Round 3: Western Illinois DT Khalen Saunders
6-0, 320 – Junior

Previous Pick: Memphis RB Darrell Henderson
Tampa Bay may be moving on from six-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle Gerald McCoy this offseason and could use another versatile big man inside. McCoy turns 31 in February and is scheduled to make $13 million in base salary, which may be too much for the salary cap-strapped Bucs to absorb in 2019. Vita Vea, last year’s first-round draft pick, can play either nose tackle or the three-technique defensive tackle spot in new defensive coordinator Todd Bowles’ 3-4 Under defensive scheme.

Drafting another athletic big man like Saunders only gives Bowles more chess pieces to play with on the Bucs defense. Scouts at the Senior Bowl told PewterReport.com that Saunders has the size and strength to hold up at the point of attack against double teams at 320 pounds, but also has the agility and quickness to penetrate and play the three technique.

Saunders has a physical presence and plays with a mean streak. Pass rushing interior defensive linemen are in demand, and Saunders posted a combined 14 sacks and 25 tackles for loss over the past two years. The Western Illinois coaching staff also used his athleticism near the goal line where Saunders rushed for a touchdown on a dive in 2017 and caught a touchdown pass in 2018.

“He’s one of the most respected young men to ever walk through our program,” Western Illinois head coach Jared Elliott told Yahoo Sports. “That’s not because he’s a great player. He’s a tremendous teammate and extremely selfless. He’s not a flashy kid; he’s had to work and earn everything he’s gotten.”

Saunders’ Western Illinois Career Defensive Stats
2015: 27 tackles, 4.5 tackles for loss, 2.5 sacks, 1 FR
2016: 48 tackles, 5 tackles for loss, 1.5 sacks, 2 PBUs, 1 block
2017: 57 tackles, 12 tackles for loss, 7.5 sacks, 3 PBUs, 3 FF, 1 FR
2018: 72 tackles, 13 tackles for loss, 6.5 sacks, 1 PBU, 1 FF, 1 FR

One of the more athletic interior linemen in this year’s draft, Saunders became an Internet sensation this fall when his agent posted a video of him doing a backflip at 320 pounds. Saunders replicated the backflip at the end of Tuesday’s practice at the Senior Bowl, wowing his teammates and the Oakland Raiders coaching staff.

Saunders had a dominant week of practice at the Senior Bowl where he consistently won 1-on-1s in pass rush/pass protection drills, and showed the ability to disrupt the line of scrimmage in team drills during practice and the game where he had the game’s first sack, in addition to three tackles. But Saunders also showed off his infectious personality in media interviews where he revealed that his fiancée was about to give birth during Senior Bowl. Saunders became a father after Tuesday’s practice, watching the birth of his daughter on FaceTime from Mobile, Ala.

Saunders’ commitment to his football future was demonstrated by the fact that he stayed at the Senior Bowl to take part in the practices rather than leave early, and only took a 24-hour reprieve to visit his daughter in Chicago on Friday before flying back to Mobile for the game Saturday morning.

“There’s no doubt if I love this game or not,” Saunders said.

The Bucs want players who love football, and it’s clear from his collegiate production and his decision to stay in Mobile for the Senior Bowl to impress NFL scouts instead of flying home to witness the birth of his daughter that Saunders truly loves the game. Pair Saunders and Vea up and the Bucs could have a dominant interior for years to come.

Click below to view Tampa Bay’s fourth-round pick in 2019

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Scott Reynolds is in his 25th year of covering the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as the vice president, publisher and senior Bucs beat writer for PewterReport.com. Author of the popular SR's Fab 5 column on Fridays, Reynolds oversees web development and forges marketing partnerships for PewterReport.com in addition to his editorial duties. A graduate of Kansas State University in 1995, Reynolds spent six years giving back to the community as the defensive line coach for his sons' Pop Warner team, the South Pasco Predators. Reynolds can be reached at: [email protected]
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Nobody

If we draft Devin White with all of the other defensive talent that is going to be on the board (good chance of Polite, who may have the highest ceiling in the draft, Greedy Williams, Oliver) all on the board… Man oh man. And where is the evidence that he can cover? That position plays bracket coverage on RBs when the play Man and that’s only when the aren’t playing Matchup Quarters and when this position isn’t blitzing (which it is a LOT). They don’t play a lot of C2 or C3 Zone. So how do we know we aren’t… Read more »

BucWild02

Jachai Polite reminds me of Gaines Adams. Nuff said.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uMwNZksPvNQ
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=quaBywgZEBs&t=23s

I do like Oliver. He sheds blocks like no one else. Reminds me of Aaron Donald. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O8wtF9zN4-M

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BucWild02

Jachai Polite reminds me of Gaines Adams. Nuff said.

I love Ed Oliver. He is my favorite player in the top of the draft. He sheds blocks better than anyone coming out this year. Guy is like Aaron Donald Part 2 IMO.

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BucWild02

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O8wtF9zN4-M

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Nobody

Polite reminds you of Gaines Adams?

That might be the most unfitting comparison I could possibly imagine.

