Licht Is Strong Enough Not To Reach

April 17th, 2017


Talent trumps all.

That should be the mantra of the Buccaneers and 31 other NFL teams heading into the April 27 draft. Every club surely has pressing needs, but common sense dictates you’re inviting trouble when you settle for a lesser player just because he plays a certain position.

“The only caveat we had was if the need line crossed the talent line, and if there were three players there and one was in a need position and all the grades were equal, we’d lean toward the need — but never at the expense of best player available,” says Hall of Fame executive Bill Polian.

When it comes to draft acumen, Polian is tough to beat.

One reason Polian has a bust in Canton is the remarkable run he enjoyed as GM of the Colts. Starting with the franchise-changing selection of Peyton Manning in 1998, Polian added Edgerrin James, Reggie Wayne, Dwight Freeney, Dallas Clark, Robert Mathis and Bob Sanders in the following six drafts.

That’s how you build a perennial NFL power.

Long Ball Over RB

With the 2017 draft only 10 days away, there’s no mystery concerning Tampa Bay’s No. 1 need. Jameis Winston operated without a credible ground game for most of last season — and Dirk Koetter is adamant that won’t happen again.

The Bucs are sitting at No.19 and an excited fan base will be devastated if Jason Licht doesn’t draft a running back in the first three rounds. And if Dalvin Cook, Leonard Fournette or Christian McCaffrey is still on the board at No. 19, the pressure will mount to immediately address the backfield issue.

But what if a Grade-A prospect like Alabama tight end O.J. Howard somehow falls into Licht’s lap?

“What makes him unique is not only can Howard survive in the run game, he’s pretty darned good at it,” says NFL Network analyst Daniel Jeremiah. “You look at somebody that can create big plays down the field with his speed. Last year, they threw him the ball 49 times. This year, he came back and they threw him the ball 59 times. I don’t think they did him any big favors there, but you’re talking about an elite skill set.”

Undrafted tight end Cameron Brate caught everything in his path last year, allowing Buc fans to forget about the epic flop of former second-round pick Austin Seferian-Jenkins.

Brate has sure hands and knows how to get open, especially in the red zone, but he’s not much of a blocker and his yards after catch are minimal. Only five of Brate’s 57 catches were for 20 or more yards … while stud tight ends Greg Olsen and Travis Kelce each registered 14 long receptions.

At first glance, tight end doesn’t seem like much of a priority position for the Bucs, certainly not when compared to running back, defensive end or safety.

On second glance, passing on Howard would be a mistake.

“He’s one of the more complete tight ends,” says Bucky Brooks of the NFL Network. “He’s dynamic, he’s tough, he’s worked on his craft. At the top of the draft, you’re trying to make sure you don’t miss. He’s almost a can’t-miss prospect.”

One of the stock phrases you hear going into any draft is the old “best player available” philosophy.

Easy to say, difficult to execute. Temptations abound in the draft, where need has a way of steering you off your carefully crafted board.

“You don’t pass up great players for good players,” says Brooks. “You take the best available player at your selection, then you try to find a way to make it work, to get back what you eventually need down the road.”

Too Close To Reach

When guided strictly by need in 2007, following the departure of Simeon Rice, Tampa Bay ended up with Gaines Adams instead of Adrian Peterson, Patrick Willis, Marshawn Lynch or Darrelle Revis.

Four years later, still desperate for an edge rusher, the Bucs drafted Adrian Clayborn and Da’Quan Bowers within the top 51 picks. Those twin terrors combined for all of 20 career sacks in pewter.

Licht boasts an enviable track record in his first three drafts as an NFL GM. He has fearlessly found a way to meld need and talent.

Yes, Tampa Bay’s backfield cries out for help, but don’t be surprised if Licht stays patient and trusts his board and his instincts. That stance worked out pretty well for Bill Polian.

The Bucs are close, real close.

How close?

Close enough that they don’t have to reach for the stars.

43 Responses to “Licht Is Strong Enough Not To Reach”

  1. 813bucboi Says:

    lol….now joe wants to use a bucky brooks quote…lol…..I thought he needed his head checked for having the bucs select jarred davis at #19 in his 3.0 mock…….GO BUCS!!!!

  2. Dewey Selmon Says:

    Titans have 2 picks in the top 18. No way the ley Howard get by TWICE!

  3. Eric Denman Says:

    Best thing for us Bucs fans is some team ahead of us (hopefully the Skins) draft Dalvin Cook. And I agree if OJ Howard is there or close we need to make a move and draft him. I know Brate is a solid pass catching TR but only a fool would think he’s better than OJ is.

  4. Pickgrin Says:

    A couple months ago I had high hopes for the Bucs getting Howard – now I know he will be long gone by 19. Too bad because Howard is going to be an absolute stud TE in this league.

