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The Buccaneers drafted by need, Jason Licht reveals

This is how every team drafts, but it’s rare for a general manager to say it explicitly.

Mississippi v Texas A&M Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images

Every NFL front office’s exact strategy is a little mysterious, and that’s as true for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as it is for any other NFL team. The Bucs are sometimes prepared to lift the curtain, as they did today.

Pewter Report’s Scott Reynolds had extensive conversations with general manager Jason Licht on his strategy and thought process in the draft, which led to a fascinating and must-read edition of his weekly Fab 5 column.

Licht doesn’t quite give away his draft board, and undoubtedly some of the answers are obscuring other things or somewhat self-serving, but there’s still a lot of very valuable and/or interesting information.

Of all the things Licht said there, this quote really stood out to me.

“Need plays a big part,” Licht said. “I use our big draft board as a guide to when we put that top whatever together. I’ll take layers at a certain grade – and if we have an extreme need with one position over another – and if they are the same grade the need will trump those other positions.”

Every year, we hear people claim that teams should just take the best available player, but that’s an unrealistic vision of how teams actually draft. General managers aren’t collecting good players, they’re trying to build a coherent team that isn’t overloaded or underloaded at any one position.

Moreover, there’s no clear, objective way of grading players across positions, and every team approaches players differently. At what point is a good quarterback better than a good defensive end? How do you even answer that question? The trouble of those distinctions opens the door to evaluating players by need.

Which is of course exactly what the Bucs did this year. They got good value, that is true, but they drafted a tight end and a safety in the first two rounds because those were their top two needs. See, for instance, what Licht said on second-round pick Evans.

“If we feel like we can move back and still get the player, we will. In the case of Justin, there was a run on safeties. The few that were left we didn’t feel like would be there in the second round.”

That doesn’t mean Evans wasn’t rated highly on their board—but it does mean that they were looking at safeties, and selecting a player at a different position would have gotten them into trouble later in the draft.

Which is the smart way to go about any draft. The team isn’t just collecting good players, it’s building a collective that can win games. And you simply need quality players at specific positions if you don’t have them.