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Do the Bucs draft for need or best player available?

Buccaneers’ recent draft pattern may reveal their strategy.

NFL: Tampa Bay Buccaneers-Minicamp Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Do teams draft for need? Or do they draft the best player available?

The argument to those two questions will forever live on among analysts and fans alike. Points that defend each side of the argument can be looked at from different angles and molded to fit the case.

Some of us sometimes chuckle at mock drafts (*raises hand*) because despite how outrageous they are or how much they make sense, they are truly a waste of time since no one really knows what teams are going to do, or do they?

But inside their draft war rooms, their boards are just full of surprises.

Earlier this week, Buccaneers general manager Jason Licht said something interesting when asked about the misinformation that led to him drafting tight end O.J. Howard last year, which was a surprise in itself.

“There were a lot of mock drafts out there and a lot of reports out there in the media of a bunch of teams in front of us wanting him,” Licht said. “I don’t know if it was the misinformation that led him to drop. I think it was just the fact that teams had higher priority needs.”

Higher priority needs.

Howard was highly talked about as one of the top talents of last year’s draft coming out of Alabama. Yet, he slipped down to No. 19 where the Bucs did not hesitate to take him since he was not a priority for anyone else.

Many felt running back was a huge need for Tampa Bay last season and should have drafted one in the first round. They did not. Instead they went with who they had ranked high on their boards.

Licht’s words alone were intriguing for that fact that drafting the best player available isn’t always the case. In 2014, they needed a wide receiver after trading away troubled veteran Mike Williams. So mocks unanimously had them taking Mike Evans, and they did. In 2015, the obvious need was quarterback so we all know where they were going with that No. 1 pick. In 2016, Tampa Bay needed cornerback help. Many mocks had them picking Vernon Hargreaves III at No. 9, and still did so after trading down to No. 11.

In three consecutive seasons, the Bucs drafted for need. Last year, they drafted best player available. What Licht said about teams drafting for need ahead of them last year also seems to apply to them, too.

In under a week, we’ll find out the direction they will take. The Bucs have a lot of needs heading into this draft. You can fairly argue that they need a running back, a safety, a cornerback, or even an offensive lineman. Like in previous drafts, their offseason might provide a clue or two.

So like Licht said about how other teams prioritize their needs, we will know if the same applies to the Bucs. Hence why no one should be surprised with whatever name they call on April 26, whether us on the outside feel it’s a reach or not.