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Day three of the NFL draft is where you build champions

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While day one and two matter, day 3 is the home of champions.

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

If you are the most casual of Tampa Bay Buccaneers fans your interest in the draft will be over by about 8:15 ET after the Bucs have made the #1 overall selection. For most readers of this site I would suspect some heavy interest in day two. Where interest in the draft process falls off is typically on day three. If you’re a Bucs fan, I can hardly blame you: our day three performance has been woeful recently. During the Mark Dominik era Tampa Bay made 22 selections on day three. With the 2010 draft as the notable exception, the Bucs have received very little return. They have to do better. It’s what Super Bowl contenders do.

Drafting on day 3 (Rounds 4-7) isn’t just about finding that diamond in the rough who turns out to be the next Tom Brady. While every team would love to find the next Tom Brady, good teams know it’s really about filling depth and when inevitable injuries happen not being forced to start players who are not NFL caliber.

Generally speaking, less-talented players go later on in the draft. Theoretically, being a bad team, the Bucs should be able to play less-talented players than a Super Bowl champion should. Yet they got substantially less than previous, recent Super Bowl champions New England, Seattle, Baltimore, and Green Bay.

Of those 22 picks made in the Mark Dominik error …I mean era, they failed to select key reserves at arguably the two worst positions, as a group, of the team last season, the offensive line and the defensive secondary. Those failures were a major factor in the dismal debacle that was the Bucs' 2014 season.

Offensive Line

Doing well on Day 3 means not being forced to start Patrick Omameh or Garrett Gilkey or Oniel Cousins or sign Anthony Collins. Dominik drafted just one lineman (Xavier Fulton, 2009) and Licht managed two last season (Kadeem Edwards & Kevin Pamphile).

The Ravens made a killing. Last season they drafted John Urschel, who when he wasn’t publishing "A Cascadic Multigrid Algorithm for Computing the Fiedler Vector" appeared in 11 games and earned a start on three for a top-five graded offensive line. Two seasons ago they drafted Ricky Wagner in th fifth round, who became the starting right tackle. They also drafted Ryan Jensen in the seventh round, who now serves as the backup center to Jeremy Zuttah. In 2012, they selected Gino Gradkowski in the fourth round who backed up Matt Birk and then started before departing this off-season to Denver.

Likewise, the current Super Bowl champion Patriots got their starting center in the fourth round, former FSU great Bryan Stork to go along with reserve offensive tackle Cameron Flemming (taken with a compensatory fourth round pick). That’s on top of reserve swing tackle Marcus Cannon (whom the Patriots just re-signed) in the fifth round of the 2011 draft. The Packers found success with fourth-rounder David Bahktiari, who's now started 32 games at tackle for them.

Secondary

Doing well on day 3 means not starting Crezdon Butler, Leonard Johnson, or Brandon Dixon at cornerback when Alterraun Verner is out. Verner and Banks played well last season, but sadly teams are allowed to play more than 2 wide receivers at a time and we made Matt Ryan and Joe Flacco look like they were playing an FCS opponent for homecoming last year.

The hands-down winner in this category is Seattle, who found Kam Chancellor and Richard Sherman in back to back fifth rounds (2010 and 2011). They also found highly-thought-of reserve, but often injured Jeremy Lane in the sixth round in 2012, and spot starter Tharold Simon in the fifth round of 2013. The Patriots profited from risky-but-effective Alfonzo Dennard in the seventh round of the 2012 draft, while the Packers found reserve Jerron McMillan and Micah Hyde who returned two punts for scores last year. The Ravens found nickelback and safety Asa Jackson in the fifth round of 2012, while adding Chykie Brown who broke up Peyton Manning’s TD Pass to Eric Decker that proved pivotal in Ravens 38-35 double overtime victory the season the Ravens won it all.

Quantity versus Quality

I chose these four teams in no small part because they appear to have two different approaches to late-round drafting. The Packers and Ravens prefer prospects who fit in as role players or developmental starters who factor as having average to slightly above average upside. The Patriots and Seahawks have shown a propensity to swing for the fences and look for star players. Whatever the approach, the results are certainly far more impressive than those of the Bucs.

It’s amazing to think that the two most voluminous units on the offensive and defensive sides of the ball have been so underserved by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and it’s one of the key reasons for their woeful 2-14 performance last season. Both offense and defense feature 11 starters, and on offense the five linemen account for 45% of those starters. On defense, 53% of the time in 2014 NFL offenses lined up with three or more receivers, so your nickelback is worth at least half a starter, so let’s call that four-and-a-half starters or 40.9%. While the four teams above have done fantastic, Tampa Bay's best selections have been Keith Tandy and Kevin Pamphile over the past 6 drafts in those areas.  That’s neither quality nor quantity.

I don’t mean to suggest or imply that the Bucs can get better with only day three picks. Impact playmakers are a huge factor, along with quarterback play, in making those above teams so perennially successful. The Bucs should be targeting impact players in those first three rounds of the draft.  However, in my view it’s equally important that they focus on, draft , and develop quality players in the later rounds. Making sure you don’t have to start a Crezdon Butler or Garrett Gilkey is equally important to success. I hope you’ll join us here on Bucs Nation for day three on Saturday. I’ll be watching to see if, in my opinion, Jason Licht can bring us either quality or quantity; perhaps you can add your own opinion as well.