Underclassmen entries help bolster NFL Draft class, and the 2020 NFL Draft is no different. Friday, January 17 was the final day for underclassmen to forego their college football eligibility and declare for the NFL Draft.
With needs at safety, defensive tackle and outside linebacker, PewterReport.com identifies 10 underclassmen draft prospects on defense that the Bucs could target in the 2020 NFL Draft.
DAY 1 UNDERCLASSMEN OPTIONS FOR BUCS
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Clemson LB-SS Isaiah Simmons – 6-4, 230 – Junior
The versatile Simmons won the Butkus Award as the top linebacker in the nation with 97 tackles and six sacks, but Clemson also had him play a rover safety position where he broke up six passes and picked off three more. At 6-foot-4, 230 pounds with great speed, Simmons could play linebacker or strong safety in the NFL, and the Bucs could use more size in the secondary and another blitzer, too. Simmons is a sure-fire first-rounder, and likely a Top 15 pick.
LSU SS Grant Delpit – 6-3, 203 – Junior
Delpit, the Jim Thorpe Award winner, is a tall, rangy safety that has great instincts, awareness and football I.Q. He’s a fair tackler in run support, but he’s not overly physical in run support. Fresh off the national championship game, Delpit had two interceptions and two sacks after recording five sacks and five interceptions as a sophomore. If the Bucs want a ball-hawking safety, Delpit would be a candidate in the first round.
Alabama SS Xavier McKinney – 6-1, 200 – Junior
Some NFL scouts prefer McKinney over Delpit because he’s a harder hitter and better tackler. McKinney is a box strong safety that is vicious in run support and a very effective blitzer. McKinney has great closing speed and is solid in coverage in the slot and in the flat. McKinney is a first-round prospect and is coming off a great junior season where he had 95 tackles, three sacks, three interceptions and four forced fumbles. McKinney would actually be a better fit in Tampa Bay due to the fact that he’s a better tackler and blitzer out of the slot.
Iowa DE A.J. Epenesa – 6-6, 280 – Junior
Epenesa is a big, physical, powerful force off the edge where he recorded 36 tackles for loss, 26.5 sacks and nine forced fumbles in three years at Iowa. He doesn’t have much ability to bend given his big frame, but he has strong, powerful hands that allow him to do damage to offensive tackles. Epenesa is a smart player and always rushes the passer with a plan. The Bucs have seen plenty of Epenesa over the years as they drafted his Hawkeyes teammate Anthony Nelson last year. Epenesa is a first-rounder who could be an edge rusher or a defensive end in Todd Bowles’ scheme.
Penn State DE Yetur Gross-Matos – 6-5, 264 – Junior
Gross-Matos is a long-armed relentless pass rusher, who has terrorized the Big 10 over the last two years where he’s racked up 94 tackles, 34.5 tackles for loss, 17 sacks and two forced fumbles. Gross-Matos has a great mix of size, strength and and speed, which makes him dangerous off the edge. He has excellent hands, great athleticism and has little regard for his battle when battling left tackles and chasing quarterbacks. Gross-Matos is a first-round talent and would be an ideal edge rusher in Tampa Bay.
LSU OLB K’Lavon Chaisson – 6-4, 250 – Redshirt Sophomore
Chasisson rebounded from a torn ACL that cost him most of the 2018 season to record a career-high 13.5 tackles for loss and 6.5 sacks for the national champion Tigers. Chaisson has great speed and athleticism, and should impress at the NFL Scouting Combine. He’s far from a finished product and has work to do in run support, but he’s a likely first-rounder due to his measurables and production from the 2019 season. He could be an eventual starter to replace Jason Pierre-Paul or Shaquil Barett in Tampa Bay as an outside linebacker.
DAY 2 UNDERCLASSMEN OPTIONS FOR BUCS
Baylor DE James Lynch – 6-4, 295 – Junior
Lynch was the Big 12 Defensive Newcomer of the Year in 2018 after recording 8.5 tackles for loss and 4.5 sacks, and was the Defensive Player of the Year in 2019 when he had a career-high 19.5 tackles for loss and 13.5 sacks with three forced fumbles. Lynch is a big, physical pass rusher with good strength and heavy hands. If Lynch tests well he could sneak into the first round, but otherwise he’s a solid Day 2 selection. Lynch would be an ideal fit in Tampa Bay’s 3-4 defense as an end or a defensive tackle.
Boise State OLB Curtis Weaver – 6-3, 265 – Junior
Weaver was a three-year starter for the Broncos where he put up ridiculous sack numbers, finishing with 34, which is the new Mountain West Conference career record. Weaver, who had 19.5 tackles for loss and 13.5 sacks last year, wins with a great get-off and ability to turn the corner. He’s an ideal 3-4 outside linebacker in Bowles’ scheme and should be selected on Day 2 of the draft.
DAY 3 UNDERCLASSMEN OPTIONS FOR BUCS
Auburn DT Nick Coe – 6-5, 291 – Junior
Coe has spent the last three years teaming with Derrick Brown to lead Auburn’s defensive front against the run. Coe was hurt some in 2019 and wasn’t as productive, as he didn’t record a sack after notching seven as a sophomore and two as a freshman. Coe is a power player does his best work as a run stuffer and has NFL-caliber size and strength. He’s a solid Day 3 for Tampa Bay or another team if he transitions inside to defensive tackle or plays defensive end in a 3-4 scheme.
Missouri DT Jordan Elliott – 6-4, 315 – Junior
Elliott is a big-bodied run-stuffing defensive tackle that is strong enough to hold up at the point of attack and take on double teams. He has limited pass rush, evidenced by 5.5 career sacks, and needs to get a faster get-off. Elliott has some room to grow when it comes to his football I.Q., but his best football may lie ahead of him with proper coaching. The Bucs know of Elliott from drafting Missouri defensive tackle Terry Beckner, Jr., last year, and he could be a Day 3 option.
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@example.com
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