One of the most important depth pieces on any roster in the NFL is the No. 3 edge rusher spot. With the departure of Carl Nassib in free agency and the inexperience of second-year outside linebacker Anthony Nelson, it also happens to be one of the weakest spots on the Bucs roster heading into 2020.

Nelson was drafted for at least such a time as this, to replace the departed Nassib and provide the Bucs with 15-25 quality snaps a game at minimum, more if the oft-injured Jason Pierre-Paul gets hurt again. After playing just 152 snaps last season, Nelson is still a relative unknown, but I took what we know of him from college and what we saw in his brief NFL action to make a semi-educated guess on the type of contributor he can be moving forward.

I won’t revisit Nelson’s college tape, but he was a fourth round pick for a reason – the athleticism he showed at the NFL Scouting Combine simply didn’t show up in games enough. Nelson won with length, solid hand usage and effort more than he did the pass rush athleticism you’ve often heard me refer to (burst, speed, bend and change-of-direction).

Unfortunately, in the NFL physical traits are neutralized a lot easier than athletic ones, especially in the trenches. Nelson has now met his match in terms of length and strength, and his hands, while still showing a lot of variance in the moves he deploys, simply don’t have the suddenness or power behind them that can challenge NFL tackles.

Nelson is so long that his pass rush game should be built off the bull rush, but he doesn’t really have the burst or power to build off that move right now. Bull rushing rarely gets you all the way to the pocket, and right now Nelson doesn’t have any move to work to when the tackle drops anchor on him.

Those almost 35-inch arms are so enticing, but Nelson has to get stronger if he wants to hump move tackles, cross their face and use inside moves to get to the quarterback. He tries unsuccessfully to toss Panthers left tackle Daryl Williams on a counter move as the right defensive end up above.

As I mentioned before, Nelson has moves already, which is what makes his lack of pass rush impact so much more frustrating. He tries double swipes, cross chops, long arms, bull rushes, hump moves, etc., but even against lower level tackles, they haven’t gotten him anywhere so far.

Nelson lands the cross chop and gets Williams slightly off balance, but lacks the power to finish the rep and corner successfully. It’s a great move that is well-deployed here, but Nelson’s lack of power and bend show up as well.

Rushing as a 3-technique here, Nelson tries the double-swipe on Trai Turner and it doesn’t land. Good stuff from Turner who anticipates the move. I still like that Nelson is trying different moves, especially as an interior rusher, where he’ll need to pick up some long/late down reps this season.

Below is another interior pass rush rep, where Nelson attempts to hit a cross-chop into a rip move and work through the A-gap. You can see the stiffness and the lack of twitch in his movements, but his absurd length still gives him a chance to rake at the ball. Decent enough for a guy still learning to rush inside.

Nelson’s length expands his room for error so much, because even while he is still blocked, he has a chance to threaten the quarterback’s throwing space if he can lean through blocks just a little bit. In addition to getting stronger however, he’ll need to clean up his timing on some of these moves or he’ll just end up getting pushed by the pocket all the time.

Tries and fails to snatch the right tackle’s outside arm. No counter move and gets pushed up the arc.

Again, this pass rush combination is a terrific idea by Nelson. Long arm, cross chop, rip move. But no burst off the ball means no momentum behind the long arm, and missing the cross chop means the right tackle can comfortably catch his rip move and push him several yards past the pocket.

Nelson rushed the quarterback 85 times during his rookie year, per Pro Football Focus, and the results were not promising. Pro Football Reference credited him with zero pressures last season. That’s zero sacks, quarterback hits and hurries combined, albeit in a fairly small sample size.

Conceptually Nelson clearly knows how to rush the passer and even deployed an excellent variety of moves for a rookie, but he is so lacking in pass rush athleticism and power that it is going to be hard to rely on him for production if a starter goes down. Because Nelson is already so developed in terms of technique and pass rush plan, his only real shot at hitting on upside in year two is by getting stronger. His athletic traits aren’t likely to change much at this point in his career.

The Bucs roster is pretty loaded across the starting lineup on offense and defense, but the depth is lacking in several areas, and having a quality pass-rushing No. 3 edge defender is one of them. Nelson may be competent enough to hold up in the run game (he was fine there last season), but I have doubts about him providing adequate pass rush reps on long-and-late downs as a rotational or spot-starter edge defender. Tampa Bay doesn’t have a ton of money left to make moves, but they should be on the lookout for potential upgrades behind Pierre-Paul and Shaq Barrett in case an injury leaves them high and dry at an important position.

 

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

17
Leave a Reply

Please Login to comment
11 Comment threads
6 Thread replies
0 Followers
 
Most reacted comment
Hottest comment thread
13 Comment authors
toofamiliar17FireLichtMovementgeno711fredsterBDOG Recent comment authors
  Subscribe  
newest oldest most voted
Notify of
surferdudes
Member

They’re back ups for a reason Jon. Don’t know of to many teams who have starting caliber back ups at any position. Rate this item:Thumb UpThumb DownSubmit Rating00 No votes yet. Please wait...

owlykat
Member
owlykat

Yes he needs more NFL strength and more development. He is tall enough and also has the great wingspan to knock down a lot of passes, which is as good as pressures. He used the bull rush a lot in college and will again when he builds up his strength. He will get better at sacks as he improves! Rate this item:Thumb UpThumb DownSubmit Rating00 No votes yet. Please wait...

