One of the weakest aspects of the Bucs’ roster is the team’s depth, especially along the defensive front. Behind a base front five of outside linebackers Shaq Barrett and Jason Pierre-Paul, defensive tackles Ndamukong Suh and Vita Vea, and defensive end Will Gholston is an extremely unimpressive and/or unproven group of Anthony Nelson, Kahzin Daniels, Quinton Bell, Patrick O’Connor, Rakeem Nunez-Roches, Jeremiah Ledbetter, and Khalil Davis, this year’s sixth-round draft pick.
Tampa Bay’s depth on the edge might be more of a concern than anywhere else on the roster, especially considering Pierre-Paul’s injury history. Nelson figures to have the inside track to the No. 3 edge spot, but he didn’t even play 200 snaps as a rookie, and as a fourth-round pick, he was far from being a sought-after talent coming out of college.
While Bell and Daniels are expected to compete for the fourth edge rusher spot, they’ve proven nothing in their brief careers, and there is plenty of room for someone to jump ahead of them on the depth chart. With undrafted free agent Cam Gill out of Wagner, I think the Bucs may have found a potential candidate.
Let’s dive into Gill’s tape with the understanding that every undrafted free agent in NFL history (other than Dallas’ La’El Collins) is a long shot to make the final roster. Clearly the Bucs’ lack of depth at outside linebacker reveals a simpler path to the final 55-man roster than many other teams may offer, but the climb for Gill is still decidedly uphill coming from a small school.
Still, it is hard not to get excited about the pass rush flashes he shows on tape. The most translatable collegiate pass rush process stems from a phrase you’ve often heard me use in scouting edge defenders: pass rush athleticism, which is burst, speed, bend/flexibility and change-of-direction. I don’t have a ton of tape on Gill, but even in the couple games I was able to watch, I saw enough of all four traits to pique my interest. No wonder the Bucs were interested in this guy.
The FCS Northeast Conference’s all-time sack leader with 36 career QB captures, one of the things Gill is best at is flipping his hips to reduce his surface area at the top of the arc. This makes it tough for offensive tackles to land punches on him and stop his up-field momentum. Once Gill can start turning toward the pocket, his ability to dip under contact and rip through strikes makes him hard to stop.
Gill exposes his whole chest on the up-field rush here, and then just as the tackle is about to punch, the Wagner edge rusher swivels his hips and captures his opponent’s outside arm with a deadly rip. I love the strength to run through contact to the pocket.
Edge pass rushers win on three tracks: inside their opponent’s pass set, through the pass set (power rush) or outside the pass set. The trick is that while it is possible to win inside and through an opponent in the NFL, an edge pass rusher is rarely successful unless they can first threaten an opposing tackle on their outside hip, forcing them to set deeper, open up sooner and even abandon technique at times in order to ward off speed and bend at the top of the arc.
Forcing pass protectors to respect a rusher’s ability to corner opens them up to inside moves and power moves. If you don’t have that ability as an NFL prospect, you might be a solid player at the next level, but you’re always going to be limited. With Gill, you see enough of that ability to win outside that it is easy to see how his game might grow from this point.
Gill shows bull rush, then a quick transition to the blocker’s edge to rip and bend the edge to chase the quarterback out of the pocket. I love Gill’s ability to stack pass rush moves on top of each other in order to win one-on-one.
Bull rush to push-pull to rip move at the top of the arc. Gill doesn’t have elite bend, but he still does a great job of turning the corner because of the strength in his lower half. He really leg drives through contact nicely, which is another reason to be optimistic about his potential success in the NFL. Even at 6-foot-2, 232 pounds with just 32-inch arms, physically winning one-on-one match-ups was rarely an issue for Gill.
The tape Gill put out against FBS competition in Florida Atlantic and UConn was really impressive. That’s Giants’ third-round pick Matt Peart playing right tackle there, as Gill takes him for a ride back into the quarterback’s lap. I only scouted Gill against better competition and he still stood out, not just athletically, but physically as well.
Gill can get deadly with these inside moves. He stays light on his feet and does an adequate job pushing tackles up the arc in order to widen the B-gap. I love that he keeps his hands active to club the UConn left tackle a couple steps out of the way.
I would love to see Gill finish here, but he still ruins the whole play with his quickness to fire through this gap. Front seven defensive players who consistently get free on the other side of the line of scrimmage are more valuable than any other kind. That’s how Barrett wins in Tampa Bay, and was able to rack up 19.5 sacks to lead the league last year.
Okay, so what are the concerns with Gill then? Why wasn’t he drafted if he can win inside, outside and through as a pass rusher, has pass rush athleticism and can physically body up opponents?
Well, Gill definitely should have been drafted in my opinion (the Bucs also had a draftable grade on Gill as Scott Reynolds noted in his recent SR’s Fab 5 column), but it still should be noted that his athletic traits are good, not great for the position, and he lacks the desired size and length to play full-time on the edge in the NFL. Could Gill put on weight at the next level? Maybe, but it’s unlikely he’d ever get over 240 pounds. Barrett plays at 250 for the Buccaneers.
While Gill does offer a lot of variety as a pass rusher, his moves aren’t always timed out well, and he can sometimes rush the setup process and end up stuck on blocks. I’m not sure he’ll ever pack the necessary punch to be a great bull rusher in the NFL, which means speed, bend and hand usage will need to be his calling cards.
Even in some of the clips above where Gill won, his hands didn’t always land with the authority and timing they’ll need to in order to defeat bigger, longer, more technically sound blockers in the NFL. Gill’s intensity and motor will help, but he’s got to become more detailed with his pass rush approach if he’s going to make a splash in training camp.
Gill is a solid run defender, but one of the biggest areas of inconsistency for him is in unblocked situations where he fails to step down and box pullers trying to kick him out. By elevating up the arc without reading for run, Gill makes himself an easy target and opens up a massive C-gap crater for runners to scoot through. He has to play more under control and cerebral in these situations, stepping down to close off the C-gap when unblocked.
Even when Gill is play-side on runs coming right at him, he often tries to fire up-field and run around blockers, rather than holding the point of attack and playing through them. This creates massive run lanes inside of his position, making life really difficult on teammates and easy for the opposing running back to maneuver through defined space.
Gill’s lack of size and edge-setting ability may force him into a more versatile role as an off-ball linebacker who rushes situationally in the NFL. That means he’ll have to learn a new primary position, clean up some occasionally spotty tackling and build on what is currently a pretty basic coverage skill set. Gill dropped on passing downs for Wagner at times, but typically just into simple zone coverage in the flats.
Hopefully the Bucs continue to let Gill rush during training camp and in preseason games, while also seeing how he can pick up a new position as an off-ball linebacker, as well as weighing his impact on special teams. A 4.6 time in the 40-yard dash with tackles like this (the video below) outside his frame should help Gill find a home on teams during the preseason.
Even if Gill doesn’t make the active roster this season, he is an intriguing player who deserves a practice squad look to see if further coaching and muscle gains can help him evolve into a rotational defender by year two or three.
Gill has a lot of traits that teams should be looking for in developmental edge defenders, and his absurd FCS production (34 sacks, 57.5 tackles for loss, eight forced fumbles) shows a player capable of some splash plays when given opportunities. I’m excited to watch Gill go to work in training camp and preseason action, hopefully giving the Bucs another much-needed depth edge rushing option with the ability to perhaps do even more down the road.