The time is here, Bucs fans. We’ve got a real-life prospect to talk about at No. 32 overall in the 2021 NFL Draft.

There’s a real possibility the best edge defender in the 2021 class is going to be available for the Bucs at No. 32, but the reasons for his presence on the board could be cause for concern.

Miami pass rusher Jaelan Phillips may be a late bloomer on the college scene, but when he took off, it was straight for the moon. Blessed with exceptional size and athletic ability, Phillips was a five-star prospect and the top recruit in the nation out of high school, per 247sports.com’s rankings. Despite tons of offers, Phillips opted to stay close to home, choosing UCLA as his college destination back in 2017.

As a true freshman Phillips flashed tantalizing potential, recording 3.5 sacks and seven tackles-for-loss as a part-time player in UCLA’s defense. But disaster struck soon after that, as Phillips suffered a wrist injury in a scooter accident, sprains to both ankles, and three concussions, the last of which forced him into a medical retirement after his injury-laden sophomore season at UCLA.

After pursuing music in 2018, Phillips ultimately entered the transfer portal and ended up in Miami, where he needed to get back to his playing weight after dipping down to 218 pounds during his time off. According to his father in an article with 247sports.com, Phillips had told him that he “was the last one in the building and the first one out” at UCLA and that his love for the sport had waned before his medical retirement.

But the passion must have returned in abundance, as Phillips stacked on weight during a redshirt transfer season in 2019, getting back up to 266 pounds of shredded muscle. It took a couple games to get back in the rhythm of football again, but by the second half of his redshirt junior season, Phillips was again the best player on the field in most games. He erupted for eight sacks and 15.5 tackles-for-loss in ten games, destroying opposing offenses during the final seven games of the year. Virginia Tech caught the worst of it, as Phillips picked up 2.5 sacks and 4.5 tackles-for-loss in the game.

Phillips would probably be a great cornering pass rusher (meaning he wins around the outside hip of the offensive tackle) just due to his speed and flexibility, but the fact that he also knows how to manipulate opponents with outstanding footwork puts him in a special tier of pass rusher in this class. In college, edge rushers might be able to get away with simply running around tackles to the quarterback, but in the NFL, it typically requires more nuance than that to win the edge in one-on-one situations.

Phillips’ attacks the defender’s frame off the snap, with his eyes and his feet committing to a bull rush before jab stepping and accelerating up the arc. The blocker, realizing the bull rush isn’t coming, is surprised by the jab step and burst from Phillips, and reacts by lunging to stop the inevitable. Phillips flashes the long arm, then pulls it back and simply turns the corner as the tackle misses with his punch. High level movement skills to be sure, but the sophistication of the pass rush is what makes Phillips a potentially special prospect.

When you can win the edge like Phillips can, it opens up the full arsenal for a pass rusher. Afraid of the edge rusher’s speed, Virginia Tech’s right tackle oversets slightly, and Phillips bursts inside of him with a quick and clean club-swim for the sack. Nasty setup and finish, but don’t sleep on how quickly Phillips is able to cross his opponent’s face while barely being touched.

It was a long day for Hokies’ No. 69.

It wasn’t just Virginia Tech either. Nobody could stop Phillips throughout most of the season, even when Miami kicked him inside to rush. Phillips is powerful enough to hold up against interior offensive linemen, but a huge mismatch in terms of quickness and flexibility. It was a complete cheat code to put him against centers and guards in the ACC.

In terms of traits and attributes as a pass rusher, there is very little that Phillips doesn’t have in abundance. Remember, when you can win the edge as a pass rusher with speed, flexibility, hand usage and footwork, you’re already a problem. Combine that with Phillips’ devastating inside moves, and you’ve got a top ten talent in this class. Once the power moves and long arms get worked into the repertoire, Phillips has the potential to be a high end edge rusher in the NFL.

