The NFL combine is less than a week away. The event will begin on February 28th and run through March 6th. This is one of the biggest events of the NFL draft process with teams getting a chance to see most players up close for the first time.
This is an important process for every team. It’s a chance to interview prospects, have their medical evaluations and of course the ever popular workouts. However, this process is just a little more important to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
General manager Jason Licht has a specific type of player he likes to target early in the draft. It’s a pattern he’s shown over his nine years drafting in Tampa Bay. That type of player is an elite athlete.
The Relative Athletic Score
In finding this pattern I followed the relative athletic score developed by Kent Lee Platt. This grades a prospect’s workout score on a scale from zero to ten compared to other draft prospects at the same position, very much like ranking the percentile of that athlete. So if a player grades out as a perfect ten then they are in the 100th percentile and just might be the greatest athlete to ever play that position.
This metric combines things like height, weight, speed, quickness, strength and explosiveness. So players who are just fast or just strong might not grade well because they lack in other areas.
According to the relative athletic scores, Licht has drafted a player with his first pick in the 90th percentile or higher in seven out of nine years. In fact, Licht has followed this pattern for the last seven consecutive years. It seems likely that this year will be number eight.
How Did Buccaneers Draft Picks Grade?
The only two prospects who didn’t fall into this category were Jameis Winston and Mike Evans. Winston, a pocket passer, was never expected to be a great athlete. He was drafted to throw the ball down field and turn into the franchise quarterback like a Payton Manning or Tom Brady.
Evans was a good athlete coming out of college, but fell short of the 9.0 relative athletic score. However, at 6’5 and 230 lbs with the ability to stretch the field as a deep threat, he was a unique and dynamic athlete in his own right.
Since then it has been all 9.0 relative athletic scores or higher with the Bucs first pick. That’s Vernon Hargreaves, OJ Howard, Vita Vea, Devin White, Tristian Wirfs, Joe Tryon Shoinka and Logan Hall all falling into that 90th percentile category at their respective positions.
What Does This Tell Us For Future Drafts
Knowing that this is the type of player that Licht usually targets it can give us an indication of who the Bucs will pick this year. Picking at 19th overall there are so many things we can’t know in terms of what will happen in the first 18 picks and what prospects will be available. This pattern gives us some understanding of who the Buccaneers will target regardless of who is drafted before them.
Expect this pattern to continue in the 2023 draft. We don’t know what type of athlete it will be, ranging from Vita Vea to Vernon Hargreaves in terms of archetype, but we know it will be one of the best athletes at the combine.
I will be watching all of the names that have been linked to the Bucs in the draft. Guys like Brian Branch, Bijan Robinson and Joey Porter Jr will all be names to follow. However, any player who has an impressive workout will certainly be on Jason Licht’s draft radar.