Do you mean outside of the elite acceleration/get-off, the unique ability to bend the edge (only 3 players in this draft can Dip and Benc the edge at full-go; Allen, Polite, and Burns), the crazy lateral mobility/agility/body control, the violence and tenaciousness…

And the fact that Adams was 6’6” with crazy length…

Outside of those differences, they’re basically the same prospect?

That is an apples to neutron stars comparison.

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BucWild02

I respect your strong opinion of the player. Its clear you really admire his ability. I tried attaching highlight video comparing the styles. It is “awaiting moderation” and will likely never make it to the boards. That said, if the Bucs end up taking the player, I hope you are right and I am wrong.

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GrayBalls

Oliver is my favorite player in this draft, too

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seat26

Love this draft.

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skyrider

This draft, in my opinion is loaded in a lot of positions of need for the Bucs…they just gotta pick the right fit for this team.

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Casey Morgan

There is 0% chance the Bucs take a LB first round. At least 2 of the 3 injured you mentioned will be back. We have other bigger needs like O Line & Corner…

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EricNV

I hope you’re correct, that both Alexander and Beckwith will both be back and in full form this September. However, in the event that Alexander’s rehab is NOT going as well as predicted, the White pick makes all the sense in the world. The other reasons to draft White, in my opinion, is for best player available at that pick and White may be an upgrade from Alexander. I like both Williams and Oliver in the first round, and I wouldn’t be disappointed in the least if the Bucs drafted either of those guys, but guys like White don’t come… Read more »

n341

Beckwith will not be back. His injury was most likely career ending,

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EricNV

Based on Licht’s comments yesterday, I agree. I really wish it weren’t the case because I really liked Beckwith’s rookie season, but it is what it is.

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DT25

I like this one better than 1.0 That said, not sure I take a QB in the 4th round…even though we do need a backup, that seems a bit early for one. I’d prefer we add another CB earlier than the 7th round, too. And I still think taking a LB in the 1st isn’t necessary with our other needs, but with a trade back it’s a little more palateable. 2nd round is pretty good though, I like Allen and Lindstrom as potential targets at that point (probably would prefer Oruwariye and Lindstrom…with a DL in the 1st like Oliver,… Read more »

DT25

All of that said, this draft shows that if Quinnen, Bosa, or Allen are all taken before pick 5, trading down is probably the best route we can take. If we can address the OL, DL, and either CB or LB all in the top 2 rounds, that would be huge for this team.

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Bucsfan1983

8.5 career sacks in college for your top 10 pick? No thanks!! Much better talent at T, CB, DT for the Bucs to pick.

If it’s not Bosa or Allen, I’m not taking a DE, 3-4 OLB in the top 10.

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DT25

Allen was one of his 2nd round picks. Devin White was the top 10 pick (after a trade back).

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Bucsfan1983

I’m talking about Josh Allen from Kentucky

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surferdudes

I guess PR thinks the Bucs will pay Smith a kings ransom, and believe Dotson has another year left in him? Both players were a weak link on an offensive line that under performed last year, thinking they’ll be better this year could get Jameis killed. If they’re going to pay a LT franchise money, go after the Pats FA LT instead of Smith. The Pats have their other LT coming back, and rarely pay players, so I’d target him. Otherwise draft a LT with the first pick, and pick up a proven LB like CJ Mosely from the Ravens.… Read more »

EricNV

You want 2 or more rookies to start on the OL in September again? How’d that work out for us last time? The Bucs may not be in a position to do anything else but pay Smith franchise tag money. IMO, starting one new rookie on the OL is fine, but not two especially considering Arians is in a “reload” frame of mind, not a “rebuild”.

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Dman

Like the trade down to add a pick. O Line, D Line are our weak links, with an honorable mention to the D backfield.

I love Devin White, but we need to start with the O line, focus on the trenches. Drafting a RB is just dumb. And leaving CB to our last 7th round pick is even worse.

C’mon Scott.

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scox17

Yes, this draft is MUCH better than 1.0. But it’s still concerning that we don’t address the secondary until late. Are you assuming we add some veterans in FA? I think regardless we have to draft secondary at some point in this upcoming draft.

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Jonathan Goodfellow

No RT and just a 7th rd at CB and yet we are taking a backup QB at rd 4? I would freaking riot. I also dont know about taking a DT in round 3. I would rather try to restructure McCoy or bring in depth in FA.

Otherwise this is a decent draft. Take best RT or CB in rd 3 and maybe DT in rd 4 if necessary

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EricNV

You think McCoy is willing to take $4-$5 million just to stay in Tampa and pray that Arians is as good as advertised? I just don’t see it but it’d be great for us if he did.

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thegeebo

This draft works for me (depending on what we do in FA). However, if we bring back Kwon (which I don’t think we should do) or are able to sign Jordan Hicks or CJ Mosley (which I think we SHOULD do), then go for BPA at 5 which will likely be a game wrecking DL. If they do decide to trade down to 7, they may still be able to get Gary or Oliver, which would be huge. If they trade down further, perhaps Sweat. I think DL has to be the priority in the first round. Rate this item:Thumb… Read more »

10Baraa

Love this mock! Khalen Saunders and Chris Lindstrom would be absolutely incredible selections!

