Bucs seek help in upcoming NFL draft

by Gary Shelton on April 10, 2020

in general

Licht prepares for another NFL draft./CARMEN MANDATO

Friday, 4 a.m.

It is his time of the season, the time when teams are built, when rosters are constructed, when depth is addressed.

Once again, it is grading time for Jason Licht.

Licht, the Bucs' general manager, has had a fairly impressive off-season so far. Already, he has traded in headache Jameis Winston for heartthrob Tom Brady, and he has brought back Shaq Barrett, Jason Pierre-Paul and Ndamukong Suh. In two weeks, he will lead his team into a most unusual draft, one that will rely as much on technology as on scouting reports.

Thursday, Licht touched on several subjects with reporters.

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(On how Brady affects draft preparations): "Tom is arguably the best quarterback to play the game, so it’s nice to have that guy. In terms of how we go about the draft this year, we’re still evaluating every position, every player, every position of need and positions that maybe some perceive as not a need. We still stack the board the same. We still look for great players. We’re looking to add the best player available where it meets a need in certain positions. I wouldn’t say it really affects the way we’ve been conducting meetings or (the way we have) been stacking the board, but it is just a really good feeling to know that Tom Brady is on our team.”

(On how the current pandemic affects the draft): “We are currently going through a lot of scenarios with that. We’re working through a lot of different platforms in terms of being able to have some video conferences and talk to one another. We’re going to find the best one (and) the most secure one. We’ll have some mock situations of our own. Sometimes you can get a little over-technical in these situations. You want to make sure you have a hardline phone. You want to make sure you have several phones available to you – cell phones or what have you. But sometimes it comes down to the old-fashioned picking up the phone and calling the league office and saying, ‘We are going to pick this player.’ We’ll have all of our scenarios done when the draft starts in terms of where I would trade up, where I would trade back, what we’d be looking for, what we’d be wanting, what players we’re going to take in order (and) those types of things. In terms of the technical part, we’re still working through it a little bit, but I feel very confident. We have a great IT department led by Spencer Dille. We have a lot of different avenues that we can work through.”

(On how canceled pro days affect evaluations): Well, normally it is a big piece of it. Just before this I was watching some pro day videos (of) players that have conducted their own pro day and sent them to us and to every team – you use the tools that you have and the information that you have. Fortunately, it’s a level playing field across the league. In terms of getting to know the players, that’s another big aspect of it. We spend a lot of time interviewing these players when we’re at their pro day with their coaches and with our scouts. Our scouts, scouting department and our coaching staff have been working around the clock doing FaceTime, Zoom and what have you interviews. I’ve joined in on quite a few of them. We’ve been getting quite a bit out of it. It’s been a little bit more focused. Sometimes when you have a player in for a visit, you talk to a guy for 10 minutes [and] then you move him on to another coach, another personnel guy or another scout. This way, we’re focused in on the player for a solid amount of time and we all have our chance to ask questions and see how he reacts. Once again, we’ve been utilizing the information that we have and the technology that’s given to us. I feel very good about where we’re at."

(On how many private workouts the team was able to conduct): “Just a handful. It’s the same thing that I just said – we’re getting a lot of videos sent from agents. We request certain players’ videos of their workouts from their agents. We try to analyze that the best we can. It’s the same across the league. Sometimes in this process you can over-analyze a little bit and put too much stock into a workout. Whereas, the tape – I know you guys hear this all the time and we say it all the time – but the tape is about 90 percent of what the player is. We can tell how hard a player plays. We can tell how smart sometimes (that) a player is just by the way he plays. In some regards, I’m excited about this draft to see if we’re going to get more of a pure evaluation and draft more off of a pure evaluation than over-analyzing.”

(On whether he considers Winston a hit or a miss): “We have a lot of respect for Jameis. Jameis was still part of our plan if things went a different route. I’ve got a lot of respect for him. I thought he did a lot of great things and I think anybody in our office, or our building, would say the same thing. He did some spectacular things for us. I would never say that personally – and I think I speak on behalf of the organization – that he was a bust. I think he’s got a bright future ahead of him. It just really comes down to, we had a chance to get Tom Brady. Tom Brady is a hell of a player and we are very excited about that. I’m very confident that Jameis is going to go on and get an opportunity. That’s not the last you’re going to hear from Jameis.”

(On whether he thinks Ronald Jones can be a featured back in the NFL): “Well, we do think Ronald still hasn’t even scratched the surface of what he can be. He made a huge jump from year one to year two. He didn’t have to do much to do that because year one wasn’t very good for him, but year two we felt very good about where he came. We think he still has a tremendous amount of upside. That doesn’t stop us from wanting to add to that group, which may be something we do depending on who’s there, where they’re at and what other positions we’re looking at. We have a lot of faith in Ronald, and in fact, we have more faith in him now than we ever have. But that’s another position, as you can tell across the league – some of the better teams, they have one, two or three guys – sometimes four – that they can rely on in different types of roles in their offense.”

(On drafting a developmental quarterback): “We can afford to do it, I think. It is definitely something we would look at, but it just depends on who that player is, where he is available, what other players are in front of him [and] if we’re sold on that player. It’s not as easy as just picking any quarterback and thinking, ‘OK, he’s the developmental guy.’ They’re hard to find. They don’t just appear out of nowhere. A lot goes into it from their tape to their maturity level – all of those types of things. It just kind of depends on who the player is. If there is a player that we like at the right place, I don’t think we would have a problem taking him.”

(On deciding between the best available athlete or a position need): "A lot of things go through your mind. That’s why you have to stack the board correctly in your mind, in our minds – Bruce and I in the end – how we like these players. You take need into account when you stack the board, but you don’t want to stack a player at a position of need too far a player that is maybe a little bit better at his position. Sometimes the best picks, and I think I’ve said this in the past, sometimes the best picks have been the ones that weren’t a position of need but it clearly was the best player, and a year down the road you’re very happy and you can’t see life without that particular player. Needs change quickly from April, May to July, August, September so it wouldn’t be a bad thing to have another great receiver on this team. I think Bruce (Arians), Byron (Leftwich), and Tom (Brady) would find a way to get that player involved and it would be an asset for us.”

(On how his job has changed): “It’s been kind of nice, to be honest, in some regards. Obviously, we’re in a very serious situation right now globally, but in terms of working from home it’s been kind of nice. I’ve been able to focus more on watching tape. I’ve been able to focus more on the things that I’m doing to prepare for the draft and everybody else has as well. The only difference is when I walk out my office here. At the office I could pop into someone else’s office and talk spontaneously. Here when I walk out of office I have to help around the house and be a dad and be a husband, which has been great for us too. Business-wise with the draft it’s the most important thing going on right now, but in life it’s my family and keeping them safe. If I was somewhere else holed up and not around here, I don’t think I would be able to focus at all worried about my family. I think that goes for everybody else across the country. I don’t feel like it’s handicapped us whatsoever. I think I can speak on behalf of the entire staff, coaching and scouting, we’ve been able to functionally communicate and communicate often. I’m very happy with the process so far.”

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