But there are questions that remain. Right or wrong, like it or not, NFL teams will question Phillips’ time at UCLA, wondering what all the factors were that temporarily detracted from his love of the game and whether music will supplant football in his life again. I understand that NFL teams don’t want to make a mistake in the draft, but we also can’t let the fact that athletes have other passions outside of football keep us from believing they can be great pros. Football doesn’t have to be a player’s entire life for him to be good at it.

Injuries might be the biggest worry with Phillips, as three documented concussions are clearly cause for concern. The big edge rusher insists he’s fully healthy now, and there is no reason to doubt that after the season he just had at Miami, but NFL doctors will certainly want to do their own evaluations. With concussions, it can only take one to put your career in jeopardy, even if defensive linemen are at less risk than many other positions.

If Phillips can stay on the field and is 100 percent committed to his craft, however, there is little doubt in my mind what he can be. Will 31 other teams be afraid to take the risk on a potentially special player due to the concerns outside of the football field?

Only time will tell, but there is little question that if Phillips falls to No. 32, he’ll almost certainly be the best player on the board for the Bucs, especially considering that edge rusher is a position of need for Tampa Bay. Even if Shaq Barrett is re-signed, Jason Pierre-Paul is entering a contract year at 32 years old, and there is no depth to speak of behind the duo.

Phillips fit in Tampa Bay makes a ton of sense both schematically (he often played from a 2-point stance in college) and in terms of the team’s needs, but there is a lot of evaluation to be done before the Bucs go on the clock at the end of April. Crazier things have happened than a player of Phillips’ caliber falling down the board during the draft, and Tampa Bay is in position to be aggressive if they believe in the person as much as I believe in the player.

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About the Author: Jon Ledyard

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
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Chiizy613
8 days ago

Ouf awesome article Jon!

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AlbJack65
Reply to  Chiizy613
7 days ago

This cat is either a Ledyard frat buddy or Ledyard himself signing on under a different handle. I’ve never seen this person comment on this site before.

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chefboho
8 days ago

I literally mentioned this in their last draft story. I’d take Phillips over any RB in the draft if he’s available at 32. Yes he has health concerns but he had zero issues last year and was a true force. This is my favorite pick for the Bucs at 32

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surferdudes
8 days ago

Just hold our water on this one. If he falls, fine, take a shot, but don’t move up for him. Noah Spence anyone?

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thewbacca
Reply to  surferdudes
8 days ago

My thoughts exactly.

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chefboho
Reply to  surferdudes
8 days ago

You can’t compare one player from a small school to what was the number 1 recruited player coming out of high school. Phillips did more in one season at Miami then Spence did in his career at college. Injuries are a bad luck scenario most of the time and Phillips was waaaaaay more push rush moves then Spence ever did and is ten times better against the run.

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thewbacca
Reply to  chefboho
8 days ago

None of that matters if he doesn’t have a love for the game and can’t keep his skull from being the first line of defense when he runs into something. Nothing about this guy either says long-term career or helps to win a Super Bowl in the next 1-2 years. If Tampa sees a big departure from the DLine in free agency, and he is there at 32, then yes take a flier on him because this draft is more about win now than it is build for the future. Even then I would hope Licht can continue to find… Read more »

Horse
8 days ago

Jon, you seem to be on board for the need of Edge Rusher or DT; I’m all for it. How soon we forget the lessons we learned from our 2002 SB, and how long it took to get this SB. I have watched all the Playoff Games a few times now and I’m convinced we won them with something we haven’t had for a long time, the most talented team ever and some luck we haven’t experienced since 2002. I am not willing to pretend we can repeat this again with the players we have on hand and overpay players… Read more »

scubog
Reply to  Horse
8 days ago

Horse: The biggest difference between this team following the 2020 championship and the 2002 team is that back then Richie McKay and the Glazers gave up the team’s ability to restock the roster by trading away the premium Draft picks. In my view, the 2002 team was nearing the end of the “window of opportunity” that began in 1997. Then without the means to bring in the talent followed by the questionable Drafts of Bruce Allen, Mark Dominik and the early learning curve of Jason Licht, the team struggled to reach mediocrity for a decade. By many observers, the Bucs… Read more »

Horse
Reply to  scubog
7 days ago

Scubog, I sure hope so. I agree we have youth at all positions, but one; that would be our defensive line.

