WHAT THE BUCS HAVE AT DT
Three-time Pro Bowler Gerald McCoy will look to lead the way for the Buccaneers defense in 2015. Serving as a defensive captain alongside Lavonte David, McCoy was very effective in 2014, recording 8.5 sacks and 28 tackles in just 13 games. Lining up next to McCoy will be 28-year-old Clinton McDonald, who quietly put together an impressive season for Tampa Bay in 2014. Despite playing in only 13 games like McCoy, McDonald played well, recording five sacks and 35 tackles. The Buccaneers will also be bringing back their 2013 fourth round draft pick in Akeem Spence. Spence was able to piece together a commendable season in 2014, playing in all 16 games with two fumble recoveries, three sacks, and 28 tackles. The Buccaneers finalized a one-year deal in mid-March that brought former Bear and Cowboy, Henry Melton, to Tampa Bay. Melton spent three seasons with Lovie Smith in Chicago, starting 29 games and earning 15.5 sacks. Last year, coming off of an ACL tear in 2013, Melton was able to earn five sacks and 11 tackles as a rotational player in Dallas, but is a former Pro Bowler. George Uko and Matthew Masifilo both were only able to dress in one game for the Buccaneers last year and spent the majority of the season on the practice squad.
WHAT THE BUCS NEED AT DT
It could be argued that defensive tackle is the deepest position on the Buccaneers defense. However, Melton did only sign a one-year deal with the team and Spence is entering the last year of his deal. The Buccaneers have one of the best defensive tackles in the game in McCoy and believe he and McDonald bring a lot to the table in the Tampa 2. However, as cornerback Alterraun Verner touched on last week, it is important that the Bucs establish a strong pass rush in order to see the Tampa 2 succeed.
BUCS BEST BET AT DT (EARLY 1-3)
DT Grady Jarrett – Clemson – Senior – 6-1, 304 – 5.08
Jarrett could bring durability and penetration to the Buccaneers’ defensive line in 2015. The Clemson product has been known to play to the whistle on every play, with the ability to occupy multiple blockers and use his leverage to get past taller centers and guards. Although Jarrett lacks the traditional DT size, he has proven to be great at timing snaps and getting into lineman first. Although it seems unlikely that the Bucs would spend a third-round pick on him, Jarrett could serve as a great disruptor on the Buccaneers line, making it easier for McCoy and company to get through to the quarterback.
BUCS BEST BET AT DT (LATE 4-7)
DT Quayshawne Buckley – Idaho – Senior – 6-3, 305 – 5.03
Buckley was a very dominant player while at Idaho, but the lower level of competition lined up across from him hurts his draft stock. Buckley is very athletic for his size, possessing explosive hips and outstanding hand quickness. He works his hands and feet together in unison very well and is able to spin his way out of blocks frequently. Buckley will have to adjust to the talent level of the NFL, but he is athletically gifted and gives the effort that is needed to become an NFL player and could be a seventh-round pick.
TOP TEN DEFENSIVE TACKLES
1. DT Leonard Williams – Southern California – Junior – 6-5, 302 – 4.91
Williams has the ability to become a consistent Pro Bowler and has an extremely high ceiling. His teammates selected him as one of five team captains prior to 2014 and he did not disappoint with 80 total tackles, 9.5 tackles for loss, seven sacks, and three forced fumbles. He possesses quick feet and strength that allow him to get right back into a play even when beaten early on. Williams gets going downhill fast and will bring length, athleticism and raw power to whoever drafts him in the top 10 of the first round of the draft.
2. DT Danny Shelton – Washington – Senior – 6-2, 339 – 5.64
Shelton had a great senior season for the Huskies in which he totaled five fumble recoveries, 16 tackles for loss, 93 tackles, and nine sacks. Shelton bends surprisingly well for someone of his size and almost always gets his hands inside offensive lineman first. Shelton played a very high percentage of Washington’s defensive snaps and performed at a high level in the interior pass rush. He has the athleticism to be dominant in the running game and will benefit from not having to play as many snaps as he did in college. Strength won’t be an issue either as he was able to bench 225 pounds 34 times at the combine. Shelton is viewed as a first-round pick.
3. DT Arik Armstead – Oregon – Junior – 6-7, 292 – 5.10
Armstead had an impressive year in 2014, starting all 13 games that he played in while missing two due to an ankle injury. The former Duck recorded 46 tackles, 4.5 tackles for loss, and 2.5 sacks last in his last season. Armstead gets good arm extension and has quick hands that allow him to explode upfield and stop the run effectively. Armstead showed extreme improvement in 2014 and has the size and explosiveness to become a great player, but he will need to become more effective in rushing the passer. He is slated to go in the first round.
