WHAT THE BUCS HAVE AT DEFENSIVE TACKLE
At full strength and full health, the Bucs are strong but not deep on the interior defensive line. Starters Gerald McCoy and Clinton McDonald make for a solid duo inside when together, but the latter was shelved with a pectoral injury for the final 10 games of 2015. McCoy, Tampa Bay’s three-time first-time All-Pro, played in 15 of 16 contests last year but was often battling through an assortment of injuries. The team parted ways with a pair of veteran DTs in Tony McDaniel and Henry Melton after one-year stints in Tampa Bay. Oft-injured Akeem Spence remains on the roster and has performed well when healthy, but that’s been an infrequent occurrence the past two seasons. The Bucs slid defensive end William Gholston into the middle on occasion last year. Whether that continues in 2016 under new defensive coordinator Mike Smith remains to be seen. Rounding out the Bucs’ current DTs are Davon Coleman (signed to a futures contract in February and entering his third season) and 2015 practice squad member Derrick Lott.
WHAT THE BUCS NEED AT DEFENSIVE TACKLE
Depth and a little good fortune. This is a position general manager Jason Licht and head coach Dirk Koetter could be addressing early in the draft. As mentioned above, the interior line’s in good hands with a healthy McCoy, McDonald and Spence but the chances of sustaining that trio through 16 games are slim. And there’s no McDaniel and Melton veteran presence to turn to when a man goes down. Something needs to be done, and will be, to address the position’s depth through both the draft and free agency this offseason.
BUCS’ BEST BET AT DT (EARLY 1-4) DT Sheldon Rankins – Louisville – Senior – 6-1, 299 – 5.03
Rankins is at or near the top of most boards breaking down the defensive tackle position. At 6-foot-1, 299-pounds he’s on the small side for an interior lineman, but he makes up for it with his quickness, speed and burst. Rankins accumulated 14 sacks and 26.5 tackles for loss over the past two seasons while playing on Louisville’s three-man line.
BUCS’ BEST BET AT RB (LATE 5-7) DT Joel Heath – Michigan State – Senior – 6-6, 293 – 5.02
Heath converted from defensive end to defensive tackle by packing on about 30 pounds leading up to his junior season. That resulted in starting most of his last two seasons in East Lansing. Heath’s regarded as a high-effort, high-motor player and is still honing his skills playing inside with added weight on his 6-foot-6 frame. He was a redshirt freshman when current Buccaneer William Gholston was playing his final season at Michigan State. Heath was compared to Gholston while in college and the similarities remain as he enters this week’s NFL Draft.
TOP 10 DEFENSIVE TACKLE 1. DT Sheldon Rankins – Louisville – Senior – 6-1, 299 – 5.03 Rankins is at or near the top of most boards breaking down the defensive tackle position. At 6-foot-1, 299-pounds he’s on the small side for an interior lineman, but he makes up for it with his quickness, speed and burst. Rankins accumulated 14 sacks and 26.5 tackles for loss over the past two seasons while playing on Louisville’s three-man line.
2. DT A’Shawn Robinson – Alabama – Junior – 6-4, 307 – 5.20
Robinson brings a big, powerful presence to the line and is considered to pro-ready in terms of strength. He played all over Alabama’s defensive 3-4 front. Robinson is considered raw as a pass-rusher but can stuff the run as well as any DT in this year’s draft class.
3. DT Jarran Reed – Alabama – Senior – 6-3, 307 – 5.21
Another big body from Alabama’s National Championship team that can command double-teams and clog holes. Reed isn’t as athletic as his Robinson, his ‘Bama teammate, but has quick feet and good body control to not get flushed out of plays.
4. DT Robert Nkemdiche – Ole Miss – Junior – 6-3, 294 – 4.87
Nkemdiche has been a sought-after commodity since high school and that remains the same as he transitions from college to the NFL. He’s made headlines for the wrong reasons and that may hurt his eventual selection a little, but not enough for teams to keep passing on a potential star. His frame, build and athleticism allow Nkemdiche to play and produce anywhere on the defensive line.
