The first wave of NFL free agency has come and gone and the Bucs were busy with a mix of re-signings and new additions. Tampa Bay still isn’t done adding depth and competition to its 2019 roster and could add a few more free agents prior to the 2019 NFL Draft, which is just over a month away.
Bucs general manager Jason Licht, director of player personnel John Spytek, director of college scouting Mike Biehl and the team’s scouts have been at the East-West Shrine Game practices in addition to the Senior Bowl practices, the NFL Scouting Combine and a few pro days as they begin to stack talent on the team’s draft board. Tampa Bay has the fifth overall pick due to the team’s 5-11 finish for a second straight season, which led to the firing of head coach Dirk Koetter.
Bruce Arians was hired to replace Koetter and brings a veteran staff of coaches with him to Tampa Bay, including defensive coordinator Todd Bowles, who primarily runs a 3-4 scheme, but will adapt his defense to fit the talent on the roster. The defense needs more playmakers in the secondary, and could use some youth along the defensive line if the team moves on from six-time Pro Bowler Gerald McCoy, who turned 31 in February, and his $13 million salary.
The Bucs could also use some immediate help at linebacker as Kwon Alexander moved on to San Francisco in free agency, Jack Cichy is coming off a torn ACL, and Kendell Beckwith missed the entire 2018 campaign while attempting to recover from a broken ankle. The prognosis isn’t good for Beckwith as his ankle injury may be career-ending.
On the offensive side of the ball, the Bucs re-signed left tackle Donovan Smith to a three-year deal with the hopes that he can become a more consistent player under the tutelage of new line coaches Harold Goodwin and Joe Gilbert. Tampa Bay could use some help at right tackle and the right guard position, which is the weakest spot on the team.
Aging and oft-injured right tackle Demar Dotson turns 34 this year and the Bucs need to find a successor. Veteran Earl Watfield, who played for Arians and Goodwin in Arizona, was signed as competition for Alex Cappa at right guard, while Caleb Benenoch moves back to right tackle after floundering at guard last year. There are doubts as to whether Benenoch could eventually succeed Dotson, though.
More help is needed at running back where Peyton Barber was a one-man gang, while second-round pick Ronald Jones II struggled to earn playing time and didn’t do much with it once he got it after a very disappointing preseason that leads some to believe he might be a bust. Barber was re-signed to a one-year deal, and the Bucs need a long-term answer at the running back position.
Despite trading malcontent wide receiver DeSean Jackson and losing wide receiver Adam Humphries in free agency, Tampa Bay still has a plethora of offensive weapons in the passing game with Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, newly added wide receiver Breshad Perriman and tight ends O.J. Howard and Cameron Brate. Arians has said that Jameis Winston, who is entering his fifth-year option season, will be the unquestioned starter this year and Ryan Griffin has been signed to compete for the backup job.
The Bucs have an interest in pursuing former Tampa Bay quarterback Mike Glennon in free agency, and if they do, the team likely won’t draft a quarterback and instead go with veterans behind Winston.
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Round 1: Kentucky OLB Josh Allen
6-5, 262 – Senior
Previous Pick: LSU ILB Devin White
PewterReport.com was the first to feature LSU inside linebacker Devin White going to Tampa Bay with the fifth overall draft pick in our initial 2019 Bucs’ Six-Round Mock Draft and also had White going to the Bucs at No. 10 in a trade down scenario with Denver in our second Bucs mock draft. That could very well still happen, as Tampa Bay needs help at inside linebacker after losing Kwon Alexander to San Francisco in free agency.
But let’s mix it up and illustrate a scenario where one of the top draft prospects falls to Tampa Bay at No. 5. If Oklahoma quarterback Kyler Murray goes No. 1 overall to Arizona and another team, such as Miami, Denver or the New York Giants trade into the top 4 to select Ohio State QB Dwayne Haskins, one of the top three defenders – Ohio State edge rusher Nick Bosa, Alabama defensive tackle Quinnen Williams or Kentucky edge rusher Josh Allen would be available for the Bucs at No. 5.
