubt that Donald has some fantastic, Geno Atkins-like qualities, his talent alone does not make him valuable to the Buccaneers. The Buccaneers have a premier 3-technique tackle already in Gerald McCoy, and have one of the best backup/rotational pass rush tackle options in the league in the newly acquired Clinton McDonald.

So could the Buccaneers take Donald with the seventh pick? Of course. But there would be diminishing returns, and the return on the investment of a high draft choice wouldn't be as high.

Donald would have to play in place of McDonald or McCoy at times, taking an established, good player off the field just to justify an early draft pick. And neither Donald nor McDonald are truly suited to being an every down nose tackle (1-technique), meaning the Buccaneers would still need to use Akeem Spence or someone similar to help fill gaps on the other side of the center from McCoy.

In other words, the draft isn't as clear cut as picking the player with the best "overall rating" and plugging him into the lineup. It's more like investing than it is shopping for groceries.

Value Under Center

Another one of Jason Licht's first comments, after discussing his desire to build through the draft, was his commitment to finding value. And while this could be taken to mean that Licht prefers to spend lighter in free agency (which he may have already broken away from just weeks into his tenure), it also means he, like every other GM, seek the best players they can get with minimal investment.

There may be no better example of getting a high level of talent and production from a low salary (or getting great return on a minimal investment) than using a high draft choice on the right player. The Buccaneers' seventh overall pick offers a relatively low salary they can hand to a top player and get incredible value for four or five years. So how do they best use the pick?

Obviously, they want to take the best player possible, but that's fueled by need, fit, and positional value. This is why taking a quarterback with the seventh pick makes so much sense.

The Bucs will pay Josh McCown over $10 million over the next two seasons to play quarterback, and they're paying for a veteran with lots of mediocre results and one fantastic run of games in 2013. According to OverTheCap, the Buccaneers will spend only $15 million over the course of the four-year base deal handed out to the seventh pick in the draft.

Taking a QB with that pick is the definition of value.

Should Blake Bortles or Teddy Bridgewater pan out to be even a top-15 signal caller, they'd be paid as if they were a veteran guard or nose tackle for their first four or five seasons. This means the Bucs can spend free agency money elsewhere in coming seasons, and continue to invest in building depth and extending the contract of key draftees like Lavonte David and Doug Martin.

That's not to say that selecting Sammy Watkins, Mike Evans, or Greg Robinson wouldn't represent great value for the Bucs, because any of those players would be paid below their expected market value due to the rookie wage scale. But considering the Buccaneers' situation, taking a QB almost makes too much sense.

Filling Needs In the Draft

But taking a QB early in the draft may seem like a mistake to some fans, as it would mean passing up a wide receiver or a guard, which are the two top needs on the roster going into the selection meeting.

But consider the needs the Buccaneers have, and how they can be filled.

One of the needs is for an interior lineman, which can be safely taken outside of the first round. Every once in a while, there is an elite guard prospect who merits a high pick in the draft, but competent starters can be found on Day 2 or 3 of the draft.

The other primary need is for a second wide receiver, and as the Chargers proved last year with Keenan Allen (in a shallower WR draft), it's possible to find the right fit later on in the draft.

The Buccaneers will have their chances to take both a guard and a wide receiver among the first 100 selections, as they can trade down and acquire more picks, or even move up a few spots to snag a coveted prospect. And while it would be ideal to get the best player available at either position, it won't be a tragedy should the Bucs wait until the second or third round to fill either spot on the depth chart.

Jason Licht and his staff need to add more talent to an offense that finished 32nd in the NFL in 2013, and to continue to build depth on what looks to be a very menacing defense.

That will include replacing Zuttah and Williams, but it also means getting the best players, who are the right fits, for the best value possible.