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Examining Bruce Arians’ draft history in Arizona

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Can history tell us anything about which way the Buccaneers might go in this year’s draft?

NFL: Tampa Bay Buccaneers-Bruce Arians Press Conference Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Now that the Super Bowl is over, we’ve officially reached the NFL offseason. Yes, the Alliance of American Football kicks off tonight, but for football fans that aren’t buying into that hype just yet, the focus is on April’s NFL Draft. Specifically for fans of the Buccaneers, there’s a lot of talk about which way the team could go with their No. 5 pick and their subsequent selections.

Considering Tampa Bay has a new head coach — and an entirely new staff — there will be changes in scheme, approach and just about everything else. So, does the hiring of Bruce Arians as the new head coach have any effect on how general manager Jason Licht goes about the draft? Obviously, the two will work closely together during the process.

When it comes to the actual selections, who knows which way the Bucs will go? For now, we can take a look at Arians’ draft history with the Arizona Cardinals and see if there were/are any trends that are noteworthy. There are obviously a number of differences between the situation that Arians is in now with the Bucs and the one he was in with the Cardinals, but regardless, here we go.

First-Rounders

2013: Seventh overall— Jonathan Cooper (Guard, North Carolina)

2014: 27th overall— Deone Bucannon (Safety, Washington State)

2015: 24th overall— D.J. Humphries (Offensive Tackle, Florida)

2016: 29th overall— Robert Nkemdiche (Defensive Tackle, Ole Miss)

2017: 13th overall— Haason Reddick (Linebacker, Temple)

What strikes me first about these five picks is how closely they fall in line with the needs on Tampa Bay’s roster right now. For the Bucs, it’s not about finding a quarterback, a wide receiver or even a first-round running back. Right now, it’s all about the offensive line and the defense as a whole. Only one of Arians’ selections in Arizona was a top-10 pick, and with it, the team grabbed a guard. There’s been plenty of talk already this offseason about not drafting a guard at such a high slot, but we can see that Arians has been a part of that before.

Seeing as how three of the five picks listed above addressed the trenches, maybe we’ll see Tampa Bay go that route in April. I don’t think anyone would be too upset about that. At the same time, there’s also a linebacker up there. Could LSU’s Devin White or Michigan’s Devin Bush be on the team’s radar? Of course they could be.

Other Top-100 Picks

2013: 45th overall— Kevin Minter (Linebacker, LSU)

69th overall— Tyrann Mathieu (Safety, LSU)

2014: 52nd overall— Troy Niklas (Tight End, Notre Dame)

84th overall— Kareem Martin (Defensive End, North Carolina)

91st overall— John Brown (Wide Receiver, Pittsburgh State)

2015: 58th overall— Markus Golden (Defensive End, Missouri)

86th overall— David Johnson (Running Back, Northern Iowa)

2016: 92nd overall— Brandon Williams (Cornerback, Texas A&M)

2017: 36th overall— Budda Baker (Safety, Washington)

98th overall— Chad Williams (Wide Receiver, Grambling State)

What’s interesting about these picks is that in the first three years, Arizona didn’t address the same side of the ball in the first two rounds of the draft. In 2013, the Cardinals went offense in the first round and defense in the second. In 2014, it was defense in the first and offense in the second. The following year, it was the same trend as 2013. But by 2016 and 2017, Arians and his staff decided to go defense with their first two picks in both years. Because the Bucs have such desperate needs on both sides of the trenches, we might see something similar to what the Cards did in the first three years.

Another takeaway from the rest of the top-100 guys is the inclusion of skill players on offense. Arians and his staff found gems in David Johnson and John Brown, who were both third-round picks. At this point in the draft process, Tampa Bay doesn’t have an excessive number of mid-round picks. But if Arians and Licht end up with some more second or third-round selections, don’t be surprised if they try to find gems like that. The team could use some help in the backfield and potentially at wide receiver as well if both DeSean Jackson and Adam Humphries are gone from the roster.

The Later Rounds

2013: 103rd overall— Alex Okafor (Linebacker, Texas)

116th overall— Earl Watford (Guard, James Madison)

140th overall— Stepfan Taylor (Running Back, Stanford)

174th overall— Ryan Swope (Wide Receiver, Texas A&M)

187th overall— Andre Ellington (Running Back, Clemson)

219th overall— D.C. Jefferson (Tight End, Rutgers)

2014: 120th overall— Logan Thomas (Quarterback, Virginia Tech)

160th overall— Ed Stinson (Defensive End, Alabama)

196th overall— Walt Powell (Wide Receiver, Murray State)

2015: 116th overall— Rodney Gunter (Defensive Tackle, Delaware State)

158th overall— Shaquille Riddick (Defensive End, West Virginia)

159th overall— J.J. Nelson (Wide Receiver, UAB)

256th overall— Gerald Christian (Tight End, Louisville)

2016: 128th overall— Evan Boehm (Center, Missouri)

167th overall— Marqui Christian (Safety, Midwestern State)

170th overall— Cole Toner (Offensive Tackle, Harvard)

205th overall— Harlan Miller (Cornerback, Southeastern Louisiana)

2017: 115th overall— Dorian Johnson (Guard, Pittsburgh)

157th overall— Will Holden (Offensive Tackle, Vanderbilt)

179th overall— T.J. Logan (Running Back, North Carolina)

208th overall— Rudy Ford (Safety, Auburn)

The later rounds varied, as expected, though there was a common theme throughout all five years of Arians’ tenure. In each draft, the Cardinals selected two players from the same position. In 2013, it was two linebackers in the first four picks and then running backs in back-to-back rounds. In 2014, the team went with two defensive ends (one in the third, one in the fifth). Once again in 2015, it was defensive ends (one in the second, one in the fifth).

By 2016 and 2017, the Cardinals were addressing their secondary. In the 2016 draft, they selected cornerbacks in the third and sixth round, while drafting safeties in the second and sixth rounds during the 2017 draft.

With all of this, it’s clear that Arians has a tendency to use the later rounds to stock up on depth. So, if the Bucs go with an EDGE guy in round one, don’t be surprised to see them swing back around in the fourth or fifth round and grab another. The same goes for offensive tackle, guard, etc. Repeating positions is something Licht has done in the past with the Bucs anyway, so it’s not a new concept. But having a head coach and a general manager who seem to share that philosophy and history almost guarantees that the team will employ such an approach this April.

Now it’s your turn, Bucs fans. What takeaways did you have from taking a look at Arizona’s draft history under Arians?