A year or two ago, you probably wouldn’t have found Bucs’ GM Jason Licht high in any rankings of the NFL’s 32 GMs. But as Licht’s draft picks have blossomed and his moves in free agency have proven to be extremely shrewd, respect around the league has grown by leaps and bounds. This past week, NFL.com’s Gregg Rosenthal slotted Licht third in a ranking of the league’s GMs. The rankings were based solely on the drafting success (or lack thereof) of each GM since 2015.

The only GMs to finish ahead of Licht were Colts’ GM Chris Ballard and the Steelers’ GM Kevin Colbert, widely considered two of the best GMs in the game. Still, with a list based solely on drafting since 2015, it is tough to understand how those two could be ahead of Licht.

Ballard had that amazing 2018 draft with OG Quenton Nelson, LB Darius Leonard and OT Braden Smith. But the Colts’ shot caller had four second round picks that year, with two of them flopping so far (EDGE Kemoko Turay and EDGE Tyquan Lewis), and all three of his second round picks in 2019 have been disappointing (CB Rock-Ya Sin, EDGE Ben Banogu, WR Parris Campbell). Ballard’s 2020 draft class showed promise this past season (WR Michael Pittman, RB Jonathan Taylor, S Julian Blackmon, but if you’re comparing four years of drafting to Licht’s six, they better be four incredible years. Really only one of Ballard’s drafts matches that criteria.

As for Colbert, there is no doubt he’s done a stellar job of keeping Pittsburgh relevant despite aging stars, but he can’t hold a candle to what Licht has done in the draft. General mangers are more responsible for franchises’ first round picks than any other selection, and Colbert’s had some underwhelming ones to be sure. EDGE Bud Dupree became a quality starter, but he took years to develop into a competent player after being a first round pick. In 2016 CB Artie Burns was a complete bust despite repeated efforts to make him a regular starter. T.J. Watt in 2017 headlined a terrific class, but since then Terrell Edmunds and Devin Bush have yet to make good on their draft pedigree.

When you stack that group up against TE O.J. Howard, DT Vita Vea, LB Devin White and OT Tristan Wirfs, I’m not sure how you can rank Colbert over Licht based on the past six drafts. Although Colbert has added impressive talent like WR JuJu Smith-Schuster, CB Cam Sutton, RB James Conner, DT Javon Hargrave, WR Diontae Johnson, WR Chase Claypool and EDGE Alex Highsmith in the second and third rounds, Licht has matched and passed him with OT Donovan Smith, OG Ali Marpet, WR Chris Godwin, CB Carlton Davis, OG Alex Cappa, CB Sean Murphy-Bunting, CB Jamel Dean, S Mike Edwards and S Antoine Winfield Jr.

Consider that Licht lost two very promising day two picks to freak career-ending injuries in S Justin Evans and LB Kendall Beckwith, and his hit rate is even more impressive. As much as I appreciate Ballard and Colbert, there is little question in my mind that Licht is the best drafting GM in the NFL over the past six years. His top three ranking here is admirable, but the Bucs exposure on the national stage is still new enough that nobody wants to put Licht on top just yet. That will change soon.

Even if I may squabble with Rosenthal’s rankings, he does tremendous work and is a great follow on Twitter. You can read Rosenthal’s complete ranking right here:

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About the Author: Jon Ledyard

Jon Ledyard is PewterReport.com's newest Bucs beat writer and has experience covering the Pittsburgh Steelers as a beat writer and analyzing the NFL Draft for several draft websites, including The Draft Network. Follow Ledyard on Twitter at @LedyardNFLDraft
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25 days ago

Very nice to see Licht getting some well deserved recognition. I think he’s the best GM in the NFL, not only as a drafter.

Reply to  BucWonder
25 days ago

agree From also ran or worse to SB champs the Brady acquisition will go down as the biggest steal all time by the Bucs not even considering his draft acumen. The shock waves are still being seen throughout the league.

25 days ago

There been so many idiots on here bashing and complaining about him and the Glazers over last few years I’ve posed here. He had a learning curve and made mistakes but always thought he deserved to be here and wanted him here. Some even have questioned if the Glazers want to win which is so asinine. Yeah they want to lose money and have shitty team. Rome wasn’t built in a day and in salary cap era all teams go through down times. Bucs had bad run there but I always trusted would turn around eventually and every year last… Read more »

Last edited 25 days ago by fredster
Reply to  fredster
25 days ago

Some of that criticism was warranted fredster, especially during the time of Raheem Morris.
But after his tenure the Bucs ownership did change tact and made some honest moves to try and improve the team with unfortunate poor results.
Some coaches, Schiano and Koetter, just aren’t NFL caliber coaches. Others, Lovie Smith, are just to rigid to adjust to he way the game is currently played.
As much as the draft is a crap shoot, so is choosing a new NFL head coach. Maybe even more so.

25 days ago

Licht’s drafting improved dramtically after 2016 which can only be summed up as a train wreck four years afterwards.
Even Hargreaves wasn’t as bad of a selection as Noah Spence who was to small to play DE in the NFL and to slow to be an OLB in s 3-4 which the Bucs didn’t even play at the time.

25 days ago

Where’s all the “Meathead” haters now? Hummm):

25 days ago

I wouldn’t trade Licht for any other GM out there. He’s the best, IMO.