WHAT THE BUCS HAVE AT LINEBACKER Lavonte David and Kwon Alexander are arguably the Buccaneers’ two best defensive players. Before Alexander’s suspension, one that kept him out the last four weeks of the season, the linebacker duo was hitting its stride, as David finished his fourth season as the team’s leading tackler (143) with three sacks and three interceptions, while Alexander racked up 93 tackles, three sacks and two interceptions over 12 games. Both linebackers forced two fumbles while proving to be Tampa Bay’s biggest playmakers on defense.
To help ensure the young duo’s rise, Tampa Bay added veteran Daryl Smith, presumably the starting strong side linebacker, to help lead the way. While former Sam linebacker Danny Lansanah did good things over his two years, the Bucs clearly valued experience and steady production. In his last three seasons, Smith, 34, started all 48 games for the Ravens, totaling 197 tackles, nine sacks and five interceptions during the best three years of his 12-year career. The former Jaguar also spent his first four seasons under Mike Smith, who was Jacksonville’s defensive coordinator from 2003-2007, while Dirk Koetter served as the team’s OC until 2011. Smith has already voiced excitement over rejoining his former coaches and playing in a familiar scheme along side two talented linebackers.
Moving down the depth chart, the Bucs have Josh Keyes and Jeremiah George, former practice squad players who saw time on the active roster in limited capacity. Contributing mainly on special teams, George played in 15 games and had a blocked punt late last season, while Keyes played in seven games with seven tackles. Both linebackers should have an opportunity to reclaim their roles in camp, which likely means special teams coverage and reserve duty on defense.
From there, Tampa Bay has Jermauria Rasco, a 23-year old LSU product who they signed off the Packers’ practice squad in February 2016, and Adarius Glanton, a former undrafted FAU Owl who the team signed away from Carolina. Glanton played in 10 games in 2014, tallying 12 tackles and a forced fumble before being designated to the practice squad for all of 2015. And rounding out the Bucs current depth at linebacker is Darius Eubanks. Undrafted out of Georgia Southern in 2013, Eubanks was a member of three different practice squads before coming to Tampa Bay in 2015. He spent 2014 with the Browns on IR with a shoulder injury. All three would seem to have a steep climb in making the active roster, especially if Tampa Bay draft’s a linebacker this week.
WHAT THE BUCS NEED AT LINEBACKER If there’s one area on defense that Tampa Bay doesn’t seem to have a pressing need for starters at, it’s the linebacker position. With a reigning Pro Bowler in Lavonte David, a draft steal believed to be on his way to stardom in Kwon Alexander, and a productive veteran in Daryl Smith, who they’re confident has some good years left in the tank, the Bucs would seem to have their three starting spots covered. Not to mention two experienced special teamers – George and Keyes – to contribute in the third phase. So while there could always be a value to good to pass up on, it’s widely expected that the team will address the D-Line and secondary before thinking to add another linebacker to the mix this April.
BUCS’ BEST BET AT LB (EARLY 1-4)
Aaron Wallace – UCLA – Senior – 6-3, 240 – 4.57
Hailing from the school that’s home to linebackers Anthony Barr, Eric Kendricks and Myles Jack, to name a few, it makes sense that Wallace didn’t crack the starting lineup at UCLA until fall of 2015. Wallace, the son of former Oakland Raider linebacker Aaron Wallace Sr., made 65 stops with 12.5 for a loss and seven sacks during his senior campaign. He’s been described as a well-built, quick-twitch athlete, but his lack of experience and natural instincts will likely make him a Day 2 or 3 selection. For Tampa Bay, a raw and relatively unknown prospect with a high ceiling would make sense in the later rounds, as he could learn behind their talented veteran corps for a year or two. Coming from an impressive school with one promising season on his resume, Wallace could be a player to keep an eye on come the mid to late rounds of the draft.
BUCS BEST BET AT LB (LATE 5-7)
Antwione Williams – Georgia Southern – Senior – 6-3, 249 – 4.72
Williams led the Eagles in tackles last season with 107, including 10.5 for a loss and four sacks. An honorable mentioned All-Sun Belt selection, Williams also had a team-high four forced fumbles. The GSU product turned heads at the East West Shrine game in St. Petersburg, FL and could be another Day 3 option for the Bucs.
TOP 10 LINEBACKERS
1. Myles Jack – UCLA – Junior – 6-1, 245 – 4.56 The only drawback regarding Jack seems to be a torn meniscus suffered last September, one that kept him out the rest of the year. Before the injury, he was an All-American candidate and a consensus top linebacker in all of college football. Jack also put his elite athleticism on display at UCLA, taking 28 carries for 113 yards as a running back his sophomore year. Jack, who recorded 163 tackles combined over his freshman and sophomore year, will almost certainly hear his name called in the Top 10.
2. Darron Lee – Ohio State – Sophomore – 6-1, 232 – 4.46 After starting his career at OSU as a safety, Lee bulked up and replaced Ryan Shazier, the 2014 first-round pick of the Steelers, at Sam linebacker and excelled. Lee played the “walkout” role, meaning he covered, blitzed and often played in space, and totaled 81 tackles, with 16.5 for loss, 7.5 sacks and two interceptions as a redshirt freshman. He would go on to earn Defensive MVP in their National Championship victory over Alabama. Last season, Lee started all 13 games, recording 66 tackles, 11 for a loss and 4.5 sacks en route to second-team All-Big 10 honors. He’ll also likely be a first-round pick.
