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SR’s Fab 5 is a collection of inside scoop, analysis and insight from yours truly, PewterReport.com publisher and Bucs beat writer Scott Reynolds. Here are a few things that caught my attention this week at One Buc Place and around the NFL.
FAB 1. White Is A Legend In The Making
This is my 24th year of covering the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and I haven’t been this excited about a first-round pick since my first year covering the team.
That first year covering the Bucs would be back in 1995 when I walked in the door with defensive tackle Warren Sapp and linebacker Derrick Brooks – two first-round draft picks that wound up being first-ballot Hall of Famers.
There have been a few first-round picks I’ve really liked over the years, including the recent selections of wide receiver Mike Evans, quarterback Jameis Winston and tight end O.J. Howard. I even saw the wisdom in drafting defensive tackle Vita Vea last year, as I believe he will be Gerald McCoy’s replacement at the three-technique defensive tackle spot – perhaps as soon as this year.
But nothing like the excitement I’ve felt over the selection of LSU inside linebacker Devin White. I’ve predicted that White would be the Bucs’ pick dating back to January for a reason, and I’ve advocated for his selection by Tampa Bay in my SR’s Fab 5 for months. The 2018 Butkus Award winner is an absolute stud – a legend in the making – and I’ll stake my professional reputation on that.
Not to pile undue expectations on the 21-year old White, but I wouldn’t be surprised if White becomes the NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year.
I wouldn’t be surprised if White unseats Luke Kuechly as the NFC’s Pro Bowl middle linebacker sooner rather than later.
I wouldn’t be surprised if White makes multiple Pro Bowls in Todd Bowles’ defense where he’ll shine over the course of his Bucs career.
I wouldn’t even be surprised if White ends up in the Pro Football Hall of Fame if he stays healthy and can help turn the Bucs into perennial winners with another trip or two to the Super Bowl in the next decade. Yes, White has that type of ability.
Those are a lot of big “ifs,” but after meeting White in person I can see why the Bucs chose him at No. 5, and probably had him ranked as high as No. 3 on their draft board behind Alabama defensive tackle Quinnen Williams and Ohio State defensive end Nick Bosa if I had to guess.
White is more than up to the task and doesn’t mind any lofty expectations that I – or anyone – places on him because his own expectations for his career in Tampa Bay will be even higher.
“As I sit here for the first time, I would like the fans to know that you’re getting a great guy and you’re going to get an even greater guy on the field,” White said in his introductory press conference. “Everybody has seen my potential at the college level, but I feel like I’m an unfinished prospect. I feel like my game is at a high level. But with the coaching staff here, the defensive coaching staff – Coach [Mike] Caldwell, Coach Todd – I feel like my game can go to a whole new level.
“So what they’ve seen in college, tell them don’t expect [that] – expect even more. And that’s just knowing what type of coaches I’m going to be around. I know they’re going to want the best from me and they’re going to require the best from me and I’m going to give them the best out of me.”
There are some Bucs fans that cling to the notion that drafting a middle linebacker with the fifth overall pick isn’t as valuable as drafting an edge rusher like Kentucky’s Josh Allen, whom Tampa Bay passed over to select White. In a traditional 4-3 defense there is logic to that argument, but in Bowles’ 3-4 defense and with the way that he plans to use White and his 4.42 speed, who will blitz a lot from the interior, the 2018 Butkus Award winner was the absolute perfect fit.
Arians loved the pick and vigorously defended it last Friday following Whites press conference.
“That value bullshit about linebackers – they don’t know our defense first of all,” Arians said of those who criticize the selection of White. “We blitz up the middle a ton, and when you watch him come off the edge, he’s special. And we’re going to use that with Lavonte [David] more than we ever have in the past. I think our fans and everybody thinks we’re going to be in a 4-3 defense, which is not what we play. It’s not a guy sitting in the middle running sideline-to-sideline. He’s a very disruptive player and we build everything on disruption. So yeah, he was the perfect fit of all fits for us.”
Mentioning White in the same breath as Sapp and Brooks, who are two of the franchise’s all-time greats along with the late Hall of Fame defensive end Lee Roy Selmon, might seem awfully premature on my part and perhaps even blasphemous. But you come to PewterReport.com to get my opinion on your favorite team, and I try to not hold back with my praise or criticism of this team and deliver the unvarnished truth as I see it.
