The Buccaneers Could Surprise Us Again on Draft Night


Last year, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers surprised us all in the NFL draft. Just when we thought they would be taking one of the top offensive tackles in the draft, they threw the world a curve ball and took a defensive tackle. This certainly wasn’t a bad pick, but it was definitely unexpected.

We knew the Bucs had offensive line needs going into the draft last year. However, after playing rookie Luke Goedeke as a guard, they moved him back to right tackle for his second year. This allowed Jason Licht to zero in on a much needed pass rusher and get a guard, where there is typically good depth in the draft, in the second round.

Flash forward to the future and the team is in a similar position. Offensive line is clearly the biggest need on the team, specifically the interior. On the other hand, Licht and Todd Bowles have emphasized the need to get more pressure with their front four. The thought process is that this means an edge rusher to play opposite of Yaya Diaby.

But what if that is an assumption that we are making and not really the actual plan? It’s no secret that this isn’t a strong draft of edge rushers. Perhaps, much like last year, getting a versatile pass rushing defensive lineman would be the best way to go. 

The bread crumbs are there to indicate that this might be the plan. The Bucs have met with likely top 40 picks in Byron Murphy (top 30 visit) and Braden Fiske (combine). They have also met with other highly regarded defensive linemen such as Ruke Orhorhoro and Kris Jenkins.

Of these top names, three of the four hit the Buccaneers threshold to be their top draft choice. Keep in mind that the Bucs haven’t used their first pick on a player that scored under the 90th percentile (or 9.0 relative athletic score) at their position since Vernon Hargreaves in 2016. There is every reason to believe that this trend will continue.

As it just so happens, the three of those names that meet that metric are the three best pass rushers, Murphy, Fiske and Orhorohoro. This means that all three would qualify as players who improve the pass rusher like the front office wants and hit athletic qualifiers. We can’t rule any of these players out, even Jenkins who had a 8.9 relative athletic score, as potential Buccaneers targets.

The two names of this group that will potentially be first round picks are Murphy and Fiske. Murphy is more of an undersized power player, who is more of a tradition 3 tech. Fiske seems to be a bit more versatile at 6’5 and can line up more on the outside as a 5 tech, so would seem like more of a natural fit with the pewter pirates.

What’s nice about both of these skills sets is that the Bucs already have the personnel in house to maximize their talent. With a hulking, athletic nose tackle such as Vita Vea, whoever the Buccaneers might add to the defensive line can be a pass rusher first and foremost. He can compensate for a rookie defensive who might be a little undersized.

The Bucs also have Calijah Kancey, the undersized defensive tackle they drafted last year. Kancey is so incredibly athletic that he isn’t limited to just playing inside. He can really play anywhere on the defensive line, so the Bucs have more flexibility in drafting more of a 3 tech type if they want to.

It’s worth mentioning that there is one more potential first round pick on the defensive line. This would be Illinois defensive tackle Johnny Newton. While he didn’t do athletic testing at the combine, he appears to be an excellent athlete and has the most impressive game tape of any defensive lineman (perhaps of any defensive player) in this draft class.

There is no report that the Bucs have met or plan to meet with Newton. However, let’s not forget that this was also the case with Kancey last year. We know the team is talking to projected early draft picks at this position, so it’s safe to assume that the Bucs will be interested in Newton as well.

Whoever the Bucs might pick, the idea of Vea, Kancey and an explosive rookie defensive lineman is an exciting one. Some believe (and by some I mean me) that elite strengths win championships rather than a well balanced team. This type of investment on the defensive line would give the Buccaneers perhaps the best group of defensive tackles and interior pass rush in the NFL.

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