The Buccaneers cut ties with 2014 free agent bust Michael Johnson, which leaves the team with a big hole at the defensive end position. Jacqiues Smith, a waiver addition by the team in September, ended up starting seven games for Tampa Bay and racked up 6.5 sacks. He, along with newcomer George Johnson, who was acquired in a trade with the Detroit Lions, are expected to compete for starting spots outside of defensive tackles Gerald McCoy, Henry Melton and Clinton McDonald. Also in the mix at the defensive end position is William Gholston, who seems to be just an early-down run stuffer as he enters his third year in the NFL. The Buccaneers also have reserve-type players on their roster that include Larry English, George Uko, Lawrence Sidbury Jr., and TJ Fatinikun.

Tampa Bay has had trouble generating pressure with their edge-rushers in recent years and Lovie Smith’s defense is heavily dependent on the defensive line’s ability to get to the quarterback. The Buccaneers need to find a defensive end who is explosive off the ball and can turn the corner to the get to the quarterback. With Gerald McCoy emerging as one of the top defensive players in the league, finding a dominant edge-rusher to play next to him would give the Buccaneers a strong one-two punch along the defensive front.

DE Nate Orchard – Utah – Senior – 6-3, 250 – 4.80
The Buccaneers have a need for speed at the defensive end position and could use a productive edge-rusher like Orchard to help put pressure on opposing quarterbacks. Orchard’s 18.5 sacks was the most of any player in college football in 2014 and his excellent play earned him the Ted Hendrick’s Award, which is given to the nation’s best defensive end. Adding Orchard to a defensive line that already has McCoy, McDonald, Melton, Smith and Johnson would give Tampa Bay a solid group of defensive linemen heading into the 2015 season. The Buccaneers’ current second round pick may be too high to select Orchard, but if the team trades down in the second round or stays put in the third, the Utah pass-rusher could be name that the Buccaneers turn in to the commissioner.

BUCS’ BEST BET AT DE (LATE 4-7)Illinois v Washington
DE Andrew Hudson – Washington – Senior – 6-2, 246 – 4.98
Hudson is an overlooked defensive end prospect because his lack of size and standout athleticism, but the former Husky was extremely productive as a senior. The Washington product ranked seventh in the nation in 2014 with 12.5 sacks and also recorded three forced fumbles. The Buccaneers brought in Hudson for a visit just over a week ago and the Browns and Redskins have also met with the 6-foot-2, 246-pound lineman. Hudson isn’t expected to be drafted high, but as a late-round pick or an undrafted free agent he makes a lot of sense because of his production and motor.

1. DE Dante Fowler Jr. – Florida – Junior – 6-3, 261 – 4.60
Fowler is a gifted athlete that can win with his explosiveness and length. The 6-foot-3, 261 pound lineman racked up 17 quarterback hurries, 15 tackles for loss and 8.5 sacks as a junior in 2014 before declaring for the NFL Draft. Fowler is a versatile prospect that can line up in both 4-3 and 3-4 fronts in the NFL, because of his ability to move in space as well as rush with his hand in the dirt. Fowler is still somewhat of a raw pass-rusher, as he was moved all over the defensive formation for the Gators during his career. However, the Florida product boasts the most upside of all the 2015 pass-rushers and should be a top 10 draft selection.

2. DE Shane Ray – Missouri – Junior – 6-3, 245 – 4.64
Ray is one of the most explosive pass-rushers in the 2015 draft class and should be a top 10 pick. The Missouri product fires off the ball incredibly quick and has a tremendous motor to go along with a powerful punch and speed off the edge. While he lacks ideal size for a base 4-3 defensive end, he has elite-level athletic attributes that allow him to be a dominant pass-rusher. Ray finished his junior season with 14.5 sacks, 22.5 tackles for loss and three forced fumbles.

3. DE Randy Gregory– Nebraska – Junior – 6-5, 235 – 4.64
Gregory would probably fit best as a 3-4 outside linebacker, but in the Buccaneers base defensive scheme he’d play as a defensive end. The Nebraska product is a tall, explosive pass-rusher with long arms and excellent athletic traits. He displays lightning-fast hands and has the flexible hips to bend around the arc. He’s a high upside player that can be a standout player with the right coaching. Gregory made some headlines because of the fact that he failed his drug test at the Scouting Combine in February, testing positive for marijuana. Taking everything into account, Gregory should still go in the middle of the first round.

4. DE Alvin Dupree– Kentucky – Senior – 6-4, 269 – 4.56
Dupree is an athletic freak that offers a ton of upside as a pass rusher in both 3-4 and 4-3 defensive fronts. The Kentucky pass-rusher blew up the Combine in February, running a 4.56 in the 40-yard dash and recording a ridiculous 42-inch vertical jump. Dupree is an explosive athlete that also offers a significant amount of power, which makes him a high upside pass-rushing prospect. He’s raw in terms of pass-rushing technique and hand usage, but with some coaching and an increased motor, Dupree could be a dominant player in the league. He should hear his name called in the first round of the draft.

