FAB 3. Bucs Must Use A Premium Pick For Pass Rusher
Tampa Bay ranks dead last in the NFL with just seven sacks in six games, and there is no doubt that the Bucs will be addressing the defensive end position early in the 2018 NFL Draft.
No one would be surprised if general manager Jason Licht uses the Bucs’ first-round pick on an edge rusher, especially with Tampa Bay’s defensive ends currently combining for just two sacks this season.
Noah Spence, who suffered another dislocated shoulder in Week 3 at Minnesota and was placed on injured reserve after injuring it again in Buffalo, has one sack in the past 11 games dating back to last year, and that came in the 2017 season opener. One has to wonder what a second shoulder surgery for Spence means for his NFL career.
The other sack came from aging veteran Robert Ayers, who had his first of the year at Buffalo. That was Ayers’ second sack in the last nine games, dating back to 2016. Ayers, who will be 33 by the start of the 2018 season, likely won’t see the final year of his contract, which would pay him $5 million in base salary and $1 million in a roster bonus, as there is no dead cap charge if he’s released in the offseason.
When Licht took over as Tampa Bay’s general manager in 2014 the roster needed to be overhauled and the offense completely rebuilt. Licht has spent five draft picks on offensive linemen and wide receivers, three picks on linebackers, two picks on tight ends and two picks on running backs.
If you want to know why the Bucs’ pass rush is struggling, look no further than the fact that the team has only drafted one – Spence – in Licht’s tenure. Tampa Bay has even drafted more fullbacks (two) than defensive ends (one), and drafted as many kickers (one). The Bucs offense needed the focus, but now it’s the defense’s turn on draft day.
History shows that if a team is going to draft a pass rusher, it’s best to do so in the first or second round. A quick look at the current NFL sack leaders for each team supports that claim, as 19 former first-round picks lead their respective teams in sacks, while five second-round picks are their teams’ sack leaders.
First-Round Sack Leaders – 19
Los Angeles Chargers: Melvin Ingram – 8.5 sacks
Arizona: Chandler Jones – 8 sacks
Denver: Von Miller – 7 sacks
Carolina: Julius Peppers – 6.5 sacks
Detroit: Ezekiel Ansah – 6 sacks
New Orleans: Cameron Jordan – 5 sacks
Baltimore: Terrell Suggs – 4.5 sacks
New York Giants: Jason Pierre-Paul – 4.5 sacks
Oakland: Khalil Mack – 4.5 sacks
Tennessee: Derrick Morgan – 4.5 sacks
Cleveland: Myles Garrett – 4 sacks
Houston: Jadeveon Clowney – 4 sacks
Philadelphia: Brandon Graham – 4 sacks
Pittsburgh: T.J. Watt – 4 sacks
Pittsburgh: Cameron Heyward – 4 sacks
Green Bay: Nick Perry – 3.5 sacks
Atlanta: Vic Beasley Jr. – 3 sacks
Buffalo: Jerry Hughes – 3 sacks
Tampa Bay: Gerald McCoy – 2 sacks
Second-Round Sack Leaders – 5
Jacksonville: Calais Campbell – 10 sacks
Dallas: DeMarcus Lawrence – 9.5 sacks
Washington: Preston Smith – 4.5 sacks
New England: Kyle Van Noy – 3.5 sacks
Atlanta: Brooks Reed – 3 sacks
Third-Round Sack Leaders – 3
Chicago: Akiem Hicks – 6 sacks
Kansas City: Justin Houston – 5.5 sacks
New York Jets: Demario Davis – 2.5 sacks
Fourth-Round Sack Leaders – 5
Minnesota: Everson Griffen – 9 sacks
Cincinnati: Geno Atkins – 4 sacks
San Francisco: Elvis Dumervil – 3.5 sacks
New England: Trey Flowers – 3.5 sacks
Indianapolis: John Simon – 3 sacks
Round 5-7/Undrafted Sacks Leaders – 6
Detroit: Anthony Zettel (6th round) – 6 sacks
Miami: Cameron Wake (Undrafted) – 6 sacks
Pittsburgh: Vince Williams (6th round) – 4 sacks
Los Angeles Rams: Matt Longacre (Undrafted) – 4 sacks
Seattle: Michael Bennett (Undrafted) – 4 sacks
Tampa Bay: Clinton McDonald (7th round) – 2 sacks
At 2-4 after losing three straight games, the Bucs are currently slated to pick sixth in first round of the 2018. It’s a shame to be thinking ahead to the draft in late October rather than the postseason, but here we are, Bucs fans. Unfortunately with 10 games remaining Tampa Bay is closer to a top 5 pick in the draft than it is a playoff spot.
