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Tampa Bay is set up for success in the 2018 NFL Draft

This year’s draft is not only crucial, but presents multiple scenarios for the Bucs.

NFL: Tampa Bay Buccaneers-Minicamp
GM Jason Licht is in a great spot this year.
Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

After what has been an eternity - as it feels every year - the NFL Draft is finally here.

Out of all the teams in the league, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are in one of the best draft positions of any team. You never want your team to own a top ten pick, but with a franchise quarterback already on the roster, Tampa has more than a legit chance to land one - if not two - key pieces early in the draft.

Even with the good fortune of this draft, head coach Dirk Koetter and GM Jason Licht find themselves in quite the paradox. The point of the draft is to build for the future, but the Bucs need to win now in order for them to keep their jobs. Early betting lines have Tampa’s over/under at just 6.5 games next year. If that happens, you can bet these two will be out the door.

But this is the NFL and every year we see a team grab a couple of players that elevate said team to the next level. This could be Tampa’s year to do just that if they play their cards right.

A Quarterback-Crazy League

Tampa has plenty working in their favor for this draft. This year’s crop of quarterbacks - while none of them are absolute locks - are getting more attention than in recent years. Four quarterbacks are very likely to go in the first six picks and if that happens there is a very good chance another team could move up to grab their guy. As the chips start to fall, it’s anyone’s guess as to how things will play out.

NFL: Combine
Dirk Koetter is all smiles about the 2018 draft.
Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

This bodes well for Tampa. Another team moving into the top six would then render Saquon Barkley, Bradley Chubb, Quenton Nelson, or Derwin James available for the taking.

Obviously one of those guys will be gone, but can you imagine if they had to choose between the other three? Even if it’s a choice between just two of those players, Tampa would fill a major need with either selection. There is no way they could make the wrong decision - unless they take another kicker.

In past drafts the Bucs were a bit hamstrung when it came to their early picks. The dire need for defensive pressure saw them take four defensive linemen in the first two rounds of the 2010 & 2011 drafts. Not having a first-round pick in 2013 saw them miss out on the likes of Sheldon Richardson, DeAndre Hopkins, Xavier Rhodes, and Alec Ogletree.

2015 was the year of the quarterback. The past two years, the Bucs worked with what they had on the board at the time, not really wanting to reach on any players while playing it safe.

The most recent first-round pick out of sheer convenience was Mike Evans and we all know how that has played out. Sure, Vincent Jackson was on his way out at the time, but Tampa had a plethora of needs and could have easily gone another direction.

They chose Evans and the rest is history. The 2018 draft could see the Bucs having the same luck early on plus more. There is an excellent chance that they could land another integral piece with the 38th pick - if they don’t use it to trade up.

The flexibility makes this draft that much more intriguing. Four quarterbacks have never gone in the top ten picks of the draft, so the Bucs will be fighting history - which is no small task.

However, records are made to be broken and I’d say over 50 years is long enough.

Unless the first six picks go nowhere near as planned, then Tampa may have a very hard decision to make at number seven - which would be a great problem to have.

Value, Baby!

Despite not owning a third-round pick, the Bucs are considered to have more value with their seven picks than 13 other teams who have more than seven picks. They have more value than the Cowboys, Packers, Bengals, and Raiders.

All four of those teams have double-digit picks. If Tampa were to hit on just half of their picks, they would still have a shot to have a better draft than most of their NFL counterparts.

Possible Trade Partners

Any team could make a trade with the Bucs, but here are the three best/most logical trade partners:

  1. Buffalo Bills - The most intriguing and likely partner. Tampa could trade back and obtain the Bills’ 12th overall pick, while also adding the Bills’ third-round (65th) pick - and they should still be able to grab Derwin James. That is the probable route, however, if Jason Licht can work some magic, he may be able to swipe the Bills’ second-round (56th) pick in addition to the 12th overall pick instead. Another scenario could see the Bucs trading away their seventh overall selection and the 38th pick for both of the Bills’ first-round picks. Tampa would be able to grab a running back or trade back (get back into the third round?) with the 22nd pick.
  2. Arizona Cardinals - In terms of a logical trade, this could actually make the most sense, but it depends on how desperate Arizona will be to move up in the draft. If the expected run on quarterbacks happens then teams outside of the top-10 will be vying for a spot to get their guy. The Bucs could trade back with Arizona in the first round and add the Cardinals’ 47th pick, giving Tampa two second-round selections. Even though James may not be there at 15, Minkah Fitzpatrick easily could and that would still be considered a victory.
  3. New England Patriots - Trust me, I shudder as I write this. There is nothing scarier than making a deal with the Pats, but in this case it may be too good to pass up. There are a ton of deals that could be made with Belichick and co. - but which would be best for Tampa? On paper, giving up the seventh overall pick would warrant both of New England’s first round choices, plus the 95th pick. But just like Arizona, Tampa will have to consider if they can land a player in the back of the draft that will help them win now. There is another chance that if Tampa wanted to drop all the way to 31, then they would receive the 43rd, 63rd, and 95th picks on top of the 31st pick, but it just doesn’t seem likely that Belicheck would be willing to give up that much capital.

Trading back would make a ton of sense for the Bucs and it’s certain that a trade would also include some sort of second or third-round pick, allowing them to take advantage of this deep draft class.

It’s almost imperative for Tampa to find a way back into the third round or obtain another second-round pick. They don’t have to trade their first-rounder in order to accomplish this either - the two aren’t mutually exclusive.

Following this scenario - Tampa could grab their safety early - then a running back and/or interior lineman thereafter. That would shore up their three greatest draft needs while still leaving plenty of room to add a corner or pass rusher.

At the end of the day, there really isn’t a bad direction the Bucs could take in this draft as long as they are competent and aware of what is going on around them. We’ve seen them make some bad picks in the past, but this draft feels different based off the available talent alone.

Licht and Koetter seem determined to turn this team around and fortunately for them - they may not have a better opportunity than now to do just that.