Upgrading the pass rush is definitely a top priority for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and one I expect they’d address early in the draft as well as in the free agency. There are a handful of ways Tampa can go into the draft, especially when they are on the clock with the seventh pick of round one.
Typically fans want the Buccaneers to take the best available player at seventh, but they will also condemn our GM and coach for who they pick. Last season, the Bucs selected O.J. Howard in the 1st round, but there were was a lot of disappointment mingled in with the cheers as fans wanted a running back, mainly Dalvin Cook. It is true that Tampa had an issue with the running back position last season, especially with Doug Martin’s debacle, and not knowing how Peyton Barber or Charles Simms were going to perform. Jacquizz Rodgers was the comfortable name attached to that position coming out of the last offseason.
This year, again, Bucs fans are under the impression that we are in another debacle at the running back position, which many attribute to the offensive line; However, I think neither of those positions should be addressed with our first pick. Personally, I am all in on a defensive line guy. I am sure Licht is of a like mind, knowing that this is likely a make or break season for him, and Koetter as well. Licht has not done a terrible job in my opinion, but many are of a mind that he has done a terrible job. Aside from the 2nd round pick of a kicker turned bust, I believe Licht has done a bang-up job. Disgruntled fans, who didn’t get the guy they wanted, turn their pitchforks towards the GM with the quickness. See Dalvin Cook.
Now enough rambling. I have seen a bunch of talented defensive draft prospects this year. Names being thrown about in the image that these guys are the greatest thing since Bruce Smith and Reggie White. Laughable. However, you never know.
There are many options this year, in a draft chock full of defensive talent and I will run through some of my favorites for you now.
Vita Vea DT out of Washington, is 6’ 5”, 332 lbs, can play nose tackle as good as anyone in the draft, and is often compared to Haloti Ngata for his ability to switch to defensive end. He runs a low to mid 5 in the 40. However, I do not think he is a seventh pick overall. Snagging him in the 3rd or 4th round would be a TOUCHDOWN in my book! In three seasons with the Huskies, he recorded 9.5 sacks, 2 forced fumbles, 5 pass defends, 99 tackles, and 15 of them for a loss.
Da’Ron Payne DT out of Alabama, this 6’ 2”, 319lbs, is a tremendous athlete. Despite being a little short for my taste as an inside line guy, he is a run stopping aficionado with a real knack for collapsing the pocket and putting pressure on the QB. He can truly be a dominant force in the NFL and easily a favorable selection in the 2nd round. In his three years with Alabama, he has recorded 3 sacks (Which is a little low but when you are stuffing a ton of runs, who cares?),102 total tackles, 5 pass defends, 2 fumble recoveries (one of those for a TD), 1 forced fumble, and 1 interception. Oh, by the way, he runs a low 5 in the 40.
Christian Wilkins DT out of Clemson, the 6’ 4”, 310lbs, interior lineman, is a natural naturally defensive talented tackle, who can also play defensive end. Running a 5 flat to low 5 in the 40, he has the quickness to play defensive end very well. He is explosive off the snap and has the strength to lay lineman down. His athleticism and speed allowed him to record 10.5 sacks, 1 forced fumble, 2 fumble recoveries, 13 pass defends, and 141 tackles during his three seasons at Clemson. He is easily a 1st round candidate.
Bradley Chubb DE out of N.C. State, this 6’ 4”, 275lb beast is easily a top 10 selection, and on Buccaneers fans wish lists. He runs high 4’s to a low 5 in the 40 which allows him to shed blockers with ease and destroy just about any solo or double team. He is a potential difference maker for any team he lands on, and I would not be upset if we picked him at 7th, providing he is still available. During his 4 seasons with N.C. State, he recorded 25 sacks, 198 tackles, 6 forced fumbles, 1 fumble recovery, 4 pass defends, and 1 interception.
Clenin Ferrell DE out of Clemson, standing at 6’ 5”, and weighing in at 265 lbs, this speedster runs a high 4 in the 40. His speed and his athleticism allow him to peel off blockers. He is explosive off of the snap which allows him to get to opposing QBs quickly. He has no problem disrupting offensive lines and making outside guards insignificant. He has been mentioned as a 1st round candidate, but could easily fall to the 2nd or even 3rd round. During his three seasons with the Tigers, he recorded 15.5 sacks, 111 tackles, 2 forced fumbles, and 3 pass defends. Not too shabby for a guy who wore a redshirt during his first season.
