The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have to fix two units on their team this offseason: defensive end, and defensive back. The draft is going to be part of that, but that brings up the age-old question: are we going to be drafting to fill needs, or just drafting the "best player available." In Pewter Report's latest SR's Fab 5, a weekly must-read for Bucs fans, general manager Jason Licht says that he'll always try to get the best player available.
"The perceived needs that we have according to the public - some of them [our thoughts] are in alignment with," Licht said. "We also are still kind of going through a re-evaluation of our roster, how that aligns with our coaching staff, and what they feel like their perceived needs are. Defense is something we need to bolster, there's no question about it and a lot of different positions. This happens to be a very strong defensive draft, too, in my opinion.
But that doesn't mean that we're going to, at number nine, definitely draft whatever position that is, defensively, because we can't force ourselves [into someone] and I always hate to force a pick. Anytime I've been somewhere that a pick was forced it rarely works out - the guy's never as good as you think he is or doesn't work out, so that's just not going to be the case."
This is something you can easily sell to fans: just select the best available player and then go from there. In reality, though, need often determines what the best player is, simply because there's no set way to rank players as "best." Those rankings differ from team to team, as different coaches run different schemes and have different preferences. More than that, it's very difficult to rank players at different position on a universal draft board.
Is Aaron Donald a "better" player than Darrelle Revis? How do you know? How do you even determine that? What's the basis for a comparison between a cornerback and a defensive tackle? How do you factor in not just positional value, but positional salary? There are no clear-cut, definitive answers to these questions. It's a murky business, and team need always plays a role.
I talked about this back in 2014 too, and nothing has changed fundamentally. After all, the Bucs aren't drafting a quarterback in the first round no matter how high he's rated on their board.
It's no coincidence that year after year, teams select players that fit their needs. Not just the Bucs, who have done so in every draft I can remember, but almost every team does so on a consistent basis. Some do so by simply selecting the top player who also fills a need -- that's what the Steelers, Ravens and Packers tend to do. Others do so by making a limited selection of players they'd like to draft, and trading down if none of them is available -- that's the Patriot way, a style of drafting Jason Licht was trained in as well.
In the end, drafting the best available player is something every team strives to do. No one wants to look at the draft after the fact and talk about the great player they didn't draft. And yet, need always plays a role. Always.