    Let the board come to you Jason Licht. Too much talent in this draft to be trading up in the 1st. I would prefer a trade down in the 1st.

    Whether via trade down in the 1st or trade up in the 2nd – I’d like to see us find a way to get Budda Baker on this team.

  5. Blake_bucsfan Says:

    Ira, you’re tugging on my heartstrings with the O.J. talk, because he’s my favorite player in the draft, and I would melt from pure elation were we to get him.

    However, we got no shot. He’s a virtual lock for the top 10.

  6. gotbbucs Says:

    This damn draft can’t get here fast enough.

  7. Gencoimports Says:

    If Howard is gone, then draft David Njoku or a WR.

  8. Kobe Faker Says:

    2017 Draft will be the Draft of Jon Robinson

    The Draft will go thru the Tenn Titans

    Robinson will trade back both 1st round picks and have 5 picks in the first 2 rounds. 5 players who will start and contribute this year

    *”The best player available” is the best and only way to draft. Thats why last years draft was a total failure

  9. Blake_bucsfan Says:

    David Njoku on the other hand should be available. And the argument is there to be made that at only 20 years of age, Njoku’s ceiling could surpass that of O.J. Howard, especially as a downfield receiving weapon.

    He doesn’t represent the immediate impact to every aspect of the offense as O.J. would, he’s a bit raw in the blocking department, but he is a terror of a redzone target.

    Njoku was clocked in the mid 4.4s at his pro-day, and registered a 40 inch vertical jump at 6’4 246. And he has the production to match those measurables. With 700 yards and 8 Td’s on 43 receptions as a 20 year old sophmore. That equates roughly to a score every 5 catches.

    Kid could be better than Antonio Gates.

  10. Guzzie Says:

    Gonna get really interesting when Cook, Njoku, and Corey Davis are all still on the board at 19, what then???? My vote is Davis, plenty of starting caliber RBs available later, but teaming 23 year old Evans with another potential number 1 receiver, plus DJax to take pressure off of both for the next 3 years, now that’ll be special!! Doesn’t really matter which RB the Bucs draft, it’s gonna be 6 man fronts all game, my grandma would average 5 yards a carry

  11. Guzzie Says:

    Actually Corey Davis not able to workout this offseason may push him down to 19, this could happen

  12. Kobe Faker Says:

    Njoku will be a bust. I believe he runs 4.6 fortys. cant run routes is why recievers never see the field

    He is a DGB clone

    Raw will get coaches fired

    Njoku is 2017 laquon tredwell

    “Draft football players not projects”

    Kobe Faker

  13. Blake_bucsfan Says:

    “While speed and overall raw athleticism is a concern for Kaaya, that certainly is not the case for Njoku, who was clocked in the mid-to-high 4.4s in the 40-yard dash and recorded a 40-inch vertical jump at 6-foot-4 and 246 pounds.”

  14. Kobe Faker Says:

    “With the addition of Corey Davis, we will be in the 2017 championship game”

    Kobe Faker

  15. Mojiska Says:


    Hr plays t.e., not wr. Why compare him to two wr? Not saying he is going to be great, but i just dont get your logic. Its like saying donta foreman will bust because he cant catch just like ted guinn.

  16. Pickgrin Says:

    “Draft football players not projects”

    For once I agree with Koby Liar. This applies to both Njoku and Obi.

  17. Mojiska Says:

    And at 19, just about every player on the board will be some sort of a project. Every draft only has a hanful of 100% walk on starters on any team.

  18. Kobe Faker Says:

    In the NFL, the ROUTE RUNNING skill set is what separates good productive recievers

    *Speed can be easily be defended

  19. Defense Rules Says:

    Excellent article; thanks Ira. The Bucs really are “Close enough that they don’t have to reach for the stars.” Everyone focuses on our 1st rnd pick, but I tend to think it’s really the first 3 rnds that’ll make the biggest difference this year. We might hit on rnds 4-7 (like we did with Kwon), but odds of that happening probably aren’t very sterling. As it stands right now, I’d really like to see Bucs grab a RB, Safety & DE in the first 3 rnds, in no particular order.

  20. Bucsfanman Says:

    We are in a very good situation with the upcoming draft because we will not HAVE TO draft for need.
    In a sense, this draft will tell us more about Licht’s ability as GM than any other. Lay the foundation.

  21. Mick Says:

    Hey Kobe we agree on something, not a fan of Njoku at all.

  22. Mojiska Says:

    You keep saying wr. Route running is completely different for tight ends and wide receivers. Tight ends rely much more on straight up mismatches, run away from the bigger slower linebackers and out muscle the smaller faster guys. Ins, outs, curls, seams, post, corners. Much more basic route running and not as intricate or specific as wide receivers. Im not saying its ueless, but not nearly as imperative for a tight end.

