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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 The Right Fit For Bucs In Round 1
With the fifth overall pick in the 2019 NFL Draft the Tampa Bay Buccaneers select … who?
An edge rusher? An interior pass rusher? An offensive lineman?
How about a Pro Bowler?
Because at the end of the day, that’s general manager Jason Licht’s obligation with the team’s first-round pick.
Licht needs to draft Pro Bowlers, and he’s done so twice with wide receiver Mike Evans and quarterback Jameis Winston, who have each made one Pro Bowl since being drafted at No. 7 overall in 2014 and at No. 1 overall in 2015, respectively.
If he can stay healthy, tight end O.J. Howard, the Bucs’ first-rounder in 2017, has the makings of being a Pro Bowler. The jury is still out with Licht’s other first-rounders, cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III (2016) and defensive tackle Vita Vea (2018).
Who are the potential Pro Bowlers in this year’s draft?
I think Ohio State defensive end Nick Bosa, who is regarded as more talented than his brother, Joey, is one, and Kentucky outside linebacker Josh Allen is another. Both would look great in red and pewter, but will likely be gone by the time Tampa Bay is on the clock at No. 5.
I want to say Alabama defensive tackle Quinnen Williams is a potential Pro Bowler, but after just one dominant season at Alabama as a full-time starter I have some reservations. I remember that massive, athletic defensive tackle Dan Wilkinson went first overall in 1994 and that another massive, athletic defensive tackle Darrell Russell went No. 2 overall in 1997 and they had just two Pro Bowls between them.
Is Williams better than former Alabama defensive tackle Jonathan Allen, who went No. 17 overall to Washington? Perhaps. Allen has nine sacks through two years with the Redskins, so we’ll see.
Outside of those three, the only other defender I feel rock solid about with regards to being a Pro Bowler is LSU linebacker Devin White, who was featured as Tampa Bay’s selection in PewterReport.com’s first two 2019 Bucs’ 6-Round Mock Drafts.
I also feel comfortable about Mississippi State defensive end Montez Sweat, and Houston defensive tackle Ed Oliver – although I like him better than the Bucs do from what I’ve heard.
But there is a reason why we slotted White to the Bucs, and a reason why Tampa Bay just gushed about him in their formal interview with the consensus All-American and Butkus Award winner. He’s special – more special than Sweat or even Oliver.
“It was a great meeting,” White said of meeting with the Bucs’ brass in Indianapolis. “We watched strictly film. They talked about Kwon [Alexander]. He was on the wall. They had pictures on the wall. They had great players on the wall. And I come in and they say, ‘What are you looking for?’ I said, ‘The best player on the team.’”
In White’s mind that was Alexander, who also played linebacker at LSU.
“They were telling me I remind them of him,” White said. “I got to be the beast out there. I got to be the energy. And that’s what he brings to that team. And I just told them, ‘Ya’ll got a great pick sitting there at five and if you can put two players there right beside each other? What can an offense do? And I think they really thought about it.”
Alexander, a pending free agent who is coming off a torn ACL, remains unsigned. Tampa Bay is expected to let him test free agency and then have an opportunity to match any offer he gets. Still, there are no assurances that Alexander will return to the Bucs in 2019, and if he does, that he will automatically return to his pre-injury form in his first season back from ACL surgery.
If the Bucs move on from Alexander, you can all but pencil in White with their first-round pick. Yet even if Alexander returns, drafting White in the Top 10 wouldn’t be a waste, either.
The Bucs will be transitioning to a 3-4 defense under Todd Bowles, and the team desperately needs linebackers. Like Alexander, Jack Cichy, the team’s sixth-round pick last year, is also rehabbing a torn ACL. And Kendell Beckwith, the Bucs’ third-round pick in 2017, missed all of last season after suffering a broken ankle in February of 2018 and that injury sounds like it is career-ending.
But the Bucs would be in nickel defense 70 percent of the time, right? And that would mean that Alexander and Lavonte David would be on the field and White, who would be the team’s No. 1 pick, would be on the bench? Keep in mind that Alexander has missed 18 games in his four years in Tampa Bay, and David just turned 29 and has missed five games over the past two seasons due to injury.
By the time White would be in his fifth-year option, David would be 33 years old. It’s time to start thinking about his eventual replacement, and David’s contract only runs through 2020 when he turns 30.
There are some of you reading this that don’t like the idea of drafting a potential rotational linebacker in White. But if the Bucs keep defensive tackle Gerald McCoy, any defensive tackle that gets drafted would be a rotational player, too. The same could be said on the edge where Jason Pierre-Paul and Carl Nassib are the starting rush linebackers/defensive ends.
Perhaps more importantly, this draft is flush with edge rushers and interior defensive linemen through the fourth round. Inside linebacker is one of the thinnest positions in this year’s draft – and White is clearly the best of the bunch.
