Alan Dell

Draft key for Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Don't pick 'wrong' guy

Licht
Licht AP

TAMPA

The NFL Draft is like asking someone to the prom. You want to pick a person who won't make you look bad.

Last year was easier for the Bucs. It was quarterback Jameis Winston or bust, and if Jason Licht and Lovie Smith got it wrong they knew to pack their bags.

Winston turned into a success, but he couldn't save Lovie. The Bucs hired a new head coach, and Licht is still their GM.

Now he is back on the clock and will have the final say on what the Bucs do with the ninth pick in Thursday's draft.

This is the third straight year the Bucs have a pick in the top 10, which means something is not working right.

That's why Lovie and Greg Schiano and Mark Dominik and Raheem Morris and probably the hot dog vendors at Raymond James Stadium have been forced to find work elsewhere.

The Bucs had first pick last season, the seventh two years ago and the seventh in 2012.

It's a reason the Bucs haven't been in the playoffs since 2007 and haven't won a playoff game since the 2002 Super Bowl and have finished in the NFC cellar five straight years.

If you are a GM seeking longevity, the key is avoid a bad pick. It's worse than not picking a guy who becomes an impact player.

Fans are unforgiving when their GM picks a dud. If you miss on a stud, you are likely to be forgiven because so did a bunch of other teams.

Two years ago, the Bucs could've picked Johnny Manziel but instead took his college receiver, Mike Evans. Evans has his warts but is salvageable. Manziel is the kind of pick that gets GMs fired.

Though he struck out in his first year of free agency, Licht hit for the cy

cle when he selected four players who became starters in last year's draft.

The Bucs need help on defense.

That makes Licht's job easier from a public relations standpoint.

He can follow the golden rule of defense, which says you build from front to back.

That would mean the people's choice for the No. 9 pick, cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III from Florida, will not become a Buccaneer.

This is safe move either way. Nobody is going to picket One Buc Place if Licht passes on Hargreaves and he appears to be a safe pick because he won't be a bust.

But if Licht and the Bucs want to hit that home run and snatch an impact player, then they have to be willing to risk looking foolish.

If Licht is feeling bold, he might even go for Noah Spence, who some call the best defensive end in the draft despite his past problems with drugs.

Licht has the Winston factor that could embolden his strategy.

Sometimes one player can turn past and future drafts into successful endeavors because they are good enough to compensate for the overall deficiencies of a team.

Cam Newton has done that for Carolina, and J.J. Watt for the Texans.

Watt is arguably the biggest impact player in the last five years, and Houston got him with the 11th pick in the 2011 draft.

There are defensive linemen who could turn the Bucs front four into a fearsome four, but it's not certain who will be available at nine or if Tampa would consider moving up or down.

It's dangerous to move up because if you give away picks and get a bust nobody forgets.

Some of the defensive edge rushers who would make the Bucs pass rush instantly better are Joey Bosa (Ohio State), DeForest Buckner (Oregon) and Shaq Lawson (Clemson), and there are others.

There is also speculation from various crystal-ballers that the Bucs covet Louisville defensive tackle Sheldon Rankins though, they already have Gerald McCoy at the three-technique.

Whatever decision Jason Licht makes, it won't be forgotten.

Alan Dell, Herald sports columnist/writer, can be reached at 941-745-7056. Follow him on Twitter @ADellSports.

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