Sometimes in life the best decisions are the easiest ones to make. Oftentimes, people overthink the situation they’re in and their subsequent decision leads to a less than satisfactory result.
Welcome to the NFL Draft.
Every year teams reach, overspend, or simply make a desperate pick that sets them back for the next few years. These moves frequently leave them in a constant cycle of recidivism that they can never get out of (see the Cleveland Browns).
Fortunately for the Bucs, this year’s draft plays straight into their hands. If everything falls as expected then Tampa should be able to fill one of many needs with an elite player.
And if he’s there, that player should be Notre Dame guard Quenton Nelson.
Nelson is arguably the safest prospect in this draft and he may even be the the top prospect as well. Of course Saquon Barkley is out of this world, but Nelson is a steady, dominant player that will anchor an interior line for years to come.
Tampa has never really drafted a dominant offensive lineman - at tackle, guard, or center. Looking back on their history the Bucs have only had two draftees on the offensive line make a Pro Bowl, with neither getting any All-Pro love. There have only been a total of six offensive linemen to make a Pro Bowl, ever.
Obviously the jury is still out on Ali Marpet and Donovan Smith, but at least Marpet seems to be on his way up. Smith had a pretty bad year in 2017, but is still a solid option with a high ceiling.
The recent free-agent signing of Ryan Jensen is obviously still in the infancy stage. Hopefully he can avoid the negative trend of offensive line acquisitions via free-agency that have haunted the Bucs over the years.
The most recent signing that comes to mind is former Saints guard Carl Nicks. Nicks played in every single game during his first four years in New Orleans and the Bucs thought they had stolen a pivotal piece from their division rival when they signed him to a massive five-year, $47.5 million contract in 2012.
That went down the drain quickly as Nicks started just seven games during his first year in Tampa due to a toe injury. He later developed a case of MRSA along with two other players before the 2013 season began which limited him to only two games.
Nicks and the Bucs mutually parted ways in 2014 and other than Jensen, the Bucs have spent major capital on just one other interior lineman - 2015 second-round pick Ali Marpet.
But that shouldn’t really come as a surprise because historically, the Bucs have never really invested heavily in interior linemen. Over the past two decades Tampa has spent a total of five top-100 picks on the position of either guard or center. Of those five picks, only two have played 100 games or more for the Bucs.
It doesn't get much better from there. Tampa has avoided selecting an offensive lineman in five of the last eight drafts including four straight drafts from 2010-2013.
So here we have a team that has overlooked the position for years, while trying to counter that with rushed free-agent additions that don’t pan out. The Bucs have been cheap and they’re getting what they paid for.
Drafting Nelson is a golden opportunity for Tampa to reverse their terrible history with the offensive line. He would help set the foundation for Jameis Winston, Peyton Barber, and whomever they decide to draft at running back after Nelson.
Tampa’s woes on the offensive line have not only been reflected by their lack of spending, but it has also translated to the field. Before 2003, the Bucs had just one top-10 offense in the past 20 seasons. Since 2003, they have had just three.
But here’s the kicker - three of those five offenses were in the bottom half of the league when it came to offensive scoring and even though they manned top-10 offenses - including a top 5 offense in 2015 - the Bucs were outscored by a combined 135 points during those five years. Their record during that time was a combined 31-49 that included three double-digit loss seasons.
A lack of scoring production usually means no running game to pound the ball in the redzone nor a quarterback who has enough time to make the necessary plays when the field shrinks. The common denominator between those is a bad offensive line - Tampa’s mainstay over the years.
This is pointed out in much greater detail by my colleague, Steven Beck. He perfectly illustrates the continuity between an effective offensive line and Koetter’s best scoring offenses as well as a great breakdown of Tampa’s current linemen on the roster. Koetter’s teams went a combined 38-26 over those four seasons. Check it out here - you’ll be glad you did.
Adding Nelson would bring the needed athleticism, grit, and smarts to an offensive line that is so close to becoming a very good one. Lo and behold, very good offensive lines lead to wins. According to Football Outsiders, five of the top eight offensive lines in the NFL carried their respective teams to the playoffs last season.
The combination of Marpet, Nelson, and Jensen would give Tampa the best interior line that they have ever had, period. Koetter would be able to use more two-tight end sets, offsetting edge pressure since the interior would be good to go. The obvious benefactor from the decrease in defensive pressure would be Winston.
And Winston with time means more deep shots to DeSean Jackson or deep dig routes to Mike Evans. Don’t forget the best tight end duo in the league snagging balls over the middle, either.
Nelson is a pure mauler without many - if any - limitations at all. He also plays well against top competition. He faced off against some of the top defenders in this year’s draft and helped render them virtually ineffective. The likes of Arden Key, Bradley Chubb, Roquan Smith, and Harold Landry all combined for just two sacks against Nelson’s front line.
Check out this play against Georgia where he literally uses one of Smith’s fellow Bulldogs to take Smith out of the play. The kid is insanely strong:
He’s also quick on his feet as you can see here:
And just to torment Georgia fans a little more, here is one more of him standing up Roquan Smith at the line of scrimmage:
That’s a potential top-10 pick in the draft that he just made look silly.
Even if the Holy Trinity of Chubb, Nelson, and Barkley are somehow all there at seven, the Bucs still need to take Nelson. They have a very rare shot at setting up a very good offensive line for the next decade in hopes of protecting their franchise quarterback.
Building from the inside out isn’t sexy and most football fans would agree with that. Winning championships, however, is sexy - and I know Tampa fans would love to see that again in the near future.
This would be the first step in getting there.
What would you like to see the Bucs do at number seven?
This poll is closed
Take Quentin Nelson
Take Bradley Chubb
Take Saquon Barkley
Take Derwin James
Take Minkah Fitzpatrick