Every year, it's the same debate. Should a team be solely focused on filling its biggest needs in the draft, or should they simply take the best player available, regardless of position? The dynamics are different for every NFL team, making the answer to that question equally unique for every franchise.
For the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, that answer was very different 72 hours ago than it is now. Heading into free agency, the Bucs' new regime was staring at a roster full of holes on both sides of the ball, but head coach Lovie Smith and general manager Jason Licht got busy quick. By signing defensive end Michael Johnson and cornerback Alterraun Verner, the Bucs addressed their two biggest needs on defense (with corner becoming a much bigger one following the release of Darrelle Revis).
One of the more popular debates throughout the offseason for the Bucs has been the quarterback situation. Despite a strong rookie campaign from Mike Glennon, the Bucs signed Josh McCown to a two-year deal worth $10 million. Though it was originally thought that McCown would simply be coming in to compete with Glennon, Lovie Smith quickly made it clear that McCown is already the starter:
The Bucs followed up those moves by signing offensive tackle Anthony Collins to a five-year deal on Thursday, shortly after announcing the release of their previous starting left tackle, Donald Penn. Collins is younger and came cheaper than Penn, and he had a comparable offer on the table from the NFC South-rival Panthers, so grabbing him was another huge win for the Bucs' new decision-makers.
So, where does this leave the Bucs heading into the draft? In prime position to simply select the best overall player with the seventh overall pick. Buffalo outside linebacker Khalil Mack, Clemson wide receiver Sammy Watkins and North Carolina tight end Eric Ebron are possible options. NFL Network's Daniel Jeremiah agrees:
Are there still areas of need they should address? Absolutely, but those areas (speed at receiver and help at guard) could easily be taken care of later in the draft or still through free agency.
There are plenty of speedy targets projected in the middle rounds of the draft (Wyoming's Robert Herron, Clemson's Martavis Bryant, Kent State's Dri Archer), and free-agent wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders visited One Buc Place after leaving Jacksonville. The Bucs are also in prime position to add one of the draft's top guards, such as Stanford's David Yankey, UCLA's Xavier Su'a-Filo or Mississippi State's Gabe Jackson with the 38th overall pick.
All of this adds up to the fact that Tampa Bay will likely blend need and value together when making their draft picks. With the way they've filled needs through free agency, they should be free to let the draft come to them in the first round and take the best overall player at the seventh pick.
After that, it will likely be a balancing act of identifying the depth of certain position groups in this year's draft class and picking accordingly— and possibly being willing to wait on receivers and corners, both extremely deep positions this year.