5. DE Owamagbe Odighizuwa – UCLA – Senior – 6-3, 267 – 4.62
Odighizuwa is a relentless pass-rusher with excellent size, strength, athleticism. What he lacks in technique he makes up with motor and competitiveness. The UCLA product is an excellent run defender who is strong at the point of attack. The 6-foot-4, 267 pound lineman recorded 11.5 tackles for loss and six sacks, which earned him an invitation to the Senior Bowl, where he impressed throughout the week. Odighizuwa’s lack of pass-rushing polish will likely push him out of the first round, but he should get some consideration near the top of round two.

6. DE Preston Smith – Mississippi State – Senior – 6-5, 271– 4.74
Smith is a well-rounded defensive line prospect with long arms that plays with solid technique. The former Bulldog is a disruptive run defender that can line up all over the defensive front, and that versatility has scouts intrigued regarding his NFL potential. Smith performed very well at the Scouting Combine in February, running a 4.74 in the 40-yard dash and a 7.07 in the three-cone drill. Those numbers are very solid for a 6-foot-5, 271 pound defensive lineman. Smith should hear his name called in the second round.

7. DE Nate Orchard – Utah – Senior – 6-3, 250 – 4.80
Orchard had a breakout year as a Senior in 2014, tying for the FBS lead and setting a Utah record with 18.5 sacks. His excellent play earned him an invitation to the Senior Bowl where he fared well against the top competition in the country. Orchard is a smooth mover that displays excellent footwork and flexibility. Orchard doesn’t make many plays against the run and is moved around by offensive linemen quite easily at the point of attack. However, the productive defensive end has enough talent and production to warrant a second or third-round pick.

8. DE Markus Golden – Missouri– Senior – 6-2, 260 – 4.90Missouri v Georgia
Golden is a feisty, aggressive player with a never-ending motor. The Missouri product notched 10 sacks as a senior, one year after recording 6.5 sacks as a junior. Golden is also strong run defender that displays the ability to hold up at the point of attack. The 6-foot-2, 260 pound defensive end doesn’t stand out athletically and doesn’t showcase an array of pass-rushing moves and technique, but his strength and motor will give him a chance to be a starter in a 4-3 scheme. Golden looks like a fourth-round pick at this time.

9. DE Trey Flowers – Arkansas – Senior – 6-2, 266 – 4.93
Flowers is a relentless pass-rusher that has been a fixture on Arkansas’ defensive line for the last four seasons. The 6-foot-2, 266 pound lineman display excellent technique, including hand usage and footwork. He isn’t a tall player but Flowers offers very long 34 1/4-inch arms, which allow him to keep offensive linemen off of his frame. Flowers isn’t a standout athlete and may never become a true pass-rushing threat, but he’s a solid lineman that will fit in great as a rotational defensive end.

10. DE Za’Darius Smith – Kentucky – Senior – 6-4, 274 – 4.83
Smith isn’t nearly as explosive as his former teammate Alvin Dupree, but Smith is a strong run defender that works hard as a pass-rusher. The 6-foot-4 defender was the Defensive MVP of the East-West Shrine Game and was invited to the Senior Bowl in January. Smith has been productive over the last two seasons, notching 6.5 sacks as a junior and 7.5 sacks as a senior. The Kentucky product flashes moments of brillance as a pass-rusher but he needs to work on his hand usage and flexibility if he ever wants to be a consistent threat. With that being said, Smith looks like a fourth-round pick in the upcoming NFL Draft.

11. DE Mario Edwards Jr. – Florida State – Junior – 6-3, 279 – 4.84
Edwards is a strong defensive line prospect that doesn’t have a true position. Edwards’ size makes him a bit of a tweener and his fit at the NFL level is unclear. However, the Florida State product is a strong run defender capable of controlling the point of attack. As a pass-rusher, Edwards doesn’t bring much to the table, as he lacks explosiveness and inconsistent technique. The 6-3, 279 pound defensive lineman projects as a fourth-round pick.

12. DE Danielle Hunter – LSU – Junior – 6-5, 252 – 4.57
Hunter blew the doors off of the Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis as the Scouting Combine, where he ran a blistering 4.57 at 6-foot-5, 252 pounds. Hunter is a rare athlete that offers extremely high upside because of his length, speed and strength. The LSU product has a great motor and flashes pass-rushing moves, but his lack of production as a pass-rusher will likely limit his draft stock. Hunter recorded just 1.5 sacks in 2014, which is a concerning number for a player with his rare traits. However, Hunter’s upside and potential should warrant a third-round grade.

13. DE Frank Clark – Michigan – Senior – 6-3, 271 – 4.79
Clark is a talented but troubled defensive end prospect that has had trouble staying out of trouble during his collegiate career. He was dismissed from the University of Michigan following an arrest on domestic violence charges. On the football field, Clark shows promise as a pass-rusher, flashing a quick get-off and strength as a run defender. However, his off-the-field concerns will like cap Clark’s stock at the fifth round.

