Buccaneers Draft All About Helping Winston Be Successful

By FRED GOODALL, AP Sports Writer

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (AP) — The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are seeking help for Jameis Winston.

Whether the emerging team uses the 19th pick in the NFL draft to select another offensive playmaker or try to bolster an improving defense, Thursday’s opening round is all about adding someone who increases Winston’s chances of being successful.

The young quarterback led the Bucs to a 9-7 record in his second season, however Tampa Bay missed the playoffs for the ninth consecutive year.

Re-vitalizing an inconsistent rushing attack is a priority, but so is filling holes in a defense that was liability at times in 2016.

“We can’t pinpoint who’s going to be there yet because crazy things happen, but we’re excited about where we’re picking,” general manager Jason Licht said.

“No matter where you’re picking, you wish you could figure out who’s going to be there and you wish that you were a little bit higher at that point,” the GM added. “At the end of the season you don’t wish you were higher, but it’s just so you can minimize or predict a little bit more of who you’re picking from. Wherever we’re picking, we think we’re getting a solid player.”

A popular choice among fans would be running back Dalvin Cook, a former teammate of Winston’s at Florida State.

The third-year quarterback is intrigued by the prospect, but expects Cook to be among the first 15 players taken in the opening round.

And even if the former FSU star is available, Licht discounted the notion he and coach Dirk Koetter would draft anyone, including Cook, simply because Winston thinks he’d be a good fit for an offense that added veteran receiver DeSean Jackson in free agency.

“I do talk to Jameis about players at Florida State. He was recently there, so he’s got a little feel for them. I’ve talked to Gerald McCoy about what he knows about Oklahoma players and Robert Ayers and Lavonte David, and the list goes on and on,” Licht said.

“Any kind of tidbit we can get from players that have a little bit of a better bead on the program than most, we’ll take it,” the GM added. “But, Jameis can tell me as much as he wants that we should draft a certain player, we’re still going to make … the best decisions for the Bucs.”

Licht finds himself pondering the need for a running back just year after a giving a big contract to two-time Pro Bowl selection Doug Martin, who missed most of 2016 because of injuries and a suspension that extends into next season.

Tampa Bay interviewed Joe Mixon in the weeks leading up to the draft, and Licht declined to say whether the Oklahoma running back remains on the team’s draft board.

“We’ve spent more time with him than just the visit that he had here. I don’t typically like to say who we take off our board and who we leave on our board,” the GM said.

“We have a handful of players that we’ve already taken off our board, and not all of it for criminal matters, but also just from a perspective of getting along with the team and being a worker and being a team-first guy,” Licht said. “That’s the type of person we want here.

So, I won’t say whether we took him off or not. I felt like the time spent with him was valuable.”

A potentially dominant edge pass rusher or hard-hitting safety could be attractive, too, as Licht and Koetter continue to rebuild a defense that showed signs of improvement late last season.

The GM is running his fourth draft with Tampa Bay, which hasn’t made the playoffs since 2007.

Licht focused on re-tooling the offense in the first two, including selecting Winston No. 1 overall in 2015. Cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III was last year’s first-round pick and became a starter right away.

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For more NFL coverage: http://www.pro32.ap.org and http://www.twitter.com/AP_NFL.

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