The top defensive end prospect is clearly North Carolina State senior Bradley Chubb, who is 6-foot-3, 275 pounds and has 6.5 sacks this year after recording 10 last year. Chubb, who could be a top 10 pick in 2018, has 44.5 tackles for loss, 21.5 sacks, five forced fumbles, four pass breakups, one fumble recovery and one interception in his Wolfpack career.
Clemson’s 6-foot-4, 265-pound defensive end Clelin Ferrell is a redshirt sophomore that has NFL scouts excited. Ferrell has 11.5 career sacks with 5.5 this year after recording six as a redshirt freshman last year. Ferrell got his first two career sacks against Louisville’s Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Lamar Jackson last year. Ferrell had a sack and a forced fumble in a 14-6 win against Auburn and was magnificent in a 27-24 loss at Syracuse with career highs in tackles (nine) and sacks (3.5). He’s viewed as a first-round prospect whenever he enters the NFL Draft.
Ferrell’s Clemson teammate Austin Bryant is similarly sized at 6-foot-4, 265 pounds and has an identical 5.5 sacks on the season along with a forced fumble and an interception. Bryant, a junior who has 9.5 sacks in his career, showed how dominant he can be with a four-sack effort in the Tigers’ win over Clemson.
Bucs wide receiver Adam Humphries, a Clemson alum, believes either Tigers defensive end could help Tampa Bay.
“They are carbon copies of each other,” Humphries said. “They are both so athletic. You see them make a play and it’s just one after another. They could change jerseys and you wouldn’t know who was who. Bryant just had an interception – a nasty one-handed interception. They’re just guys who can make plays all around the field. We haven’t had many Clemson Tigers in this locker room. I’m pulling for them. I would love to see some more Clemson Tigers in here.”
When LSU’s Arden Key is focused he can be a dominant pass rusher, as he showed as a freshman with five sacks and last year with a school-record 12 sacks, including two of the uber-athletic Jackson in the Buffalo Wild Wings Citrus Bowl win over Louisville, and two forced fumbles. But the 6-foot-6 Key weighed 238 pounds last year and he ballooned up to 270 pounds this year following offseason shoulder surgery.
Key is now down to 255 pounds and has 3.5 sacks on the season after missing the first two games, including three and a forced fumble in the last two games. Key was once regarded as the potential first overall pick, but now might slip in the first round if he comes out in this year’s draft.
Another first-round pass rusher is Boston College’s Harold Landry, an undersized 6-foot-2, 250-pounder who had a breakout season with an NCAA-leading 16.5 sacks, seven forced fumbles and one interception in 2016. He’s been a marked man in 2017 and has just five sacks and no forced fumbles through eight games. Landry was completely neutralized by two of the top left tackles this year in Notre Dame’s Mike McGlinchey and Clemson’s Mitch Hyatt in back-to-back weeks, which didn’t help his draft stock. Landry is still a good prospect, but hasn’t looked as dominant has he did a year ago.
Ohio State’s defensive end of Tyquan Lewis has 20 career sacks, including eight in both the 2015 and 2016 seasons, in addition to 3.5 sacks this year. The 6-foot-3, 265-poinder is not as quick-twitch as Key or Ferrell is, and may not be as dynamic as Chubb is, but he’s a quality end that Tampa Bay will certainly be scouting as a potential early-round pick.
Licht and director of college scouting Mike Biehl have to hope that this year’s crop of pass rushers is more productive than last year’s draft class. The 29 total defensive ends drafted in 2017 have combined for an underwhelming total of 19 sacks so far this year. The six first-round defensive ends that were drafted last year have combined for only 10.5 combined sacks.
Myles Garrett, whom Cleveland drafted first overall, leads all rookie defensive ends with four sacks. The other first-round defensive ends were San Francisco’s Solomon Thomas, Washington’s Jonathan Allen, Philadelphia’s Derek Barnett, Atlanta’s Takkarist McKinley and Dallas’ Taco Charlton. Barnett has 2.5 sacks, Thomas has two sacks, McKinley has one and Allen, who was just placed on injured reserve, has one. Charlton has yet to record a sack for the Cowboys.
Joey Bosa, the first defensive end drafted in 2016, had 10.5 sacks for San Diego during his rookie season. DeForest Buckner, who was selected next by San Francisco at No. 7, had six sacks. Leonard Floyd, who was the third edge rusher drafted last year by Chicago at No. 9, had seven sacks.
Wherever the Bucs end up picking in the first round, Licht needs to select the right pass rusher. Tampa Bay needs an instant impact player next year because it will likely be starting over at the defensive end position.