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FAB 1. Tryon A Fast, Physical Option For Bucs In First Round
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have won both Super Bowls due to their defense. Yes, the offense put up 27 points against Oakland in Super Bowl XXXVIII, and Tom Brady helped the Bucs offense score 31 against Kansas City in Super Bowl LV.
But it was five interceptions, including three pick-sixes and five sacks that doomed the Raiders. And it was two interceptions, three sacks and an astounding 35 hurries from the Bucs defense that held Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs offense out of the end zone.
Building a defense with a strong pass rush is important to general manager Jason Licht. Tampa Bay’s 48 sacks during the 2020 regular season were fourth-best in the league and the second-most in team history. The Bucs’ 189 pressures were the second-most in the NFL last year, according to ProFootballReference.com.
Licht has been on the other end of the spectrum before and it wasn’t fun. In 2017, Mike Smith’s Bucs defense had an NFL-low 22 sacks – led by Gerald McCoy’s six. Tampa Bay’s edge rushers – Will Clarke (2.5), Robert Ayers (2), Ryan Russell (2) and Noah Spence (1) – totaled 7.5 sacks between them.
Licht swore his Bucs defense would no longer lose in the trenches and would get after the quarterback. The next year he traded for edge rusher Jason Pierre-Paul and spent a first-round draft pick on nose tackle Vita Vea, along with signing defensive end Vinny Curry and claiming defensive end Carl Nassib off waivers. Curry and Nassib were decent additions, but Vea and Pierre-Paul were foundational pieces of Tampa Bay’s Super Bowl front.
Shaquil Barrett was the free agent addition of the decade, recording 19.5 sacks and six forced fumbles in his first Pro Bowl season in 2019. After receiving the franchise tag in 2020, Barrett notched eight sacks in the regular season, which was just behind Pierre-Paul’s 9.5. Pierre-Paul was the Bucs’ Pro Bowl pass rusher in 2020, adding two more sacks in the postseason, while Barrett notched four, including three in the NFC Championship Game and one in Super Bowl LV.
Licht knows he needs to keep this pass-rushing train going. Pierre-Paul will be 32 next January and is coming off back-to-back offseasons in which he’s had knee surgery. He’s also in the last year of his contract. Barrett just signed a four-year contract extension, but he’ll be 29 in November.
Pierre-Paul and Barrett combined for 45.5 sacks over the past two years. The rest of the Bucs’ outside linebackers have combined for just eight sacks. There is a good chance that the Bucs’ pass rush fizzles if Barrett or Pierre-Paul miss any games in 2021.
Anthony Nelson, Tampa Bay’s fourth-round pick three years ago, has just two career sacks with one of them coming at Washington in the playoffs. He’s the first outside linebacker off the bench and isn’t much of a threat to get to the quarterback. Cam Gill, an undrafted free agent signing last year, had half a sack in the Super Bowl and it’s unclear how high or low his ceiling is.
The Bucs would be wise to add another elite pass rusher to the mix from this year’s draft to eventually replace Pierre-Paul while he learns and develops behind JPP and Barrett. Washington’s Joe Tryon would be an ideal candidate for the Bucs – even at No. 32.
PewterReport.com had Tryon as Tampa Bay’s second-round pick in its third 2021 Bucs 7-Round Mock Draft. But the reality is that he won’t last until the Bucs pick at No. 64. Not after his pro day where he ran a 4.65 and posted a 35-inch vertical at 6-foot-5, 260 pounds.
Tryon played just two seasons at Washington, totaling 14.5 tackles for loss and nine sacks. But he’s a long, fast edge rusher with a great motor and a relentless, physical playing style. He totaled eight sacks in 2019 before opting out of 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. He’s the type of developmental pass rusher that checks a lot of the boxes for Licht, head coach Bruce Arians and defensive coordinator Todd Bowles.
“Joe loves football,” said Washington head coach Jimmy Lake, who used to coach Tampa Bay’s secondary (2006-07, 2010-11). “You can see it with the way he plays. He wears his emotions on his sleeve. He plays with such a high motor, he loves hitting people. We’ve been able to do a lot with him. You’ll see him cover running backs out of the backfield on swing routes, drop into the flat, drop into a hook. He’ll pass rush. He’ll set the edge. Someone is going to get a diamond-in-the-rough. He’s still a player that is on the come-up. I think if he had stayed another year there would have been talk about this guy going in the Top 15. Someone is going to get a player with unbelievable traits and that I think is going to be a fantastic player at the next level.”
