Bucs linebacker Devin White can sometimes divide opinion within the fan base. Is he a top off-ball linebacker, or is he too often a liability? Should the team be locked in on giving him a big-money contract, or should decision-makers be in wait-and-see mode?
Whatever your opinion may be, you’re likely to cling to it pretty strongly. And that’s why Pro Football Focus’ redraft of the 2019 NFL Draft will be polarizing for the Tampa Bay faithful.
The Bucs selected White with the No. 5 overall pick in 2019. At the time, it was an interesting situation to watch unfold. Drafting an off-ball linebacker that high isn’t typically considered best practice, but for a player with as much potential as White, you can maybe make an exception. Jason Licht and his staff clearly felt confident about the former LSU Tiger coming in and being a difference-maker. And given his role in Tampa Bay’s Super Bowl LV run two seasons ago, can you really say they were wrong?
Bucs ILB Devin White – Photo by: USA Today
Former Pewter Reporter and current PFF analyst Trevor Sikkema broke down this 2019 redraft and admitted as much, at least with respect to White’s role in the team’s Super Bowl season. Of course, he has an interesting perspective of this selection particularly. Going back and doing the draft all over again, would Sikkema have the Bucs sticking with their pick?
The answer, actually, is no. Instead, he had Tampa Bay taking Titans Pro Bowl defensive lineman Jeffery Simmons at No. 5.
“This re-selection might be divisive. On one hand, the Bucs probably don’t win their 2021 Super Bowl without Devin White. His speed and play-making ability as a blitzer and around the line of scrimmage (especially in Todd Bowles’ defense) were key parts of why Tampa Bay was able to hoist the Lombardi Trophy,” Sikkema wrote. “On the other hand, was the individual return on investment of an off-ball linebacker at No. 5 the best choice? Adding the benefit of hindsight, I’d say no.
“Trying to keep things somewhat realistic regarding what each team would have been looking at on draft night in 2019, the Bucs were just months away from moving on from Gerald McCoy, which means this draft was well before they acquired Ndamukong Suh. Drafting Simmons instead means they’d have the best young defensive line in football in 2022.”
Was White The Right Or Wrong Choice For The Bucs In 2019?
White had an interesting debut season. He got a late start to the year, but ended up starting 13 games. He totaled 91 tackles (58 solo), 2.5 sacks, three forced fumbles, four fumble recoveries and an interception. It was a promising start to his career, and he followed with a big year in 2020. In that sophomore season, he posted 140 tackles (97 solo), nine sacks, 16 quarterback hits, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery. Then, in three postseason games, he racked up 38 tackles (27 solo), two fumble recoveries and two interceptions.
During parts of the 2020 season, White looked lost in coverage. The big plays largely made up for it anyway, but then he had a playoff run that saw him properly handle all aspects of his game extremely well. That raised expectations for his third season, but in a way, he took a step backward in 2021.
The splash plays were less frequent and as much as White likes to use his speed, he played too fast at times. Over-running the ballcarrier or over-pursuing in coverage became a regular issue. All of that aside, though, he earned his first Pro Bowl nod. He finished with 128 tackles (87 solo), 3.5 sacks, 18 quarterback hits and a fumble recovery. This offseason, the Bucs picked up his fifth-year option, meaning he has two seasons remaining on his rookie contract.
Bucs LB Devin White – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
As one of the defensive captains, White plays a major role on a playoff-contending team. His speed and athleticism are second to none, and he knows where he needs to lock in and improve. The Bucs have to love what they’ve seen from their 2019 first-round pick.
But as Sikkema laid out, Simmons fit well for Tampa Bay at the time. The former Mississippi State standout just had a breakout season in 2021, earning his first Pro Bowl selection after tallying a career-high nine sacks and 16 quarterback hits. With McCoy on his way out at the time, Simmons could’ve stepped right in next to Vita Vea and made for an insanely impressive interior defensive line full of youth.
With hindsight, you can see where Sikkema’s line of thinking is. And while he’s not necessarily wrong, it’s hard to feel down about how things have turned out. White was a key member of Tampa Bay’s run to the Lombardi Trophy two seasons ago and he has all the tools to be a massive playmaker for the Bucs in the long run. He has two seasons left to prove why he deserves a big second contract in Tampa.
Plus, there’s an argument to be made that the team’s defensive line heading into 2022 might be one of the league’s best anyway. Maybe it’s not one of the best “young” defensive lines, as Akiem Hicks is 32, Will Gholston is 30, Vea is 27 and rookie Logan Hall is 22. But that’s a formidable group. And having them paired with the hungry, hard-working White, who is still only 24, leaves the Tampa Bay defense in a good spot as it looks to replicate its 2020 success and get back to the Super Bowl.