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macabee

Bucs Mock Draft – V2 Draft Strategy – Trade Down I will look to trade down in this scrum of teams trying to get the best QB. There is no team before the Bucs that need a QB and to trade up before the Bucs will cost a premium. In this mock, we will trade down with the Jags at #7 to get Dwayne Haskins. To trade into the top 5 for only a 3rd round pick is not enough with the demand from 4 other QB needy teams between 6 and 15. Throw the trade values chart out of… Read more »

Bucsfan1983

This looks much better than Scott’s mock. Still not a fan of White with our FRP. However I do like the Oruwayrie and Powers picks. I could live with the Willis and Omenihu picks. Renfroe is basically Adam Humphries, and I think Hump will be re-signed. We needy a speedy WR, a true deep threat to replace MeJax, so I would be looking for faster than Renfrow/Humphries/Justin Watson type.

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BucRy

What do you think out solution for RT and LT will be Mac?

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macabee

You don’t want to here my answer. Trust me! Lol. This is going to be a whole PR article all to itself. Gonna be a lot of disappointed Buc fans. I will use BA’s own words from a recent Sirius XM interview!

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BucRy

I think most people know how I feel about smith..I’m sure he’s going to come back which ofcourse I don’t feel too good about, but if Arians sees him as good then I guess I’ll support it too..

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macabee

BucRY, Listen at this podcast starting at minute 3:25. It will shed some light. I will try to find the Arians interview for you.

https://www.pewterreport.com/bucs-pewter-nation-podcast-episode-106-the-reclamation-project/

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BucRy

Thank you Mac, you’re always a life saver.

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macabee

DT25 must have heard the same interview! Lol.

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Bucsfan1983

I’ll give you my opinion. Re-sign Donovan(not at LT $), move to RT.

Trade down, get more picks. Take Andre Dillard in round 1, there is your franchise blind side protector for Winston for 10 years.

Grab a Guard like Powers end of rd2/rd 3.

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DT25

I like this one better as well. And to answer BucRy’s question, we’d likely franchise Donovan to push the need back a year, and Dotson would remain the starter at RT (which is all but certain to happen this year anyways).

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BucD

We’re going to use a top 5/10 pick on a big inside linebacker who moves quick FOR HIS SIZE? Who hasn’t shown much ability to cover and thus is a bit of a question mark? In the ridiculously pass-happy stage that the NFL currently is in? I just do not get the hype surrounding Devin White. I mean, even the highlight reel posted with the pick was lackluster. I get that there will be some uncertainty in how Beckwith will look after being out all of last year, and that Kwon may or may not be back, but taking a… Read more »

EricNV

The only thing lackluster in White’s video is all of the celebration scenes from the first 60-90 seconds.

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Bucsfan1983

8.5 career sacks in 3 seasons for a pass rushing 3-4 OLB, is pretty low.

For comparison sake, Von Miller had 33.5 sacks in 3 seasons in college.

So yeah I’m not taking White at 5 or in top 10, like you would with Miller, who was picked 2nd overall.

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Matt

Love the picks! I think I like RB Devin Singltary better but still all great pics.

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Kimba

I really like every one of these picks except the qb–get him later if possible–really good article, love the idea to trade down and still get Devin White–wow also a fan of Khalen Saunders

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jmarti2

love this mock draft!!! even tho white is a beast its not a position need. If we gonna turn this around we need to start with the o line. protect your Qb!! so ill say draft jonah williams TACKLE first round . with that second round pick for sure take chris lindstrom GUARD . With these 2 we get consistent play and smart play no penalties . focus the defense with the remaining draft and free agency . look at the colts they solidify the o line with the draft last year and they went to the playoffs 🙂 Rate… Read more »

drdneast

McCoy just isn’t worth $13 million, more like the $8 million Curry was paid this year and he under performed for his money.
Whatever the case, other teams see the same film as the Bucs do and no one is likely to over pay a 31 yo DT.
McCoy might take less money to go on a team projected to go to the playoffs, but getting there is never a guarantee unless it’s the Patriots and the team also has to need a DT at the same time.

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Gruden4President

Didnt even bother reading the mock after seeing the 1st pick.

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76Buc

“including defensive coordinator Todd Bowles, who primarily runs a 3-4 scheme, but will adapt his defense to fit the talent on the roster.”
That is exactly what Mike Smith said upon being hired. Let’s hold him to it this time PR.

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owlykat

I know BA doesn’t like Rookie LTs but once he sees Liedtke’s film on his first try as a LT and outplaying Turnstyle Smith in two Preseason Games with no holding penalties and no sacks, he is smart enough, if his excellent OT Coach can’t develop a 1st round OT quick enough, to realize he can trust Liedtke there til the rookie develops. Paying D. Smith Franchise Pay takes too much valuable cap space and putting D. Smith back at LT will cost BA the turnaround he wants and may injure Jameis again without a proven backup! That is just… Read more »

hamilton

like moving down for more picks,thats about it.

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