Tryon recorded six sacks in last five college games, including a pair of sacks against Utah, Oregon State and Washington State. That type of ending to his college career has scouts excited about his potential at the next level.
“He finished really strong in the bowl game against Boise State,” Lake said. “I think that’s where scouts were frothing at the mouth. They see him on the up-swing. If he would have played a few more games you’re talking about one of the top edge rushers in this year’s draft. But scouts now are going to have to do a little projecting, which is fine. He’ll land somewhere, and wherever he does they’re going to get a terrific player. Almost like Vita Vea where you can’t teach his size – you can’t teach 6-5, 260 that can run like Joe Tryon. He can run and cover. He can drop in space and be athletic. You can’t coach that, so you better draft it and teach him your scheme.”
The Bucs have had a Zoom call with Tryon and had a presence at the Washington pro day last month. Tampa Bay has been quite fond of Husky defenders. Not only did the Bucs draft Vea in the first round of the 2018 NFL Draft, they signed Washington defensive lineman Benning Po’toae as an undrafted free agent last year. Lake runs a hybrid 3-4 scheme with an element of a four-man defensive line in nickel situations like Bowles does in Tampa Bay.
“There’s no question he’s a fit in Tampa,” Lake said. “Just watching that defense – the big bodies that are tough, athletic and love football. If you were able to get Joe or Levi Onwuzurike on your roster they would be very similar to the other Huskies on the Bucs roster. Those are guys who are all about football, very professional and they’re going to give it everything they’ve got.”
While out of football in 2020, Tryon worked hard on his body, adding muscle and honing his athletic ability.
“He definitely takes the game of football very, very seriously,” Lake said. “Just like Levi does, but I think Levi has a little bit more personable, engaging way about him – maybe talks about other things other than football with the press or the scouts. I think Joe is all business and when he talks it’s like he’s talking to his opponent that is trying to block him.
“Joe Tryon has tons of pass rush ability, but loves the physicality of the run game, too. Someone is going to get an edge guy that is going to be able to not only set the edge, but is also going to be able to give you some pass rush ability on third down. He’s a very aggressive defender, but he’s a great young man. He was a fantastic Huskie and he’s going to be an excellent pro.”
We got it wrong in Pewter Report’s third version of its Bucs 7-round mock draft.
It will likely be Tryon that gets drafted before Onwuzurike.
Possibly to Tampa Bay.
FAB 2. Onwuzurike One Of The Few Quality DTs In 2021 Draft
Edge rusher Joe Tryon isn’t the only Washington defensive lineman Tampa Bay is interested in. Defensive tackle Levi Onwuzurike is also on the Bucs’ radar in the 2021 NFL Draft.
The defensive tackle class is incredibly weak in this year’s draft, but Onwuzurike is one of the few that has a skill set that would fit in Tampa Bay. A three-year starter for the Huskies, Onwuzurike recorded 16 tackles for loss and seven sacks before opting out of the 2020 season due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Levi Onwuzurike was going to come back for his senior year before the pandemic hit,” Lake said. “There were a lot of NFL people and agents that wanted him to come out and not play his senior year, but he was going to come back until this coronavirus pandemic hit and we had all the shutdowns. We had all these questions – was there going to be a season, was there not going to be a season? He worked out with us for a while, but then when it looked like our season was going to be very, very murky that we were not going to be able to play, that’s when he opted out and continued to train for the draft.”
Onwuzurike had the chance to move into the first round and possibly challenge Alabama’s Christian Barmore for the top defensive tackle spot with a stellar offseason, but that didn’t happen. Onwuzurike got injured early at the Senior Bowl and missed most of the week. Then he pulled his hamstring running his 40-yard dash at the Washington pro day. That frustrated some NFL scouts, who haven’t seen him play since 2019.
