WHAT THE BUCS HAVE AT DEFENSIVE END The Buccaneers will head into training camp with Robert Ayers as one of their their starting defensive ends. On the other side on the line, look for Will Gholston and Jacquies Smith to compete for the starting job. Ayers was acquired in free agency this offseason after recording 14.5 sacks and three forced fumbles during his last two seasons with the New York Giants. Although ankle and hamstring injuries cut his season short, Smith finished 2015 with a career high seven sacks, despite playing in only 12 games. Look for Smith to work on improving against the run in 2016. Buccaneers head coach Dirk Koetter indicated that Smith will miss some of OTAs due to a cleanup shoulder surgery. Gholston suited up for all 16 games this season and finished with three sacks, a career high. Gholston will be an unrestricted free after the 2016 season. After being efficient against the run in previous seasons, watch for Gholston to improve his ability to get to the quarterback as he enters a contract year. After acquiring George Johnson last offseason, he produced zero sacks for the Buccaneers in 2016. Howard Jones was able to rack up five sacks last season and could be a guy to watch for at training camp. Some other linemen fighting for spots include Kourtnei Brown, Martin Ifedi, and Cliff Matthews.
WHAT THE BUCS NEED AT DEFENSIVE END It’s evident that Tampa Bay will look to bolster their pass rush through the draft after tying for 14th in the league in sacks last season. Robert Ayers will turn 31 a week before the regular season opener. Can he build on what was a breakout year for him in 2015? After racking up seven sacks in only 12 games, the future is looking bright for Jacquies Smith. However, can he stay healthy and continue to improve? Gholston will need to continue to better himself in the pass rush. All the defensive ends can benefit greatly from being coached by Jay Hayes, who has had a lot of success around the league. Look for the Bucs to add a new member along their defensive line during this draft.
BUCS’ BEST BET AT DE (EARLY 1-4) DE Carl Nassib – Penn State – Senior – 6-7, 277 – 4.84
Nassib worked his tail off at Penn State, rising from walk-on, to special teamer, to leading the NCAA in sacks during his senior season. Going along with his 15.5 sacks, Nassib forced six fumbles in 2015, despite playing just four snaps combined against Michigan and Michigan State due to an undisclosed injury. The Nittany Lion also tacked on 19.5 tackles for loss while winning the Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year Award. Nassib may lack the experience that other pass rushers have in this draft, but his navigation, motor, hands, and natural instinct could warrant success at the next level. Watch for Nassib to be taken around the third or fourth round.
BUCS’ BEST BET AT DE (LATE 5-7) DE Matt Judon – Grand Valley State – Senior – 6-3, 275 – 4.73 Judon was a force to be reckoned with in 2015, racking up 20 sacks, 23.5 tackles for loss, and three forced fumbles. The Division 2 standout tied for fourth at the NFL Combine with 30 reps of 225 pounds on the bench press. Judon returned for his junior season after suffering an ACL tear in 2013. He possesses a lot of strength and displayed that multiple times during his time at GVSU, tearing through opposing tackles. Judon has multiple moves he can use to rush the passer and although he’s a raw prospect right now, he possesses ability to turn into a very efficient NFL pass rusher.
TOP 10 DEFENSIVE ENDS 1. DE Joey Bosa – Ohio State – Junior – 6-5, 269 – 4.86 Although Bosa ran a slower than expected 40-yard dash at the combine, he still remains one of the top edge rushing prospects in the draft. Bosa has the body, hands, and strength to be a great 4-3 end or even a 3-4 outside linebacker. His final year at Ohio State was a little bit slower than the previous two, however he was still very persistent and strong against the run. He recorded just five sacks in 2015 after having 13.5 his sophomore year, and 7.5 his freshman year. Look for Bosa to be a top-10 pick this year due to his confidence, talent, and flexibility.
2. DE DeForest Buckner – Oregon – Senior – 6-7, 291 – 5.03 Buckner could very well be the first defensive end taken in this draft, and for good reason. The former Duck totaled 10.5 sacks in his last season, along with 17 tackles for loss, and 83 total tackles. His physique, strength, and work ethic makes him an attractive pick early in the first round. With 163 tackles in the last two seasons, Buckner possesses a ton of power and field coverage ability. A tough player to block against the run with improving pass rushing skills will be gone in the top 10.
3. DE Noah Spence – Eastern Kentucky – Redshirt Junior – 6-2, 251 – 4.8 Spence has a great motor and his endurance is unparalleled, playing with great speed and effort through four quarters. After failing two drug tests at Ohio State and being banned from the Big Ten, Spence transferred to Eastern Kentucky to prove that he had matured off the field. Spence made 22.5 tackles for loss and produced 13.5 sacks in his final year. Spence’s off the field issues may concern some teams, but he appears to have matured and learned from his past. After standing out at the Senior Bowl and at EKU, look for Spence to be a first round pick with slight potential to fall to second round.
4. Shaq Lawson – Clemson –Redshirt Junior – 6-3, 269 – 4.7 Lawson got the chance to start in 2015 after the departures of Vic Beasley and Malliciah Goodman and he did not disappoint Tigers fans. Lawson finished the season with 12.5 sacks and 25.5 tackles for loss. He possesses a ton of size with great power at the point of attack. That size will make the transition to the NFL easier on him than others. Although he isn’t the most athletic prospect, he could make a big impact alongside Gerald McCoy, who draws double teams often. Lawson’s size and strength make him a first round pick.