FireLichtMovement
Member
FireLichtMovement

You know Shaq Barrett was a backup in 2018 right? We’ll be saying the same thing about Joe Haeg, even if he doesnt earn the starting gig. There are a bunch of backups that can play, so we’ll see. Judging by this website, Jameis being a backup on New Orleans immediately makes them the favorites for a Superbowl victory! SMDH! Rate this item:Thumb UpThumb DownSubmit Rating00 No votes yet. Please wait...

toofamiliar17
Member
toofamiliar17

Plenty of NFL teams have a third legitimate pass rushing threat on their roster. Honestly, I think it’s almost a must to have a great defense. The Seahawks of the early part of this decade had Cliff Avril, Michael Bennett, and Chris Clemons. The Giants teams that beat those Pats teams both had 3 of Strahan, JPP, Osi, and Justin Tuck. Last year’s Niners had Armstead, Bosa, and Dee Ford. The great Jags defenses of 2016 and 2017 had Calais Campbell, Dante Fowler, and Yannick. The really good Vikings defenses of those couple recent years (not last season) had Danielle… Read more »

Spitfire
Member
Spitfire

Hopefully they told him last year to workout workout workout after he healed up. Rate this item:Thumb UpThumb DownSubmit Rating00 No votes yet. Please wait...

geno711
Member
geno711

Yea, I think his lack of strength was a bigger question mark then his lack of bend. https://forums.colts.com/topic/61789-anthony-nelson-dl-iowa-why-is-no-one-talking-about-him/ Rate this item:Thumb UpThumb DownSubmit Rating00 No votes yet. Please wait...

thegeebo
Member
thegeebo

You continue to give great breakdowns and analysis! Thank you for that. I thought this kid was a good draft pick in the 4th, but wasn’t expecting to get a starting caliber player there. After your analysis, I don’t see much potential for him to ever be a successful pass-rusher… just a depth piece. I was yelling at the TV for the Bucs to draft Chase Winovich, who I had a first round grade on and somehow fell to pick 70. Instead, the Bucs traded down, and I screamed at the TV when he went to the Pats at 77.… Read more »

Gatordoc1
Member
Gatordoc1

hopefully that analysis and a good strength coach get him over the hump. I hear some guy on the Bucs roster carries a chip on his shoulder that carried him a long way. Rate this item:Thumb UpThumb DownSubmit Rating00 No votes yet. Please wait...

Dave
Member
Dave

Off topic, but just heard of a Sean Payton interview, where he said that Lovie Smith was told to tank in 2014 to land the #1 pick to get Winston. And he also said that we lost on purpose week 17 vs the Saints. We took out a lot of our starters week 17, trying to lose the game. Pretty interesting when a coach of another team notices it lol. Turned out it didn’t matter if we got 1 or 2. Both turned out to be flops to this point Rate this item:Thumb UpThumb DownSubmit Rating00 No votes yet. Please… Read more »

FireLichtMovement
Member
FireLichtMovement

Wow. Tanking is a real thing. Where was that interview Dave? I want to see that… Rate this item:Thumb UpThumb DownSubmit Rating00 No votes yet. Please wait...

fredster
Member
fredster

I don’t think not having a 3rd pass rusher that’s great is a problem. Bowles has many blitz packages with lots of freakish Athletes like White and David. If JPP or Barrett goes down for some time I think they can still be fairly effective with blitzes and hopefully better secondary play this year. Rate this item:Thumb UpThumb DownSubmit Rating00 No votes yet. Please wait...

Dman
Member
Dman

Great analysis, Jon. Year 1 is always tough, especially in the trenches, but I like your breakdown of his technique. He should be able to add some strength so let’s see what our coaching staff can do. Rate this item:Thumb UpThumb DownSubmit Rating00 No votes yet. Please wait...

DonkeyHunter
Member
DonkeyHunter

The importance of pass rushers can’t be overstated. Really dropped the ball not taking Allen last year when he fell in our laps. Rate this item:Thumb UpThumb DownSubmit Rating00 No votes yet. Please wait...

BDOG
Member
BDOG

JON our defense is the BUCS weakest link for playoff run. I do not know why we prioritized OT/RB over DT/DE in 2020. Everyone wanted Bucs to take OL at #14, BUT I think we need to review long term ramifications of this choice. IF we stay put at #14, take DT KINLAW-6’5 324, and keep #117 and take LSU DT R LAWRENCE-6’2 308. And with 3rd RD Draft MIZZU DT J ELLIOTT-6’4 302, not Vandy RB. Plus we did get @6th RD NEB DT/DE K DAVIS 6’1 308, who may surprise and have upside greater than Nelson?! Are the… Read more »

fredster
Member
fredster

Biggest issue is defense but close second was O line and run game. Don’t care if it’s Brady or not we still needed much better O line play and run game. I was ok with draft overall. Rate this item:Thumb UpThumb DownSubmit Rating00 No votes yet. Please wait...

FireLichtMovement
Member
FireLichtMovement

Anthony Nelson, as defined by this website when he was drafted, is a more athletic Carl Nassib clone. I agree with the assessment, and it just looks like he needs some work in the weight room. I dont know if anyone else sees it, or maybe I’m just crazy, but it looks like he’s a half of a step slow in his get off. If Nelson puts in the work, I believe he can be a valuable contributor to the pass rush also. Rate this item:Thumb UpThumb DownSubmit Rating00 No votes yet. Please wait...

toofamiliar17
Member
toofamiliar17

I liked the Nelson pick when we made it, and I like it now. I think there’s a decent chance he can DEVELOP into a good rotational pass rusher as his career plays out. But we can’t afford to count on him as our #1 guy off the bench off the edge THIS season. He just isn’t there yet, and putting that burden on his shoulders, placing that bet, what could ultimately be a bet for the fate of our 2020 season, sounds insane to me. I posted the following on Mark’s mailbag comment board, but it’s more relevant here,… Read more »