  23. Kobe Faker Says:

    Hey Pick

    Ive been hearing at 1 Buc place (bathrooms) that scary word you and I dont like at all…TWEENER.

    “Licht likes to talk when he is on his throne. Not sure if he said, he should never have eaten all those peppers or Jabrill Peppers.”

    1Buc Mole

  24. Bobby M. Says:

    Exactly…..take the top talent available or possibly trade back if nothing “wows” the Bucs. Licht has shown he can find talent in all rounds and our team lacks depth. Other then o-line, there really isnt a position that if a starter goes down, we avoid a huge drop in production.

  25. Kobe Faker Says:

    Njoku ran 4.64 at the combines

    he is a track and field athlete that played TE football for 2 years…Hell No!

    Blake_Bucsfan is Luke Campbell

  26. Joe Says:

    Blake_Bucsfan is Luke Campbell

    You mean Uncle Luke?

  27. Kobe Faker Says:

    Yes…reverse IP lookup

  28. Blake_bucsfan Says:

    Kobe Faker, Just got one question for you…

  29. mike10 Says:

    I’d be very curious as to what the positions of need were going into those drafts for Bill Polian. Did he truly sniff out prime talent regardless of need, or did he get lucky?

    But I’m not sure I agree with the title; we’re talking about a guy that traded up into the second rd to draft a kicker.

    100% of Licht’s top-rd picks have been based on need, and I have no reason to believe that will not continue for the 2017 draft. Some of those picks have worked out, some haven’t.

    I just wish I could count on him to stick by Polian’s mantra and draft best available.

    Evans, Winston, Marpet

    To be determined:
    Hargreaves, Spence, Aguayo, Sims, Smith


  30. Blake_bucsfan Says:

    Oh btw Kobe, I’d be more than pleased if Corey Davis is the selection.

  31. D-Rome Says:

    Another strong article, Ira. Drafting the best available player is always the right decision. The Texans needed a QB in the 2014 draft but they ended up picking the best player in the draft and it was the right pick for that draft. Teams that reach on players usually end up paying the price.

  32. mike10 Says:

    Also Irv,

    I agree that Howard is absolutely grade A talent, and for anyone that hasn’t seen his highlights – DO YOURSELF A FAVOR and watch that.

    However, he won’t make it out of the top 10.

    David Njoku sitting there at 19 is the more realistic scenario you need to consider.

  33. Joeypoppems Says:

    Brate ran a 4.78 at his combine and he led all TEs in TDs last season. So what if Njoku didnt run a sub 4.5? Not many TEs do

  34. Blake_bucsfan Says:

    ^ And all reports indicate that he improved on that 4.64 40 time significantly at his pro-day.

  35. Hodad Says:

    It really comes down to touches. With Evans, Brate Hump, DJax, how many touches would another W.R., or T.E. get compared to a first round talented R.B.? Let’s face facts, none of our current R.B.’s will worry opposing defenses. Cook, Fournette, McCaffery sure would. They would open up our entire offense by making the other players I mentioned better.

  36. Bucsfanman Says:

    Thanks for that Blake! I needed a good laugh!
    I don’t like the thought of drafting a TE in the 1st round at all. For a once in a lifetime talent, sure. But do either Howard or Njoku fill that role? I don’t know.

  37. Blake_bucsfan Says:


    My own personal opinion is that both of them have the potential to become Elite level pass catchers/ matchup nightmares in the NFL.

    With O.J. being the better player currently, but David Njoku probably having the higher ceiling.

  38. Bucsfanman Says:

    It’s that word “potential” that scares me! ASJ had tons of it!
    You may be right, I’m just not a big fan of this year’s TE crop. Not in the 1st round anyway. Jake Butt would’ve been my pick for TE prior to his injury. Miami TEs have always been productive so Njoku doesn’t scare me as much. I have a hard time even naming an Alabama TE other than Howard!

  39. Pickgrin Says:

    Howard is the real deal. A legit generational TE talent. Not only is he a beast to deal with down the field – he can block like a mofo at the LOS.

    This is where Brate is seriously lacking as well as not having enough speed or athleticism to get separation and YAC yards.

    NJoku is a good receiver and a good athlete but has a long ways to go with in-line blocking and will never be the blocker that Howard already is.

  40. Kobe Faker Says:

    With me and djax pulling both safetys/top 2 corners far away downfield….that middle of the field is where we punish the defense with there weak pass defenders – linebackers/3rd corner

    Brate and hump cant separate and RAC. Jameis has to thread the needle and they get tackled immediately

    A jarvis landry type can get +110 catches 1300 yards

  41. Capt.Tim Says:

    In Licht we trust

  42. Skipper Says:

    Bucsfanman, I believe Ozzie Newsome was a Bama tight end.

  43. FutureBucsGM Says:

    I like what I hear, Mr Licht and his team better paint a classic.