It may seem as though the Tampa Bay Buccaneers bought a berth in the Super Bowl after signing veteran quarterback Tom Brady in the off-season, but the path has been lined with good decisions in the NFL Draft. The Buccaneers have added a couple of starters in each of the previous four years, and without making those wise draft decisions, the addition of Brady via free agency likely wouldn't have been enough to put Tampa over the hump. Let's dive into the roster and break it all down from the top down.
The offensive line
Brady's offensive line features three players drafted by Tampa Bay: offensive guard Ali Marpet, offensive tackle Donovan Smith and offensive tackle Tristan Wirfs, the sensational rookie drawing praise from across the league. When healthy, offensive guard Alex Cappa is a force and the Bucs landed him via the draft as well.
The skill talent surrounding the quarterback is not much different. General manager Jason Licht handpicked running back Ronald Jones, as well as pass catchers Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, and Cameron Brate. The roster was only supplemented by the addition of veteran wide receiver Antonio Brown, tight end Rob Gronkowski, running back Leonard Fournette and center Ryan Jensen. Brown and Gronkowski have combined for just five catches during the postseason run, however. Evans, Godwin and Brate have combined for 35 catches.
The Buccaneers' defense has been similarly constructed. The return of nose tackle Vita Vea offered some clarity to the identity crisis that the defense has undergone since his initial absence in October. Linebackers Lavonte David and Devin White were early-round selections by the NFC South franchise. The secondary has been almost exclusively built through the draft: safeties Antoine Winfield Jr. and Mike Edwards, as well as cornerbacks Carlton Davis, Jamel Dean and Sean Murphy-Bunting. Edwards intercepted what was likely Drew Brees' final pass in the divisional round and batted away Aaron Rodgers' final pass in the conference championship.
After accounting for 17 sacks during the season, Shaquill Barrett and Jason Pierre-Paul have combined for five sacks during the postseason. Neither was drafted by the Buccaneers but their impact has been no less influential. Similarly, defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh has been critical to the team's run-stopping efforts and has been a terror rushing the quarterback in spurts.
The team needs to capitalize on its success in the draft as several key players are scheduled to hit free agency: Suh, Godwin, David, Gronkowski, Brown, Fournette and Barrett.
At the end of the day, Tampa Bay would likely not be in the current situation without the import -- Brady -- but a case can be made that the supporting cast acquired via the draft has also played a key role. Head coach Bruce Arians and Licht sold a vision to the Michigan man with the goal of becoming the first franchise to appear in and win a Super Bowl in its home stadium. They are now just 60 minutes away from accomplishing that goal.