4. DT Malcom Brown – Texas – Junior – 6-2, 319 – 5.05
The former Longhorn took big strides in 2014 and has risen up many draft boards leading up to the draft on April 30. Scouts have said that Brown already uses his hands like an NFL starter and has great instincts. Similar to Grady Jarrett, Brown has shown that he is quick off the snap and can get into the backfield quickly. His ability to play multiple spots along the line will make him a target to a higher number of teams. Brown was also a finalist in 2014 for the Bronko Nagurski Trophy for most outstanding defensive player in the NCAA. Some former winners of the award include Ndamukong Suh, Luke Kuechly, Manti Te’o, and former Buccaneer Da’Quan Bowers. Brown is a late first- or early second-round pick.
5. DT Eddie Goldman – Florida State – Junior – 6-4, 336 – 5.27
Goldman has outstanding upper body strength and power, allowing him to play against the run at an elite level. The Seminole totaled 35 tackles, eight tackles for loss, and four sacks in 2014. Goldman is very strong at the point of attack, has strong hands, and can explode off of the line of scrimmage, making him a target for teams in need of a nose tackle. His improvement in the pass rush will be vital in his transition to the NFL. Like Brown, he’s viewed as a late first- or early second-ronder.
6. DT Jordan Phillips – Oklahoma – Redshirt Sophomore – 6-5, 329 – 5.17
Phillips has only started 17 games since coming to Oklahoma in 2011 as he redshirted his first year. In 2012, he did not start in any games and finished with 12 tackles. After starting in the first four games of 2013, Phillips had to undergo season-ending back surgery. He continued to start in every game in 2014 totaling 38 tackles, 9 tackles for loss, and two sacks. Phillips possesses a very desirable height, weight, and speed and has shown flashes of talent that give him a high ceiling. Eating up blocks and implementing his skill-set could make him a future Pro Bowler as a second-round choice.
7. DT Carl Davis – Iowa – Senior – 6-5, 320 – 5.07
Davis started all 26 games in his final two seasons with Iowa and finished 2014 with 36 tackles, nine tackles for loss, and two sacks. The former Hawkeye is very strong and he shows why his height and weight are so desirable when he is double teamed. He is quick off the snap and uses his long arms to his advantage but, similar to some other DT prospects, his improvements in the pass rush are what will take him to the next level. Davis improved his stock at the Senior Bowl and is viewed as a second- or third-round selection.
8. DT Grady Jarrett – Clemson – Senior – 6-1, 304 – 5.08
Jarrett posted impressive numbers during his senior year at Clemson with 45 tackles, 10 tackles for losses, and 1.5 sacks. The former Tiger has a really powerful frame and gets a consistent push which can cause a lot of disruption at the line of scrimmage. He’s naturally strong, gets great leverage, and shows a lot of football smarts and ball awareness. He will be a great fit for a team looking for a disruptive nose tackle in a 4-3 defense. Jarrett had a tremendous Senior Bowl and that boosted his draft stock to the third round.
9. DT Michael Bennett – Ohio State – Senior – 6-2, 293 – 4.98
Bennett was a very consistent player for Urban Meyer and the Buckeyes, starting in all 24 games over his final two seasons. Bennett has great speed off the line, has long arms for his height, and uses his strong hands extremely well. He is very solid technically and makes himself tough to block by consistently changing his post-snap angles. During his senior year, he was almost always in control of his battle every snap. Fatigue appeared to be one downfall of Bennett who could potentially struggle against some of the real power guards of the NFL. He is viewed as a third-rounder.
10. DT Xavier Cooper – Washington State – Junior – 6-3, 293 – 4.86
Another durable defensive tackle, Cooper started all 25 games over his last two seasons at Washington State. Cooper has very quick feet and hands that enable him to really create separation from his blockers. He’s very good at timing the snap and landing a solid block on him proved to be difficult for many of his opponents. He lacks power, but his quickness and ability to use his hands extremely well are what will allow him to succeed at the next level as a fourth-rounder.
BEST OF THE REST
11. DT Rakeem Nunez-Roches – Southern Mississippi – Junior – 6-2, 307 – 5.02
Nunez-Roches is very quick off the snap and is great at reading which way the play is going to go. Despite playing on a struggling team, he always showed fight on every play and was very difficult to control off the snap. His balance, agility, and low center of gravity allow him to keep plenty of leverage against blocks, but his size and length hurt him. Nunez-Roches will more than likely start his career as a backup, but he has the gap finding ability and agility to be an effective player. He’s likely a fifth-round pick.
