Hey Bucs fans, remember the NFL Draft? How about the Senior Bowl?
In case you’ve forgotten, those are the events that bad football teams start thinking about in November, or even earlier.
Bad football teams? Can’t relate to that? Yeah, I get it.
Anyway, one of the major events surrounding the NFL Draft is the Senior Bowl, which takes place this week in Mobile, Alabama. Like most media in the COVID era, Pewter Report chose not to have anyone in attendance at the highly-restricted event, but we will be getting all of the practice tape and offering plenty of analysis of each day of practice on our site and social media.
As for the Bucs, they’ll be focused on a few positions in particular at this year’s Senior Bowl, starting in the trenches. On the offensive side of the ball, it’s likely that left tackle Donovan Smith and center Ryan Jensen both return, even if their deals get restructured to a degree. But the Bucs OL depth is still non-existent, so I would still expect this to be a position of interest in the middle rounds.
Adding a passing downs threat at running back is critical this offseason, although it remains to be seen whether Tampa Bay will do that through a trade, free agency or the draft. Several of Tom Brady’s former running backs, including James White, Dion Lewis and Rex Burkhead are expected to hit free agency in 2021.
Of primary importance however is the defensive line, which is why Pewter Report will mostly be focused on the trenches in our draft work this year. The Bucs must be proactive about getting younger and more athletic up front, and this Senior Bowl group offers the opportunity to do both. The Bucs can’t go into next season with Anthony Nelson as the team’s No. 3 edge rusher and 33-year old Ndamukong Suh, if he does return, playing almost 75 percent of the snaps at defensive tackle.
It’s not a great interior defensive line class nor is it a top-heavy edge defender group, but there is depth at both position groups, which could bode well for the Bucs picking at No. 31 or No. 32 overall. Here are three of the key prospects Tampa Bay should be looking at in this year’s Senior Bowl.
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Pittsburgh EDGE Patrick Jones – 6-4, 264 – National Team
Jones has been consistently productive in his two years as a starter in Pittsburgh (17.5 sacks), showing a good first step and the ability to win inside and outside opposing tackles as a pass rusher. While Jones has flashed moves from a cross-chop to an inside spin and even an oft-utilized bull rush, he’s not the most powerful rusher and can be totally stymied when blockers get their hands on him. Counters are hard to come by, and Jones is still learning to use his hands and length to the best of his ability, especially in the run game.
There might be some development needed, but that would be fine for the Bucs, who seem determined to bring back Shaq Barrett and have Jason Pierre-Paul around for at least another season. Jones plays with great energy and pace, and has the size Todd Bowles seems to prefer in his edge rushers. He’ll be one of the top names to watch at the Senior Bowl, as he’s currently getting second-round buzz.
Washington IDL Levi Onwuzurike – 6-2 7/8, 290 – National Team
Onwuzurike doesn’t carry the typical size and girth of a Bucs defensive tackle, but some Tampa Bay coaches have commented about the team wanting to get more explosive up front after drafting Khalil Davis last year, so perhaps Onwuzurike’s average size won’t rule him out. Playing at 290 pounds is plenty big enough to thrive in today’s NFL, but Onwuzurike opted out of the 2020 season, which was a campaign expected to vault him to the top of pre-draft interior defensive line rankings.
In an attacking front, Onwuzurike makes a lot of sense. His technique, pad level and mental processing in the run game are still incomplete, but when he got one-on-ones as a pass rusher, he flashed rips, swims, push-pulls and bull rushes to threaten the pocket and work blockers over. In the NFL, pass rush is the most valuable commodity a defensive lineman can provide, and Onwuzurike shows a ton of promise in this area. He could elevate his stock considerably with a strong Senior Bowl week amidst a weak interior defensive line class. The Bucs have two defensive tackles from Washington on their roster in Vita Vea and Benning Potoa’e.
Oregon State EDGE Hamilcar Rashed – 6-3 1/8, 254 – National Team
Yes, Hamilcar Rashed is the real name of perhaps the most highly heralded Oregon State prospect since Brandin Cooks. Unfortunately for Rashed, most of that hype feels like a thing of the past. After a 14-sack season in 2019, Rashed’s stock plummeted in a seven-game, zero-sack 2020 season that left many questioning whether he could stay on the edge in the NFL.
The good news for Rashed is that his weight is up considerably since his 2019 season, but the bad news is his tape is even worse and the lack of power in his game has left him in desperate need of a strong Senior Bowl performance to elevate his stock once again. The Bucs will likely be intrigued by some aspects of his physical profile, but Rashed must show the ability to physically hold up in the run game while still winning the edge as a pass rusher this week. Rashed is considered to be a middle-round prospect right now.
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