5. DT Vernon Butler – Louisiana Tech – Senior – 6-4, 323 – 5.33
One of the bigger options at the position this year, Butler returned for his senior year to refine his technique and improve his draft stock at Louisiana Tech. Scouting reports say he needs continued work on staying low at the point of attack.
6. DT Kenny Clark – UCLA – Junior – 6-3, 314 – 5.06
Clark’s draft stock continued to rise since turning in quality combine numbers. He’s considered a run-stuffer first, pass-rusher second, but his excellent body control and explosive burst can get him through gaps quickly.
7. DT Chris Jones – Mississippi State –Junior – 6-6, 310 – 5.03
Jones’ quickness for a 6-foot-6 tackle receives praise but he only started one full season in Starkville and needs to improve his pass-rushing technique while adding some variety to his moves.
8. DT Austin Johnson – Penn State – RS Junior – 6-4, 314 – 5.32
Another big, physical DT, Johnson did nothing but improve while in Happy Valley. He recorded 15 tackles behind the line last season and 6.5 sacks while bull-rushing his way through offensive lines. Johnson may lack the speed to rack up sacks in the NFL but has the size and power to consistently disrupt running attacks.
9. DT Andrew Billings – Baylor – Junior – 6-1, 311 – 5.05
Billings played nose tackle at Baylor and his power and physicality is considered second-to-none. Needs to improve his technique at the point of attack to take his game to another level.
10. DT Adolphus Washington – Ohio State – Senior – 6-3, 301 – 5.17
An anchor of the Buckeyes’ defensive front the past two seasons, off-the-field issues delivered a blow to Washington’s draft stock. He can get through a gap with quickness and is a ferocious tackler.
BEST OF THE REST 11. DT Javon Hargrave – South Carolina St. – Senior – 6-1, 309 – 4.93
Hargrave exhibits the quickness and athleticism of a pass-rushing tackle and excelled at it with South Carolina State. He may still be able to hold his own against bigger, more skilled linemen, but there’s a question if he can consistently hold his ground against the run.
12. DT Hassan Ridgeway – Texas – RS Junior – 6-3, 303 – 5.02
Ridgeway added over 50 pounds to his frame during his time in Austin, moving from the edge to the interior. He didn’t lose too much of his speed and quickness and plays well with his weight, Ridgeway’s still learning how to navigate traffic inside.
13. DT Maliek Collins – Nebraska – Junior – 6-2, 311 – 5.03
Collins’ biggest attributes are his overall athleticism and body control. His strength and power are questionable and may need to further improve his point-of-contact technique to counter that and avoid being washed out of plays.
14. DT Sheldon Day – Notre Dame – Senior – 6-1, 293 – 5.07
High-motor tackle with an explosive burst who can attack backfields and plays through the whistle. The biggest concern with Day, though, is his ability to avoid injuries.
15. DT Jihad Ward – Illinois – Senior – 6-5, 297 – 5.11
Ward’s tall with long arms and athletic, and he played on the edge and inside. There are questions about his ability to handle the down-after-down physicality of playing tackle in the NFL and may end up on the end depending on the defensive scheme.
16. DT D.J. Reader – Clemson – Senior – 6-3, 327 – 5.33
Reader’s considered an athletically gifted upside talent, especially considering his size. Didn’t churn out big numbers at Clemson and missed a portion of last season because of personal reasons.
17. DT Willie Henry – Michigan – RS Junior – 6-3, 303 – 5.00
Henry competes hard and has a good first step. He holds his ground well but needs work on his pass-rushing skills.
18. DT Darius Latham – Indiana – Junior – 6-4, 311 – 5.32
Latham plays with good technique at the point of attack and uses his big body well to win one-on-ones. Character issues are there after multiple suspensions during his stay in Bloomington.
19. DT Matt Ioannidis – Temple – Senior – 6-3, 299 – 5.03
Played inside and outside at Temple and is a relentless attacker on passing downs. Needs to get stronger and learn to control his movement to be a consistent producer.
20. DT Nile Lawrence-Stample – Florida State – Senior – 6-1, 320 – 5.13 (Pro Day)
Lawrence-Stample can take up space, stuff the run and attract double-teams with the best of them. Pushing through to the backfield quickly and getting to the quarterback are skills that can be improved.