We’ve gone through the offensive side of the roster for the Buccaneers, so of course, now it’s time to check out the defense.
Defensive Line (12): Ndamukong Suh, Vita Vea, William Gholston, Rakeem Nunez-Roches, Steve McLendon, Pat O’Connor, Khalil Davis, Jeremiah Ledbetter, Benning Potoa’e, Kobe Smith, Sam Renner, Elijah Ponder*
The Rundown: The Buccaneers brought back a key starter in Suh and backup/rotational players in Nacho and McClendon to the defense. They did so while also re-signing exclusive rights players O’Connor and Ledbetter and re-upping Potoa’e and Smith on future deals. Sam Renner was brought in early February and Ponder is the team’s lone Undrafted free agent signing at the position. Suh and Gholston are on expiring contracts. Vea had his fifth-year option picked up for 2022 and should continue to improve.
Licht called this draft weak on the defensive line and it was evident with no resources going towards it. Part of that reason is the team likes what they have in 2020 sixth round pick Khalil Davis. Davis essentially only played in a few games as a rookie but drew great reviews from peers. He will provide plenty of competition.
The top of the roster is set here with Suh, Vea, Gholston and Nacho with the main competition coming down to the fifth, sixth and potential seventh spots. McClendon figures to take one of them but its isn’t a given. While O’Connor has the inside track due to his prowess on special teams and Davis’ draft position might help him stick around. However, with a good camp Ledbetter, Potoa’e or Smith could push them off the roster. Ponder could surprise but is most likely a camp body and could even move to OLB.
Outside Linebacker/Edge (8): Shaq Barrett, Jason Pierre-Paul, Anthony Nelson, Joe Tryon*, Cam Gill, Quinton Bell, LaDarius Hamilton, Leighton McCarthy*
The Rundown: The major move here was re-signing Barrett to a huge extension to ensure the pass rush stays strong for one of the top defenses in the league. JPP underwent knee surgery this offseason at which he self-described his play as only 60-70 percent in 2020. A fully healthy JPP teamed with Barrett should be a scary proposition for quarterbacks on the schedule. The team’s lone Pro Bowler is on the last year of his contract, which prompted the Buccaneers to address the position early on in the draft by adding Joe Tryon to the defense.
Tryon should come in and immediately step into the rotation and contribute on special teams. Which pushes 2019 fourth round selection Nelson down the depth chart, where he should be safe but will face competition. Gill and Bell spent the 2020 season on and off the roster with Bell getting the early spot on a roster before ceding it to Gill for the rest of the season.
McCarthy was added as an undrafted free agent and Hamilton was recently claimed off waivers from the Cowboys where he spent last season on the practice squad. Both are long shots to make the roster. The competition will come down to Bell, Gill and Nelson for the fourth spot.
Inside Linebacker (6): Lavonte David, Devin White, Kevin Minter, Joe Jones, K.J. Britt*, Grant Stuard*
The Rundown: Bringing back David ensures that that league’s best inside linebacker duo plays together for the next two years through White’s rookie deal. White has improved his play every year and is the vocal leader of the Buccaneers defense. With speed, size and strength, he is a dominant force in the run game while also making an impact in the passing game. David shows no signs of slowing down and is still one of the best linebackers in the league.
Minter, the special teams captain, returns on a one-year deal and will sure up depth as a player with experience starting and one of the top ST players on the roster. Jones recently signed after a four-year stint with the Broncos. Where he was a top ST player, while also contributing on a limited, rotational role on defense. He will battle rookies Britt and Stuard who figure to make their impact on special teams for the final spot on the inside.
Cornerback (8): Carlton Davis III, Sean Murphy-Bunting, Jamel Dean, Ross Cockrell, Nate Brooks, Chris Wilcox*, Herb Miller, Cameron Kinley*
The Rundown: Davis, Dean and Murphy-Bunting return as the starters in the secondary. Davis is in the final year of his deal but has been one of the top corners in the league. Dean and SMB have continued to improve each year. Murphy-Bunting came on in the playoffs with interceptions in each of the games leading up to the Super Bowl. Dean had some struggles in 2021, he really shined when it mattered most and is maturing into a solid player.
Cockrell is one of the more underrated signings of the offseason. He provides great special teams value but also is a solid, reliable veteran CB. Holdover, Herb Miller, saw his first game action last year and recorded his first career interception against the Lions. His experience in the Buccaneers defense and special teams play give him a leg up on the competition.
Brooks comes in after spending part of the last two seasons on and off NFL rosters. He will compete for a spot primarily through special teams play. Seventh-round pick Chris Wilcox comes in with a unique blend of size and speed, but still has plenty of room to grow. Kinley will be given the chance to compete at CB and ST; however, is most likely a practice squad player.
Safety (7): Jordan Whitehead, Antoine Winfield Jr., Mike Edwards, Javon Hagan, Raven Greene, Lawrence White*, Augie Contressa*
The Rundown: Winfield is the star of this group. As a rookie he was extremely impressive starting from day one, making the all-rookie team at safety. Winfield played in 15 games and graded out as the second-best run defender in the league. Whitehead transformed his body in the off-season and it paid off on the field as a dominating hard hitting safety. His play against Green Bay played a large part in the NFC Championship game.
Edwards has been a great nickel safety when called upon. Providing big plays in key moments; see the divisional round Saints game, and offers a layer of protection should injury occur. With the departure of Andrew Adams, Javon Hagan stands most likely to benefit. Hagan came in as an undrafted free agent and spent nearly the entire season on the practice squad until he was activated in the NFC Championship game against the Packers. Hagan only played special teams but excelled in that role. With his defensive versatility and a year in the Buccaneers defense under his belt, Hagan figures to have the best chance to take the final safety spot.
Hagan will have competition though, in the newly signed Greene. Greene spent the last three seasons with the Packers seeing playing time in 20 games with one start. He compiled 51 tackles, seven passes defensed, 2.5 sacks, two forced fumbles and one interception during his time in Green Bay and will give the second-year player [Hagan] all he can for that final spot. White and Contressa are undrafted free agent signings and their best bet to stay with the club will on the practice squad
Specialists (4): K Ryan Succop, K Jose Borregales*, P Bradley Pinion, LS Zach Triner
The Rundown: Nothing to see here. With the resigning of Succop and Triner the specialist group stays intact. Succop was extremely reliable as a kicker, something the Bucs haven’t had in years. Pinion improved in several areas and Triner has yet to have a misfire snapping the ball. The lone addition is the signing of undrafted free agent kicker Jose Borregales. Borregales was the top kicker in college last season. He won the Lou Garza award and experts tabbed him as the second-best kicker in the draft. With Succop locked up for the next three years, much will depend on the practice squad rules. If they stay the same as last year, Borregales could stick around as a protected player the team on the practice squad.