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Captain Sly
8 days ago

Love this prospect, Those are nfl caliber setup moves for a college player. He only gets better from here. Stranger things have happened but I don’t see him lasting to pick 32. That would end up being a Steal.

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e
e
8 days ago

As a U fan, I love Philips’ motor. I actually like him over Rosseau, who they have going higher in the mocks.

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chad1336
8 days ago

I think more of a fear is that he becomes another Daquan Bowers. Remember him? His love for his gospel band seemingly took away from his passion for football.

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Spitfire
Reply to  chad1336
8 days ago

The question is does he like music more than football or did he get into it only because he thought football was over for him? The fact that he came back to football and busted his butt to get back into shape and then killed it last year is a good sign he’s dedicated.

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thewbacca
Reply to  Spitfire
8 days ago

It absolutely is and he’s young and perhaps needed time to mature. Or, he could be a diva capable of keeping his act together for a year- but not yet proved he can beyond that.

They should do a ton of research and trust their gut when it comes down to it. This is a first-round draft pick with red flags for a team with a narrow championship window.

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Spitfire
8 days ago

If they do their research and feel he’s ready he could be a great replacement for Barrett. As long as we still get a solid Pass Catching Pass Blocking powerful RB

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Bucs Phan 2 Phear
8 days ago

Lol Wow. What is this Jon? I’ll see you in locker room my friend.

Jason Licht & a 5 star??? Idk about that. Be well my friend and thanks for your hard work.

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AlbJack65
Reply to  Bucs Phan 2 Phear
7 days ago

And again. Anyone ever seen this commenter on here before?

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MichBuc
8 days ago

I like the thought of the Bucs getting an edge rusher in the 1st or 2nd. If this guy is cleared medically, fine. I remember the Detroit Lions taking Jahvid Best late in the 1st, had several concussions in college and pros, he only lasted 2 years in the NFL.

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MichBuc
8 days ago

Jon: Would you take Phillips over Zaven Collins, if both are there when the Bucs pick? Collins looks to be very versatile, could be an edge rusher, could take over for Lavonte David someday. Thoughts?

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peter benet
8 days ago

Persuasive; can get a receiving back in the second or third round like Carter, Gainwell, Herbert, or even Felton.

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ExtendLichtMovement
Reply to  peter benet
8 days ago

Peter 100% agree. I like Carter a lot and Felton is a beast catching the ball. Licht has earned my trust with the past couple of drafts. If he picks a player I don’t like, I’m not going to complain about it, but this scenario is ideal.

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BDOG
8 days ago

WOW, amazing tape! Damn, i couldn’t consider passing on Sofia Vergara bc she has Aids! But best ability is availability?! Concussion HX is HUGE! Throw in other passions in life for him. Seems like…a simple Hancock phrase…PASS!

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plopes808
8 days ago

I’d definitely be on board with this pick, especially if we lose Shaq. Even if Shaq stays though, give this guy a year or 2 to develop into a starter instead of throwing him into the fire off the bat.
The suggestion of a RB somewhat makes sense, they just seem to have a short shelf life so a 1st rounder should be used on someone that’ll be around for a few contracts.

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fredster
7 days ago

They better do their homework on this one. Doubt he’s there anyways but I’d pass. He looks like built like a WR. He also Has too many red flags imo.

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AlbJack65
7 days ago

Am I the only one who has noticed that certain commenters ONLY show up on Ledyard’s articles? This has been happening all year. In fact, many of them are “one and done” types, you never see their user name again. This is such a blatant gaming of the system that I am surprised that nobody else has mentioned it and Scott Reynolds hasn’t noticed it. Ledyard is either getting his frat buddies to continuously sign on under different user names or he’s doing it himself. No other columnist on this website has this rate of new commenters. This is the… Read more »

PatrioticChief
Reply to  AlbJack65
7 days ago

If you don’t like it don’t read it bro. No one is making you click that link.

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