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2014 NFL Draft: Evans was the only choice at #7

Despite all the smoke screen about Manziel, despite the last-minute rumours about Donald, with the draft shaking out as it did, it really could only have been Evans.


We knew that when Lovie took over, the Bucs would have to find a third receiver. Once Mike Williams was traded, the Bucs found themsevles needing a #2 receiver, let alone a #3. Really, the signs were there all along; if Evans was at the board at #7, of course he would always have been the pick.

Still, when the Jaguars went for Blaine Gabbert 2.0 Blake Bortles, Bucs fans everywhere would have started doing the maths - Browns would presumably take either Manziel or Watkins, meaning that definitely one of Manziel or Evans would still be on the board after the Raiders, and neither would appeal to the Falcons, so that means the Bucs' choice would be made for them. And then, the Raiders took Khalil Mack - and the maths made it even clearer: the Bucs would actually have a choice between Evans or Manziel.

It should have been obvious: Evans fits what the Bucs need - a big, tall receiver, who can combine with Vincent Jackson to give Josh McCown a similar target twosome as he had at Chicago. But let's look at who else was on the board, and how they might have fit into the Bucs.

Johnny Manziel

The other clear option at #7, Johnny Manziel had captured the heart of many a Bucs fan, but would he have made sense?

Manziel obviously brings the mobility that many from the Bucs front office hinted they were looking for in their quarterbacks - mobility issues was one of the first things that Lovie Smith pointed out as something that needed to be improved in Mike Glennon; Josh McCown's mobility is one of his most under-appreciated attributes; Tedford used mobile QBs at Cal. He has the arm and patience to take advantage of Vincent Jackson's ability, and could have formed a lethal backfield with the Bucs' stacked running back position.

Then again, there was going to be that issue of needing a #2 and a #3 receiver, so if the Bucs had drafted Manziel, then the Bucs would be pressured into taking receivers in the second and third rounds - and since the Bucs don't have a fourth round pick, it would have meant waiting until round five to address there badly-needing-help guard situation. Alternatively, if they went guard in the second or third round, it meant waiting until round five to find your third WR. In either case, it meant that a player who would need to come in an contribute pretty much right away would have to have been found in the fifth round - not a great option.

Further, there would have been the media circus that Manziel will undoubtedly bring. That doesn't really suit the Glazer's style - and we all remember how having a media circus hanging around the facility, as Schiano manufactured with how he chose to handle the QB situation a the conclusion of 2012, means that any mis-step will be overexposed and more intensely scrutinised than they may otherwise be, which can lead to a whole other bunch of issues. There could conceivably be questions about whether the 'party boy' lifestyle that Manziel reportedly enjoys wouldn't mesh too well with the straight-laced Lovie Smith - after all, wasn't the headlines created by the Mike Williams' partying (and associated pitfalls) the reason he was banished to the upstate New York wilderness?

In all, drafting Manziel might have made flashy headlines, but would have also led to a lot of baggage for the Bucs.

Aaron Donald

The Johnny Manziel rumblings had been brewing for a while, but the idea of Aaron Donald being drafted by the Bucs came out of nowhere, or so it seems, two days ago. This would have been a baffling, baffling pick. To say "the Bucs need a great front four in Lovie's scheme" is a reason to have drafted Donald is to criminally conflate the roles of the 1-tech and 3-tech. Donald is a natural 3-tech. Last time I checked, the Bucs had a guy just like that - Gerald McCoy. What was the serious option here? Take the best 3-tech in the game and move him to a 1-tech, as Bill Polian insipidly offered as 'draft analysis' yesterday? Why on earth would the Bucs possibly do that? And the idea that Donald could man the one-tech position - a shorter 3-tech to play nose? The Bucs tried that a few years ago. Brian Price didn't exactly pan out as a one-tech - even when he was (relatively) healthy, he had success not at 1-tech but at 3-tech covering for Gerald McCoy.

Those who were suggesting Donald was a realistic suggestion were either saying that #7 is a good position in the draft to build depth for a team that still has two gaping holes, at guard and receiver, or simply don't understand that just because both positions are listed as "defensive tackles", it doesn't make them interchangeable, any more than the Bucs last season could have replaced Doug Martin with Erik Lorig, just because they're both technically "running backs". It's not actually a bad comparison - the 1-tech/3-tech relationship is like the full back/tail back relationships of old: they may work together in perfect harmony, but they bring different skills to the party - they're two separate positions for a reason. As long as McCoy was going to stay in Tampa, Donald was never a realistic option.

Eric Ebron

I tweeted out earlier on today that, for me, the nightmare scenario for the Bucs was for Clowney, Watkins, Evans, Manziel, Mack and Robinson to all be off the board before the Bucs go on the clock; if that had happened, though, I seriously believe Ebron would have been the best remaining option.

The Bucs signed Brandon Myers in free agency, but Myers is not going to ever challenge for a Pro Bowl berth, not really. Ebron, on the other hand, has a skillset that could have played very interestingly within the Bucs offense. While he's not the best blocker, Ebron isn't a Tim Wright - he can use his size to contribute to the blocking game, especially as with the zone-blocking scheme the Bucs are expected to move to, athleticism and technique are much, much more important attributes in blockers than size and strength. With that move to zone-blocking, Ebron would benefit from double teaming with offensive tackles on ends, or getting matched up against linebackers.

As a route runner, Ebron is incredibly disciplined - and disciplined, crisp routes is what really helped McCown flourish in Chicago with quick throws and screens that allow for YAC accounting for a lot of McCown's passing yardage. Further more, Ebron's precise route running would allow for some very effective route combinations when Vincent Jackson's skillset is brought into play. Ebron's biggest knock might be against his seeming case of the 'dropsies', even on easy balls - but Ebron's upside would have made him a possibility at #7, though many might have considered this a bit of a reach (though as he went three spots later, not a huge reach).

However, this would have added a player where there are already two capable options on the team, in Myers and Wright. That's not to say that they can't be improved on - and Ebron would have certainly be an improvement - but could the Bucs really have justified taking Ebron when the drop off between Vincent Jackson and, well, everyone else in the receiving room, is so damn expansive? Not really. If that nightmare scenario had occurred, then Ebron might have been the choice - but with Evans on the board, Ebron was just not sensible.

There were other choices available - Anthony Barr maybe, to man the RDE position now that Adrian Clayborn will be joining Da'Quan Bowers as free agents after 2014; or maybe Justin Gilbert, to give the Bucs a really strong starting threesome of corners, as the nickel corner really should be considered the starter these days in place of the strongside linebacker. But Barr might be too small, too easily pushed around a 4-3 end, being a better fit as a 3-4 edge rusher; Gilbert is nice, but with Mike Jenkins and DJ Moore providing some veteran presence as potential nickels, plus a potential reclamation project in Leonard Johnson, it would again be ignoring areas of great need for incremental upgrades in 2014, given how it usually takes rookie CBs longer than most positions to adapt.

No, once the Falcons went on the clock with Mike Evans, still on the board, there really was only ever going to be one choice.