12. DT Marcus Hardison – Arizona State – Senior – 6-3, 307 – 4.92
Hardison is another tackle who has proven to be very good at timing the snap. He is rarely square when rushing the passer and understands exactly how to use his hands against linemen. He showed vast improvement during the second half of his final season and shows talent getting around edges. Harrison needs a little more lower body muscle to truly compete at the defensive tackle position in the NFL, but he has enough potential to start off as a situational pass rusher in the league coming off the board in the fifth round.
13. DT Gabe Wright – Auburn – Senior – 6-3, 300 – 5.07
Wright is another extremely durable DT in this draft class as he played in all 52 games during his four-year career at Auburn. He plays with leverage right off of the snap and shows great explosiveness in his first step. Possesses the ability to get into gaps and disrupt the run and showed some skill rushing the passer as well. Finished his senior season with 24 tackles, 4.5 tackles for loss, and just one sack. He’ll have to improve as a pass rusher, but his explosiveness of the line can’t be overlooked as a fifth-rounder.
14. DT Christian Covington – Rice – Junior – 6-2, 289 – 4.89
Covington started in all 14 games in 2013 and led his team in tackles for loss, but was only able to play in 7 games in 2014, missing the last three due to a knee injury. He possesses plenty of power and initial quickness, but missing almost all of 2014 due to injury is a concern. During the time he has played, he’s shown some NFL talent, freeing himself from blocks and keeping his eyes up and on the backfield, but needs to get better at establishing his footwork after initial contact. His lack of ideal size will cause him to slip into the sixth round.
15. DT Leterrius Walton – Central Michigan – Senior – 6-5, 319 – 5.25
Walton is a former offensive lineman with good hands and plenty of size. He has shown improvement every year and continues to get better. He totaled 33 tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss, and two sacks in 2014. Upper body strength needs to develop a little bit more, but is very disciplined in the pass rush and could prove to be an above-average player with his ability to stop the run as a sixth-rounder.
16. DT Xavier Williams – Northern Iowa – Senior – 6-2, 309 – 5.31
Williams had an impressive year for the Northern Iowa Panthers in 2013, starting in 11 of their 12 games while recording 74 tackles, 12 tackles for loss, and six sacks. He went on to play all 14 games in 2014 and added 8 sacks. Williams, a former wrestler, plays low to the ground with excellent leverage, but struggles to get to the edge at times. He is very tough and has a high compete level, but will have to play against a higher level of competition before teams can gauge his ability to start in the NFL after being drafted in the sixth round.
17. DT Kaleb Eulls – Mississippi State – Senior – 6-4, 295 – 5.20
Eulls started in 12 games in 2014 at DT and one game at DE while recording 34 tackles, three tackles for loss, and three sacks. Eulls plays with a very strong base, a wide one too, and has tons of lower body strength. Played in an aggressive defense in a very physical conference and still started all four years. The former Bulldog is very athletic, but needs to become better with his hands and more effective on the pass rush, hence his sixth-round grade.
18. DT Derrick Lott – Chattanooga – Senior – 6-4, 314 – 4.99
Lott is a technically sound player who transferred from the University of Georgia. He is very good with his hands and has great instincts along the line. Lott comes off the ball quickly and uses great technique to rid himself of his blockers, finishing his 2014 season with 41 tackles, 13.5 tackles for loss, and 6 sacks. Lott’s main downfall is that he did not face the highest level of competition in college and that will likely make him a sixth- or seventh-round selection.
19. DT Joey Mbu – Houston – Senior – 6-3, 313 – 5.54
Mbu started all 13 games in 2014 as a team captain posting 32 tackles, 10.5 tackles for loss, and 2.5 sacks. He has good hands and arm extension, moves well against his opponents, and reacts well to screen passes. Praised for his leadership, Mbu will put all the work in needed to be a great player, but his pass rush needs to improve at the next level. He carries a seventh-round grade.
20. DT Quayshawne Buckley – Idaho – Senior – 6-3, 305 – 5.03
Buckley was a very dominant player while at Idaho, but the lower level of competition lined up across from him hurts his draft stock. Buckley is very athletic for his size, possessing explosive hips and outstanding hand quickness. He works his hands and feet together in unison very well and is able to spin his way out of blocks frequently. Buckley will have to adjust to the talent level of the NFL, but he is athletically gifted and gives the effort that is needed to become an NFL player as a seventh-round pick.
All photos by: Getty Images