14. DE Henry Anderson – Stanford – Senior – 6-6, 294 – 4.97
Anderson was a five-technique defensive end in Stanford’s 3-4 scheme and is limited to a 3-4 scheme in the NFL due to suspect athleticism. He has great size and strength and good suddenness and solid production at Stanford with 8.5 sacks last year. As with most Stanford players, Anderson brings intelligent play to the NFL and will likely be a fifth-round pick.

15. DE Anthony Chickilo– Miami – Senior – 6-3, 267 – 4.79
Chickilo is a tweener that doesn’t have a true position, but he’s a fundamentally sound player that plays hard on every snap. The Miami product doesn’t stand out in any areas athletically and that will hurt his projection to the next level as a base 4-3 defensive end. However, Chickilo is a good run defender that get to the quarterback on occasion by using his underrated strength. Chickilo looks like a late-round pick, somewhere in the fifth or sixth round.

16. DE Lynden Trail – Norfolk State – Senior – 6-7, 269 – 4.91
At 6-foot-7, 269 pounds, Trail is a mountain of a man that has extremely long arms that measure nearly 35 inches. The Norfolk State product was invited to the Senior Bowl in January and didn’t look out of place with the rest of the group. He even got some reps as a goal line tight end, where he came down with a few nice contested catches. Whatever team Trail winds up on will have a lot of work to do to get the defensive lineman up to speed regarding technique. Trail is simply a project defensive lineman because of how raw his game is, which will likely make him a sixth round selection.

17. DE Cedric Reed – Texas – Senior – 6-5, 269 – 4.80
Reed has an interesting mix of size and quickness as a pass rusher. He had 10 sacks and five forced fumbles as a junior, but played with a torn meniscus as a senior, which limited his production (5.5 sacks). Reed had surgery and should be able to get his game back to a higher level next year. His blue-collar attitude will be attractive to teams and he should hear his name come off the draft board in the sixth-round.

18. DE Corey Crawford – Clemson – Senior – 6-5, 283 – 5.01
Crawford split time with Tavaris Barnes over the past two years playing opposite Vic Beasley for the Tigers defense. He’s a sound run stopper, but lacks explosiveness as a pass rusher. In fact, Barnes is the faster, more explosive Clemson left end, but because Crawford had more starts and more playing time he’s considered to be the better prospect and should be a sixth-rounder.

19. DE Zack Wagenmann – Montana – Senior – 6-3, 247 – 4.71
Wagenmann starred at the NFL Scouting Combine where he posted a 37.5-inch vertical, a 4.26 20-yard shuttle and a 7.07 time in the three-cone drill. But he was even better on the field for the Grizzlies where he notched 37.5 sacks in 38 games, including 17.5 sacks as a senior. Wagenmann is undersized to play defensive end in a 4-3 defense unless it’s in Tampa, and may be better suited for a 3-4 team as an outside linebacker in the sixth round.

20. DE Andrew Hudson – Washington – Senior – 6-2, 246 – 4.98
Hudson lacks ideal NFL size and strength, but the former Washington star was very productive last year, notching 12.5 sacks and three forced fumbles, which ranked seventh in the nation in 2014. The Buccaneers brought in Hudson for a visit just over a week ago and had defensive line coach Joe Cullen work him out at the University of Washington at the school’s pro day. Hudson, who has a relentless playing style, is considered to be a seventh-round pick.

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6 years ago

I would trade down on my third round pick and then look at a DE in rounds 4 or 5. Our 2nd, 6th, 7th rounds I hope are for OL.

6 years ago

Horse, as much as I like Orchard, I believe the Bucs should target OT And OG in second and third rounds. Fourth and fifth rounds Chickilo, Reed and Z. smith look like good developmental prospects who can contribute during their rookie year with spot duty.

6 years ago

I’m of the mindset that says you can’t fix everything at once. They tried that last year with disastrous results. Concentrate on the offensive line and Free safety positions. Get that fixed. If we can’t block or stop a TE like Greg Olsen from the Panthers, we’re doomed to have another losing season. There is no game changer DE beyond the first round and that bunch is suspect too! We have 25mil in cap space and because we bit the bullet this year, we will free up another 28mil in dead money next year. Keep your powder dry! Next year… Read more »

Reply to  macabee
6 years ago

Totally agree.

6 years ago

Well Horse! What if Tampa traded with san deigo for Qb Phillip Rivers now plus SD #17 pick and #46 pick. Plus Tampa #34 pick. Tampa could get better in a hurry, Plus what if Tampa makes a trade for ASdrian Peterson this year. And Tampa next year could go after a qb from Mich st or Qb from Miss st in 2016. Besides tampa could go after another qb in the later rounds. Also Iam so glad Tampa didn’t sigh Greg Hardy. The cowboys are in deep trouble. in week 10 I hope Tampa in front of their fans… Read more »