Arden Key DE out of LSU, this is another player on the wish list for a lot of fans. At 6’ 5”, 260lbs, he is another dominating force on the football field. He is considered to be one of the most elite in this draft. Despite having off the field issues, he is a definite 1st round candidate. He is lights out coming off the edge making him a nightmare for offensive linemen. He has suffered a few injuries, but they do not seem to have affected his game all that much. Even in the offseason of 2017 in which he had undergone shoulder surgery, he was able to overcome a sluggish start to the season and finish with 4 sacks, 33 tackles, and a forced fumble. During his 3 seasons with LSU he recorded 20 sacks, 129 tackles, 3 forced fumbles, 4 pass defends, and 2 fumbles recovered.
Harold Landry DE out of Boston College, is 6’ 3”, 250 lbs, and is another guy capable of wreaking havoc on offensive lines. He runs a mid to high 4 in the 40 and has the athleticism to cause problems in the backfield or in the flat. With his 25 sacks, 158 tackles, 6 pass defends, 10 forced fumbles, 1 interception, and one fumble recovery, he could instantly sow up any outside pass rush needs and be a dominant day one starter. He is considered to be a late 1st round pick, but I believe he will fall to mid-2nd round. Either way, he will become someone’s steal of the draft.
Duke Ejiofor DE out of Wake Forrest, at 6’ 4”, 270lbs, this guy is a certified nightmare for an offensive lineman. The underrated defensive end has all the intangibles to be great in the NFL, however, experts believe he has consistency issues and that will likely keep him from being a day one selection. I believe that even being a day 2 or day 3 pick is a steal. The young man is a solid defensive end, with speed and explosiveness off of the edge, and could be a day one starter. I don’t know that I would call him a “difference maker” in the NFL, but he did put up pretty impressive stats in college and a guy I’d definitely keep my eye on. During his 4 seasons with Wake Forrest, he recorded 133 tackles, 24 sacks, 6 pass defends, 1 interception, 4 forced fumbles, and 2 fumbles recovered.
Marcus Davenport DE out of USTA, at 6’ 7”, 256lbs, he runs a high 4 in the 40. Being that he played for USTA you would think he would go under the radar, but he is on a few teams radar and Tampa is one of them. Davenport admitted to speaking with Tampa a few times during the draft process and I don’t blame the Bucs for speaking to him. Coming out of a weak Conference USA school, he went unnoticed by most fans until his invitation to the Senior Bowl, something he certainly deserved. Davenport has impressed every scout that has laid eyes on him and should be a difference maker for any football team lacking in an outside pass rush. He has a motor that doesn’t break down and can make plays downfield if necessary. He has a real knack getting to the quarterback and can use his long arms to bat down passes. While not yet the nightmare scenario for offensive tackles, he will earn that badge soon enough. During his 4 seasons with the Road Runners, he recorded 21.5 sacks, 185 tackles, 8 passes defends, 2 fumbles recovered, 1 for a TD, and 6 forced fumbles. Some mock drafts have placed Davenport in Tampa’s hands with the 7th pick overall, and I wouldn’t be mad about that one bit. With his speed, strength, and his never-failing motor, adding some weight to his 6’ 7” frame should make him a nightmare in the NFC South. We haven’t had one of those in the defensive end position in a long time. I guarantee Jason Licht and company’s eyes will be focused on him, during the Senior Bowl.
Regardless of who Tampa picks in the first round, it has to be a guy that will instantly impact the position he is selected to fill. I hope that is the defensive line. Many fans want to address the offensive line or the running back position on day one. I have to disagree and say it has to be the defensive line. DE or DT. Despite what happens on day one, I am sure we will get the best available player. Whomever that may be. One thing is certain, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have not selected a defensive lineman in the first round of the draft since 2012 when they selected Adrain Clayborne. Upgrading the pass rush is definitely a top priority for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers this draft.
Edited by: Morgan Adele