Yet the 6-foot-3, 290-pound All-PAC 12 defender has one of the quickest get-offs in the 2021 defensive tackle class and great, strong hands to get past guards and centers.
“His hands are really polished,” Lake said. “He’s so strong and he’s dominated for us. Teams have had to go the other way against this guy because he’s so explosive and so quick. Once he gets his hands on you he’s able to shock, lock and overpower those interior offensive line. It’s obviously going to be a little tougher at the next level, but I’m sure whoever gets him that he’ll show that same type of ferocity.
“Levi is a big body – long, explosive and very twitchy for his size. He’s more of a 3-technique where Vita Vita is definitely that nose tackle. Levi is more of a 3-technique first and then if you had to you could move him inside.”
Onwuzurike played out of position at nose tackle in 2019 because that’s where Lake needed him the most from a scheme standpoint.
“It was really more his versatility,” Lake said. “We wanted to match him up on certain players we were going against where we felt he had the upper hand – whether that was a left guard, a right guard or a center. We would nose him up and have him dominate the center.
“We have a lot of flexibility in our fronts – just like Tampa Bay does. We can be in a four-down look or a three-down look. That’s probably why you see Levi bounce between a three-tech outside of a guard to a nose being zeroed up on a center. I think it shows off his resume and I think it will make him more attractive to NFL clubs.”
Although he’s under 300 pounds, Onwuzurike is a rock of a man with limited body fat and hardly any bad weight.
“He is a chiseled guy in the 290s,” Lake said. “There’s no sloppiness about this guy whatsoever. He’s got a really good frame and really good shape with all that explosiveness that he has. That’s why I look at all of the mock drafts and that’s why I think he’ll be one of the first defensive tackles off the board because of those traits.”
If the Bucs selected Tryon in the first round, drafting Onwuzurike in the second round would be quite a coup – if he’s available at No. 64. Those two Huskies along with Vea could give Tampa Bay’s defense plenty of bark and bite for years to come.
“Draft those guys and then Elijah Molden or Keith Taylor and we’ll just call you guys Seattle South or U-Dub South – whatever you want to call it,” Lake laughed. “Get those Huskies on the roster and go win another Super Bowl.”
FAB 3. Drafting The Replacements For Bucs 2022 Free Agents
The Buccaneers have stated that they are drafting for want rather than need in 2021 due to the fact that the team has successfully re-signed nearly all of its free agents. With all 22 starters returning from the Super Bowl LV squad, Tampa Bay can look ahead and draft some future starters. There will be another crop of free agents in 2022 and the Bucs won’t have the ability to bring all of them back after spending so much re-signing the 2021 free agent class.
So let’s take a look at which positions the Bucs may want to select – and the 2022 free agents Tampa Bay may need to replace – in this year’s draft. For your consideration I’ve taken the liberty of selecting the perfect replacement for each position and player – regardless of round. Let me know what you think in the article comments below.
Backup Quarterback: Texas A&M Kellen Mond
Ryan Griffin was re-signed for one year. Tampa Bay is expected to re-sign Blaine Gabbert, too. Both will be 32 this fall and the team could use a younger developmental quarterback to challenge Griffin for the No. 3 QB this year. Then that QB can challenge Gabbert for the No. 2 spot in 2022. Mond is Texas A&M’s all-time leading passer with over 9,600 with 71 touchdowns as a four-year starter. He’s also a pocket passer, which makes him a fit in Bruce Arians’ offense. Mond also has the added element of mobility, rushing for 1,609 yards and 22 touchdowns. Mond will be drafted between rounds 2-4.
Running Back: North Carolina’s Javonte Williams
Co-starters Leonard Fournette and Ronald Jones II will both be free agents in 2022. The Bucs could use a starting-caliber running back to replace one of them or both of them next year. While Clemson’s Travis Etienne and Alabama’s Najee Harris could be off the board when the Bucs pick in No. 32, Williams is expected to be there. A tackle-breaker with good speed and nice receiving ability, the Tar Heels star would be an ideal between-the-tackles back in Tampa Bay.
Third Down Back: Memphis’ Kenneth Gainwell
Tampa Bay signed Giovani Bernard to be Tom Brady’s pass-catching back on third downs. But with him turning 30 this fall, and only und