“It’s very important for me to be the top inside linebacker in this draft,” White said. “I feel I put the work in. You know, I showed it throughout my career and progressed every year. I did it throughout my career on and off the field as far as being a great guy, just having the attitude of going to work every day and leading my team. That was the biggest thing. I was the leader on my team. I was named team captain two years in a two, as a sophomore and junior. So I feel like I put everything together. I came out here and I’m ready to compete. I’ve been doing a lot of formal interviews and I’m knocking them out of the park and doing everything right.”
White, a junior entry, recorded 286 tackles, 28.5 tackles for loss, nine passes defensed, 8.5 sacks, four forced fumbles, three fumble recoveries and one interception in his three years at LSU. He’s posted at least 123 tackles, 12 tackles for loss, three pass breakups and three sacks in each of the last two seasons.
“I’ve got a high motor and from the minute I step on the field until the clocks says 0:00 – you’re going to get 140 percent out of me,” White said.
In hindsight, was Patrick Willis, who was drafted 11th overall in 2007 by San Francisco, worthy of being drafted at No. 5? Of course – the 6-foot-1, 240-pounder was a seven-time Pro Bowler and a five-time first-team All Pro.
In hindsight, was Ray Lewis, who was drafted 26th overall in 1996 by Baltimore, worthy of being drafted at No. 5? Of course – the 6-foot-1, 240-pounder was a 13-time Pro Bowler, a seven-time first-team All Pro, a two-time Super Bowl champion and a Pro Football Hall of Famer.
White measured 6-foot, 237 pounds at the NFL Scouting Combine and blazed a 4.42 time in the 40-yard dash, which was the fastest time for a linebacker this year and one of the fastest times for a linebacker in Combine history. By comparison, Willis ran a 4.51 in the 40-yard dash in Indy before running a 4.37 at his pro day. Lewis ran a 4.58 at his pro day back in 1996.
“My all-time favorites are Ray Lewis and Patrick Willis,” White said. “I also had the opportunity to speak with Patrick Willis this past weekend. Somebody put up a stat with Patrick Willis’ years at Ole Miss and my two years at LSU and they were very similar. I had him beat in a lot of categories. I posted it on Instagram and tagged him and he reached out. He was like, ‘This is amazing.’ He’s in the College Football Hall of Fame. So I was very stunned and very proud of the amount of work I did.”
White’s college coach, Ed Orgeron, has coached both Lewis from his days at Miami, as well as Willis during their time together at Ole Miss. Orgeron puts White in their company.
“In my opinion, he’s the best linebackers in the country,” Orgeron said. “I’ve been a part of Ray Lewis, I’ve been a part of Patrick Willis, and he’s right in that group. No question, one of the best I’ve ever been a part of, as far as a middle linebacker and I still think he’s going to get better. I think he’s going to have a tremendous pro career.”
There have been 10 inside linebackers that have been drafted in the Top 20 over the past decade, the best of which has been Carolina’s Luke Kuechley, who was selected ninth overall in 2012 and has made six Pro Bowls in seven seasons.
Bears LB Roquan Smith – 8th overall – 2018
Bills LB Tremaine Edmunds – 16th – 2018
Cowboys LB Leighton Vander Esch – 19th overall – 2018
Jets LB Darron Lee – 20th overall – 2016
Steelers LB Ryan Shazier – 15th overall – 2014
Ravens LB CJ Mosley – 17th overall – 2014
Panthers LB Luke Kuechly – 9th overall – 2012
Raiders LB Rolando McClain – 8th overall – 2010
Seahawks LB Aaron Curry – 4th overall – 2009
Texans LB Brian Cushing – 15th overall – 2009
Smith, who ran a 4.51 in the 40-yard dash at last year’s Combine at 225 pounds, was the eighth overall selection last year by Chicago.
“I don’t want to follow his footsteps and be a top 10 pick,” White said. “I want to exceed his footsteps and be a top 5 pick. Our goal, he went No. 8, and all respect to him – he really made this possible for me. He did it, and I’ve got to bring a little more.”
New Bucs head coach Bruce Arians said that Tampa Bay needs to add more speed on defense and White checks that box, in addition to being able to generate tackles for loss and sacks as a blitzer.
“You always start within your division,” Arians said. “Building your offense or building your defense – especially your defense and stopping the quarterbacks that we have in our division. We have to have pass rushers and man-to-man cover guys, which is a little bit different from the guys that we’ve had. Looking at the division we’re in, we need to play great defense like they did a few years back and put a lot of speed on the field because we are facing a lot of speed.”
They don’t get much faster than the playmaking White, who would bring leadership and playmaking ability to Tampa Bay – in addition to his speed. White is a future Pro Bowler, and that’s what Licht and the Bucs need – whether it’s at No. 5 or perhaps trading down a few spots and still getting him inside the top 10.