One of the biggest moves of the Bucs offseason was inking Shaq Barrett to a 4-year, $72 million deal. In one move, the Bucs were able to keep together one of the league’s best pass rush duos and maintain continuity on defense. Jason Pierre-Paul enters the final year of his deal after putting up 9.5 sacks last season.
The newest addition to the group comes in the form of first round draft pick Joe Tryon. The rookie opted out of the 2020 college football season, but put up eight sacks in 2019. Entering his third season, Anthony Nelson is trying to keep his grasp on a roster spot as the No. 4 outside linebacker.
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The Bucs had one of the NFL’s most formidable pass rushes in 2020, and Pierre-Paul and Barrett were a huge part of that. The NFL’s leader in quarterback pressures, Barrett didn’t come close to his staggering 19.5-sack season in 2019. Still, Barrett tallied up eight sacks, 11 tackles-for-loss, two forced fumbles and a safety on the season. Since 2019, Barrett’s 30.5 sacks are the most in the NFL, per PFF’s statistics.
The team’s lone Pro Bowler, Pierre-Paul underwent minor knee surgery this offseason. In an Instagram post, he described himself as playing at only 70 percent throughout the 2020 season. Even while dealing with a nagging injury, Pierre-Paul was one of the Bucs biggest playmakers. He finished the season with four strip sacks, three fumble recoveries and two interceptions to go along with seven tackles-for-loss.
Both Barrett and Pierre-Paul came up big for the Bucs in the postseason with six sacks, five of which came against Aaron Rodgers. A fully healthy Pierre-Paul bookending Barrett should be a scary proposition for quarterbacks on the schedule this season.
New Kid On The Block
A team can never have too many pass rushers. That thought process led to the Bucs selecting Joe Tryon at the end of the first round in April. Tryon was one of the more explosive pass rushers in the draft, using his size and length to get good leverage. He has all the tools and traits to develop into a dangerous pass rusher, but it may take time. Still, learning under Pierre-Paul, Barrett and this coaching staff should do wonders for his development while he contributes in a rotational role right away.
Battle For The Final Spot
Entering his third year, Anthony Nelson has the inside track to securing the fourth spot. Nelson is one of the top run defenders on the team and has been working on his skills as a pass rusher. In 2020, he notched his first career sack in the regular season against the Lions. Nelson’s first career postseason sack came in the Wild Card game against Washington. As a key contributor on special teams, Nelson played nearly half of the snaps on multiple units.
Nelson isn’t necessarily a lock though, and will face competition in the form of Cam Gill and Quinton Bell. Bell, who made the roster out of camp, has a unique blend of size and speed. A former track star and converted wide receiver, Bell has been working on adding to his pass rush in hopes of contributing more than just on special teams. Entering year three of his career, the time is now for Bell to make some noise.
An undrafted free agent signing in 2020, Cam Gill supplanted Bell on the roster in Week 5. His immediate impact on the Bucs came on special teams, where he saw a majority of his snaps. Playing in 12 games on the season, Gill saw limited snaps on defense and recorded three tackles. Gill also had a half sack on Patrick Mahomes when he was active for Super Bowl LV.
Ladarius Hamilton was claimed off waivers from the Cowboys in May. He’s a long shot to make the team after spending the 2020 season on Dallas’ practice squad. Hamilton could surprise, but at this point looks to be added competition and a camp body. He put up 15 sacks over his final two season at North Texas, where he was teammates with CB Nate Brooks and rookie WR Jaelon Darden.
Barrett and Pierre-Paul barely leave the field, never playing less than 68 percent of the snaps and playing as much as 97 percent in any given game. That ironman mentality will make it difficult for anyone behind them to see playing time, barring injury.
The Bucs hope they finally have a capable backup in Tryon. Nelson is the elder statesmen of the group, but the former fourth round pick’s pass rush ability hasn’t quite developed as hoped. During the 2020 season, Gill flashed almost as often as Nelson on passing downs.
With the No. 4 outside linebacker’s contributions expected to come mainly on special teams, the Bucs could look to go with more pass rush upside. Bell or Gill fit the mold in that case. There is a scenario where the team could choose to keep five outside linebackers on the roster, but only if there are multiple special teams standouts amidst the group.
Assuming the Bucs only keep four outside linebackers on the team, I think Nelson should do enough to hold off Bell and Gill.
On Tuesday, we’ll take a look at the battle at inside linebacker and who slots in behind the best duo in the league.
J.C. Allen is one of PewterReport.com’s newest beat writers. As a New England transplant, he has closely followed Tom Brady’s entire career and first fell in love with the game during the Patriots 1996 Super Bowl run. J.C. is in his second year covering the team after spending a year with Bucs Report as a writer, producer and show host. Some of his other interests include barbecuing, being outdoors, and spending time with family and friends. His favorite Buccaneer of all time is Simeon Rice and believes he deserves a spot in Canton. Follow J.C. Allen on Twitter @JCAllenNFL.
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