You don’t usually see impact free agents signings at the end of May. However, that might be exactly the case for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Tuesday afternoon it was announced that the Bucs were signing defensive tackle Akiem Hicks to a one year deal worth up to $10 million.
Between this signing and the drafting of Logan Hall with the 33rd overall pick it now feels unlikely that Ndamukong Suh will be returning. But make no mistake, this is no consolation prize. In fact, Hicks very well could be an upgrade to the Buccaneers defensive line.
It will be hard to see Suh leave Tampa Bay. He was a consistent and steadying presence on a Buccaneers team that he helped turn around and win a Super Bowl. With that said, Suh’s best days as a pass rusher are behind him at 35 years old. This is likely a big part of why the Buccaneers decided to move on to Hicks who brings more as a pass rusher.
Pass Rush Production
At first glance, it may appear that Suh is the superior of these two players. He had more sacks (12) over the last two years than Hicks (7) as well as more pressures (47 to Hicks’ 40). However, Suh also played in nine more games than Hicks in that time. In fact, Hicks was not even at full strength for some of the time he was on the field.
When looking back at the 2020 season both played a similar number of games, Hicks at 15 and Suh at 16. Despite playing one less game Hicks had the same amount of pressures and more quarterback hits. This is particularly impressive considering that he didn’t have other high caliber players alongside him on the defensive line like Vita Vea.
The only real concern I have with Hicks at this point is his durability. Despite being three years younger than Suh, Hicks missed significantly more games due to injury. However, one thing that eases some of the burden off of Hicks is the opportunity to rotate more with Logan Hall.
In 2016 and 2017 Hicks played 85% of the defensive snaps or more. When that number dropped down to 74% in 2018 Hicks maintained his production and made his first career pro bowl. Taking some of the workload off Hicks’ plate has proven to be an effective way to ensure that when he is on the field he’s playing at his highest level.
Upgrade for the Buccaneers
There’s every reason to believe that Hicks will be a pass rushing upgrade over Suh. Is there some risk here considering recent injury history? Yes, there absolutely is. However, when you factor in the age of the two players and the fact that Hicks will likely see a reduced workload then the risk really isn’t that great.
If Hicks can play even just 60% of defensive snaps then I’d expect him to be a very disruptive part of the Buccaneers pass rush. In fact, he could turn out to be the best pass rusher along the defensive line. Only time will tell if this high upside investment pays off for the Buccaneers.
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