5. Kevin Dodd – Clemson – Clemson – Redshirt Junior – 6-5, 277 – 4.86 Although Dodd was not hyped up to the extent that Shaq Lawson was in 2015, he definitely had the nation’s attention at the end of the year. Dodd totaled 12 sacks and 23.5 tackles for loss, including a three sack performance in the national championship game. Dodd doesn’t take plays off and has the size to make the transition to the NFL. He has great instincts on the field and really improved as the year went on. Dodd’s continuing improvement shows his ability to learn and that could be very enticing for the Bucs and Jay Hayes. Look for Dodd to be off the board by the end of the first round or early second round.
6. Emmanuel Ogbah – Oklahoma State – Redshirt Junior – 6-4, 273 – 4.63 Ogbah played some great football this past season, racking up 13 sacks and 17.5 tackles for loss. He won Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year and played both end positions throughout the season. Ogbah is also a very big and powerful pass rusher who can truck through contact much easier than some other prospects. He was very proficient against the run, but he’ll need to add some counters to his arsenal of pass rushing moves. Ogbah could slip down to the second round and be a big grab for the Buccaneers.
7. Shilique Calhoun – Michigan State – Redshirt Senior – 6-4, 251 – 4.82 An All-American for three straight seasons, Calhoun has a lot to like as a defensive end. Calhoun racked up 10.5 sacks and 14.5 tackles for loss in his final season that ended in a loss to Alabama. With 26.5 sacks in three season, Calhoun has great burst that allows him to put consistent pressure on a quarterback. Look for Calhoun to be a third or fourth round pick, as teams want to see him improve his defending against the run and add some strength.
8. Bronson Kaufusi – Brigham Young – Senior – 6-6, 285 – 4.87 Kaufusi had a lot of success rushing the passer and finished his senior year with 11 sacks and 20 tackles for loss. He has strong hands and refuses to give up on a play. Kaufusi could improve on his strength to see success at the next level, but his development throughout college make him a promising prospect in the fourth or fifth round.
9. DE Carl Nassib – Penn State – Senior – 6-7, 277 – 4.84
From walk-on, to special teamer, to the NCAA sack leader. Penn State was a fun ride for Nassib who totaled 15.5 sacks, 19.5 tackles for loss, and six forced fumbles in 2015. Nassib’s lack of experience may be alarming to some teams, but he has introductory talent that could translate well to the next level. Nassib is another edge rusher that could go in the third or fourth round.
10. Charles Tapper – Oklahoma – Senior – 6-3, 271 – 4.59 After a strong sophomore season, Tapper’s productivity dropped off his junior year, but rose back up for his senior season as a Sooner. His size and power make him an attractive prospect, but he is still very raw. He’ll need to get better with his hand usage and add some counter moves, but expect him to come off the board in the third or fourth round.
BEST OF THE REST 11. Victor Ochi – Stony Brook – Senior – 6-1, 246 – 4.86 Ochi had a very strong senior season, finishing with 13 sacks and 16.5 tackles for loss. A tough player with long arms and and explosive power, Ochi’s biggest hurdle will be making the jump to the speed of the NFL. However, he brings the power and talent that could see him fitting well on an NFL roster. Look for Ochi to be a fifth round pick.
12. Dean Lowry – Northwestern – Senior – 6-6, 296 – 4.87 Lowry brings his all to every play and finished up his senior season with 13.5 tackles for loss and three sacks. He has a great motor and refuses to give up on a play, but he struggles at the point of attack due to short arms and small hands. His heart is admirable and although his pass rushing isn’t the best, he has shown flashes of power that could see him get drafted in the sixth or seventh round.
13. Ronald Blair – Appalachian State – Redshirt Senior – 6-2, 284 – 5.15 After missing much of 2013 with a thumb injury, Blair came back determined for success in his final two seasons. His senior year saw him make 7.5 sacks and 19 tackles for loss. Blair has good power at the point of attack and coaches have raved about his work ethic. Although undersized, Blair could put on some weight and really add value to some of that power he brings to a line. Blair’s another guy that should go in the sixth or seventh round.
14. Matt Judon – Grand Valley State – Senior – 6-3, 275 – 4.73 A Division II standout, Judon racked up 20 sacks, 23.5 tackles for loss, and three forced fumbles during his senior year. The strength that allowed him to put up 30 reps on the bench press certainly jumps out to a lot of teams looking for a late round steal. A raw prospect, Judon has the potential to develop into an efficient pass rusher in the NFL after being picked late.
15. Jason Fanaika – Utah- Redshirt Senior – 6-2, 271 – 4.92 Fanaika is another guy with a high motor who produced four sacks and 10.5 tackles for loss during his senior season. Although his pass rushing skills are not where they need to be, Fanaika could still be effective off the edge in the NFL. It will be important for him to get down to the weight he was at during his junior season to see the success teams are looking for. A strong prospect with average foot quickness could be a seventh round pick.