I could feel White’s presence at his press conference and in the 20-minute interview session with the Bucs’ beat writers in the media workroom that followed. He spoke with the gravitas and poise that Brooks had early on in his career. Players, media and fans were just simply drawn to Brooks’ charisma and confidence as a rookie, and his speed and playmaking ability were evident from the start.
White has that similar aura about him. He draws you in like a moth to a flame in the same way Jameis Winston’s infectious personality does to his offensive teammates. It’s a natural leadership ability that is rare.
Lavonte David has worn a “C” on his chest for a long time, and he – like McCoy – is a lead-by-example guy the way legendary Bucs cornerback Ronde Barber was. Barber was happy to be Brooks’ lieutenant in Tampa Bay and never felt comfortable addressing the team or being the focal point on defense. David is the same way, and gladly deferred the vocal leadership role to Kwon Alexander over the last few years for the same reason Barber deferred to Brooks. To David’s credit, he did step up his leadership last year and became more vocal down the stretch when Alexander went down during the sixth game of the year after tearing his ACL.
Look for White to quickly assert himself as a leader in Tampa Bay – even if it’s David and outside linebacker Jason Pierre-Paul who wind up wearing the “C” on their chest this season.
In addition to having some of Brooks’ traits, White also has some of Sapp’s leadership characteristics, too. Although he doesn’t have Sapp’s surly, gruff personality, the LSU product does have Sapp’s will to win, swagger and to demand accountability from other players – and that’s a trait that has been missing from Tampa Bay’s defense for a decade.
White’s swagger was apparent when I asked White about the prospects of facing three Super Bowl quarterbacks in New Orleans’ Drew Brees, Atlanta’s Matt Ryan and Carolina’s Cam Newton twice a year in the NFC South.
“Those are all people that I can take down and get them on the ground,” White said. “Cam Newton, the bigger you are the harder you fall. Matt Ryan, I don’t think he can outrun me. And Drew Brees, I definitely don’t think he can outrun me. He can get it out quick, but I can get in the passing lanes and I can hold his guys. I’m ready to accept the challenge. You know the bigger the challenge, the better I play. I told [the Bucs] last night: pressure either busts pipes or makes diamonds. For me it makes diamonds.”
That’s the kind of thing Sapp would say, although Sapp would say it with a frown and a killer look in his eye. When White says it, it comes through with an ultra-confident Brooks-esque smile on his face.
I wasn’t expecting such candor from White following his initial press conference, but it was absolutely refreshing to hear.
Don’t think I’m putting too much emphasis on the fact that White won the press conference before playing his first down in red and pewter. But understand that this was the same type of first impression that White made with the Bucs when he had a 15-minute interview with Arians, Bowles, general manager Jason Licht, director of pro personnel John Spytek, director of college scouting Mike Biehl and inside linebackers coach Mike Caldwell at the NFL Scouting Combine.
The swagger, the confidence, the accountability, the leadership – it’s all there to see, plain as day.
It’s not all talk with White, either.
Like Bowles, Arians and Licht have said, White’s tape speaks for itself. The fact that White will play alongside Lavonte David and learn from him will only accelerate his learning curve as a player and a leader during his rookie season.
Sooner rather than later, White will become the face of the Bucs’ defense and its leader for years to come.
“He was younger than the guys at LSU when he was a sophomore captain,” Arians said. “Look, some guys have it. Other guys say, ‘Let me do my job and follow me.’ Alright, he’s going to do that, but he’s going to say, ‘Hey, man,’ and he’s going to hold some guys accountable, and that we need.
“When I looked at the board, and there were some really quality players, but for what we needed, and what his attributes are, he was a perfect fit. That doesn’t happen to you very often. And I mentioned to [the media] earlier that you don’t draft for need. But when need and the player match, man, you’ve got a home run. This is one of those home runs. This was a grand slam.”
To put it in football terms, the drafting of White might be the game-winning Hail Mary touchdown that was needed to bring Tampa Bay’s defense back to not only respectability – but to dominance like the drafting of Sapp and Brooks did for this franchise in 1995.