The Buccaneers have to learn.
There are certain positions that no NFL team should address early. Inside linebackers, wide receivers, and running backs are spread throughout most draft classes, reducing the need for a premium pick on any of these positions. The Buccaneers need to take notes.
Running back always seems to be the one position that is impossible for teams to ignore.
If drafting running backs early helped, the Giants would be one of the best teams in the NFL. Or the Jaguars with Leonard Fournette. Or the Panthers. Or the Raiders. Do you see the trend here?
Let the Buccaneers learn from others’ mistakes
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Teams that invest too much in the most replaceable positions in the NFL struggle after getting too much money tied into a player that could fall off a cliff (Ezekiel Elliott) and the Bucs can’t be the next team to make this mistake.
After winning the Super Bowl in 2020, the Chiefs followed up their win with Clyde Edwards-Helaire in the first round. CEH was a good back for most of the season, but how much did that pick help in the playoffs? Hint, it didn’t.
The best running backs in the NFL are the cheapest ones. While it may be hard to establish consistency at the position, there should be a revolving door in the backfield to constantly keep new, cheap talent coming in through the middle rounds of the draft and free agency.
Even the best running backs for the Buccaneers in recent years have been extremely unpredictable. Doug Martin, Ronald Jones, and Leonard Fournette have experienced high highs and low lows, and Tampa Bay can’t afford to take future risks as they did on Martin.
Najee Harris to Tampa Bay in the first round has become a big talking point amongst the mock draft community, but the draft pick would be better spent on almost any other position, even linebacker or receiver.
Harris is a next-level talent that should prove to be the best from the group as a complete player, but running back success is more tied to the offensive line rather than sheer talent.
Even if the Buccaneers can bring back most of their top-tier free agents, which seems highly unlikely, a draft pick on a running back is still not the best use of capital. If there are legitimately no other options, trade back. Make the most of a back in a later round and add in a few extra day two picks.
A clear distinction is starting to rise between the teams with a lot of money invested at running back versus those that do not. Major contracts at the position with the highest injury rate lead to teams sitting outside of the playoffs, cutting better players, and failing to play up to the team’s potential.
Ronald Jones, who made a compelling case to remain the lead back next season, should not be replaced before he enters free agency, and the Bucs have to define themselves as a team that will handle this position with responsibility if they want to maintain their current success.
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