In this case it’s Allen, who would be an ideal fit as weakside outside linebacker in Todd Bowles’ 3-4 base defensive scheme. Allen would be the perfect heir apparent to Jason Pierre-Paul, who turned 30 on January 1, and a player that could come in and be an impactful situational player as a rookie without the pressure of playing every down as he transitions to the NFL in his first season.
Allen was one of the most improved players in the country as he stayed for his senior season and improved his sack total from seven to 17 and his tackles for loss from 10.5 in 2017 to 21.5 tackles for loss last year. Allen also set career highs with five sacks, four passes defensed and two fumble recoveries in helping the Wildcats to one of the best seasons with a 10-3 campaign, capped off with a bowl win over Penn State.
“He showed unbelievable maturity in his decision with that. We talked about it for a long time on many occasions,” Stoops said. “He believed in himself to get into position not just for draft money, but for life-changing money. It helped us. It helped him. Ultimately he bet on himself and his team.”
Allen credits the arrival of Brad White in 2018 for his development. As chronicled in a story for NFL.com, Allen bought into what his new outside linebackers coach was selling.
A month after the Indianapolis Colts fired Chuck Pagano in 2017, Stoops plucked White from Pagano’s former staff. White was a Colts defensive quality control assistant in 2013, when Robert Mathis led the NFL in sacks with 19.5, and was promoted to outside linebackers coach beginning in 2015, where he oversaw Mathis’ final two NFL seasons. Allen couldn’t have been happier to work under a new coach who came straight from the NFL and worked with one of the league’s elite pass rushers. But rushing the passer isn’t where White’s demands of Allen began. He outlined a list of things he would have considered weaknesses in Allen’s game had he been evaluating him for the Colts:
1) He was too soft in setting the edge against the run. 2) His path to the quarterback needed a better speed-to-power transition. 3) He needed to master an inside move as a pass rusher.
Allen made significant strides in all three areas, turning himself into a player White can hardly recognize against tape from his junior year. In 2017 he finished with seven sacks; last year that number ballooned to 17, No. 2 in the nation behind Louisiana Tech’s Jaylon Ferguson (17.5).
Allen’s Kentucky Career Defensive Stats
2015: 4 tackles, 1.5 tackles for loss, 0.5 sack, 1 PBU
2016: 62 tackles, 8.5 tackles for loss, 7 sacks, 4 FFs
2017: 66 tackles, 10.5 tackles for loss, 7 sacks, 3 PBUs, 2 FFs, 1 INT
2018: 88 tackles, 21.5 tackles for loss, 17 sacks, 5 FFs, 4 PBUs, 2 FRs
Allen had a very good NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis where he ran a 4.63 in the 40-yard dash with a 1.61 in the 10-yard split at 6-foot-5, 262 pounds. Allen gained nearly 20 pounds of size by hitting the weight room in advance of his senior season and it paid off as he converted speed to power on the field. Allen also excelled in the 20-yard shuttle with a 4.23 time and by benching 225 pounds 28 times in Indy.
Allen isn’t the elite athlete that Mississippi State defensive end Montez Sweat is, but he is a more polished pass rusher with better technique and better bend off the edge. What makes Allen special is his ability to rush off the edge, create fumbles – evidenced by 11 in his career – and also drop in coverage. Pro Football Focus reveals that Allen dropped into coverage half of his snaps during his senior season. Imagine if he rushed the passer 20 percent more. Would he have wound up with 20 sacks last season? Perhaps.
The selection of Allen gives the Buccaneers another top-notch edge rusher and some continuity at the all-important position of weakside linebacker in Bowles’ defense. While Tampa Bay could benefit from trading down a few spots and stockpiling picks while selecting a player like Sweat or White, Allen is an elite player with the production and work ethic that makes him a legitimate top 5 pick in this year’s NFL Draft. He’s simply too good to pass up for the Bucs, who get a premier pass rusher that can rack up sacks and force fumbles.
View Josh Allen’s highlights from last season below and see why the Bucs wouldn’t trade down if he’s on the board when Tampa Bay is on the clock.
Click below to view Tampa Bay’s second-round pick in 2019.