It didn’t matter that the Tampa Bay Buccaneers already had an awfully crowded room of running backs and no one to block for them.
It didn’t matter that the team had never taken a tight end as high as the second round either. In his first year as a general manager of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and first NFL draft calling the shots, Jason Licht hasn’t been afraid to go the unconventional route.
He said when he first got to Tampa, Rays Manager Joe Maddon befriended him and offered this advice. “The box is a lonely place to be. You’ve got to think outside of it.”
Not that Maddon’s advice suddenly changed the team philosophy, but it became somewhat prophetic in Licht’s first NFL draft as GM, at least on day two.
With the seventh overall pick, he passed on a high-risk, high-reward quarterback in Johnny Manziel, along with Teddy Bridgewater, going with Manziel’s teammate at Texas A&M, wide receiver Mike Evans — a safe choice that many would have made.
It meant he wouldn’t be linked to a quarterback during his tenure as GM, something that may have ultimately sealed the fate of former Bucs GM Mark Dominik when he moved up to select Josh Freeman.
But then Licht took tight end Austin Seferien-Jenkins in the second round — a first for the Buccaneers, and just the fifth time in team history that one was selected in the third round or above.
But Licht’s most stunning move of all? Drafting a running back, what many have felt is Tampa Bay’s strongest position.
Sure Doug Martin and Mike James are overcoming season-ending injuries, but Licht said that they didn’t play a role in his decision.
“No, Doug is really healthy. He’s full speed right now. He’s been going through workouts full speed, minicamps, so no, that had nothing to do with it.”
“Mike James is coming along fine, he’s going to be fine. It had nothing to do with injuries, it just had everything to do with you can’t have enough of those good players.”
It’s a far cry from Greg Schiano’s philosophy of ‘ground-and-pound’ with a back who’s short, compact and a tough runner on the inside. Martin, James and Bobby Rainey all fit that profile.
“I’ve been with some organizations where we had three backs, four backs and you can’t go into a season relying on one guy to be the workhorse nowadays. You have to have different backs with different skill sets.”
You can credit a lot of that to scheme change. The Bucs new regime under offensive coordinator Jeff Tedford values running backs who can take quick pitches out of the backfield and fly, like Jeff Demps, and improve the short to intermediate passing game with great hands, like third-round pick Charles Sims, who caught plenty of balls in college and was a standout wide receiver in high school.
“I always talk about having the best player available versus need where they converge, and it may seem to the outside that running back was a pretty strong position we had and we still feel that way, but this one kind of stood out like the tight end did. ‘Hey we have a chance to get a back that has a versatile skill set that can score points for us,’ and we didn’t want to turn it down.”
Of course there is still a need at guard, a very pressing one, after the departure of Davin Joseph. Then there’s Carl Nicks, who is hopeful he’ll be ready for training camp in July, but after battling MRSA last season and possibly suffering permanent nerve damage in his foot, in what kind of shape?
Licht said taking an offensive lineman was an option Friday and will be an option Saturday, along with undrafted free agents and players they have on their current roster.
But much of the top offensive line talent has come and gone, with 22 selected in two days, tying NFL records set in 2014 and 1968 for most offensive linemen drafted in the first three rounds.
“Obviously we felt like we had a lot of needs considering what we did in free agency and now what we’re doing with the draft, but we didn’t feel like we could fill them all necessarily, ‘that would be a dream,’ but we’re going to plug away at it.”