3. Leonard Floyd – Georgia – Junior – 6-6, 244 – 4.59 Floyd tallied 75 tackles and four sacks last season at Georgia, enough to lead him to forgo his senior season. Primarily a 3-4 edge rusher, Floyd had 12.5 sacks combined over his first two seasons in Athens, though a shoulder surgery kept him out of the bowl game in 2014. WalterFootball.com recently had Floyd pegged to Tampa Bay, but the tall outside linebacker is seen as a better fit in a 3-4 scheme, a first-round option in all likelihood
4. Reggie Ragland – Alabama – Senior – 6-1, 247 – 4.62 Arguably the draft’s top inside linebacker, Ragland has been described as a “do-it-all” linebacker in Nick Saban’s dominant defense. During his junior year in 2014, Ragland finished second on the team with 95 tackles, including 10.5 for a loss. He continued his ascent in 2015, being voted SEC Defensive Player of the Year and earning an invite to the Senior Bowl. Some have called him overaggressive at times and fixated on stopping the run, but his instincts and reliability in an NFL-type scheme will make him a first-round pick.
5. Kamalaei Correa – Boise State – Junior – 6-3, 243 – 4.69 Of Correa’s 95 combined tackles over the last two seasons, 28 of them have been for a loss. The 6-3 linebacker also had 18 sacks in that span – 26 games – though his numbers from sophomore to junior year dipped, going from 59 to 39 tackles and 12 to 6 sacks. Despite the decrease in production and fear from some scouts that he lacks aggression, Correa will likely be taken in the second round this week.
6. Kentrell Brothers – Missouri – Senior – 6-0, 245 – 4.89 After racking up an unprecedented 152 tackles in 2015, Brothers, who has more stops than any other player in college football over the past two years, earned first-team All-SEC. A weak-side linebacker who shifted to the middle in nickel situations, Brothers’ versatility and production should warrant a second-round selection. His drawback is his size and the fear from scouts that he won’t match up physically in the NFL.
7. Su’a Cravens – USC – Junior – 6-1, 226 – 4.66 After recording 78 tackles, 14.5 for loss, and leading the Trojans with 5.5 sacks, Cravens decide to opt for the NFL draft instead of his senior year. A three-year starter, Cravens played a hybrid role in college, often switching from linebacker to safety. The knock on Cravens, known for his speed and tenacity, is his tendency to get out of control and out of position at times. Still, he’ll likely be selected in the top two rounds.
8. Deion Jones – LSU – Senior – 6-1, 222 – 4.59 Jones was almost entirely off NFL teams’ radars before the 2015 season, after just one start in his first three years. But after leading the Tigers with 100 tackles, 13.5 for loss, and five sacks, LSU’s reigning defensive MVP figures to be a second-round pick. Due to his smaller stature, some teams see him as a linebacker/safety tweener, but his aggressive play and impressive one hit wonder will keep the Butkus Award finalist as a Day 2 selection.
9. Joshua Perry – Ohio State – Senior – 6-4, 254 – 4.68 Perry collected 105 tackles as a senior weak-side linebacker, en route to first-team All-Big 10 honors. He had an even better season in 2014, though, leading the National Championship team with 124 tackles and gaining a reputation as a one-speed linebacker – fast. Because Perry lacks elite size and plays himself out of position at times, he’ll likely be selected in the second or third round.
10. Kyler Fackrell – Utah State – Senior – 6-5, 245 – 4.72 Fackrell returned from a serious ACL injury as a junior to emerge as a first-team All-Mountain West selection in 2015, leading the nation with five fumble recoveries and a team-high 15 tackles for a loss. Fackress also had four sacks and was a finalist for the Butkus Award, subsequently earning an invite to the Senior Bowl. He’s seen as a developing prospect with a lean build, and will probably be taken in the late second or third round.
BEST OF THE REST
11. Jordan Jenkins – Georgia – Senior – 6-3, 259 – 4.80 Jenkins finished his senior year at Athens with 59 tackles, 10.5 for loss, and four sacks. The third- or fourth-round prospect is seen as a tweener, though mainly suited for a 3-4 scheme like his teammate Leonard Floyd.
12. Jaylon Smith – Notre Dame – Junior – 6-2, 223 – 4.67 Once considered as a first-round prospect, Smith’s Fiesta Bowl ACL injury will almost certainly sideline him throughout his rookie season. But after 115 tackles to close out an excellent collegiate career, earning All-American honors in 2015, Smith’s skill-set and upsidel could still get him selected in the late second round. His story will be an interesting one to follow during the draft, as a team will have to weigh the importance of long-term strategy against immediate impact.
13. Tyler Matakevich – Temple – Senior – 6-0, 238 – 4.76 Matekevich became just the seventh player in NCAA history with four straight 100-tackle seasons. While he’s known for his competitiveness and drive, the stout inside linebacker is not as physically gifted as other linebackers and will probably be an early Day 3 selection.
14. B.J. Goodson – Clemson – Senior – 6-1, 242 – 4.62 Goodson led an impressive Clemson defense with 127 in 2015, including 15 for loss and 5.5 sacks. He also had five fumble recoveries during the last two years, more than any other Tiger. Goodson is likely a third- or fourth-round option.
15. Scooby Wright III – Arizona – Junior – 6-0, 239 – 4.81 Wright doubled his output from freshman to sophomore year, going from 83 tackles to 163 while leading the country with 29 tackles for loss. His 2015 season, however, was limited due to a torn meniscus and he curiously decided to forgo his senior year. The inside linebacker is widely projected as a fourth-round pick.
Zach is entering his 3rd year covering the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as a writer for PewterReport.com. Since 2014, he's handled a large part of the beat reporting responsibilities at PR, attending all media gatherings and publishing and promoting content daily. Zach is a native of Sarasota, FL, and a graduate of the University of Tampa. He has also covered high school football for the Tampa Tribune and the NFL for Pro Player Insiders.
Contact him at: email@example.com