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The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are coming of a 5-11 season and have had only one winning season since 2010 with their last post season appearance in 2007. Last season, the Buccaneers were 12th in scoring at 24.8 points per game, but 31st in points allowed at 29 per game. With the need to improve defensively clearly at the forefront, the Buccaneers addressed the issue with the first four picks of the NFL Draft. Let’s examine their top six selections.
Round 1 (5th) Devin White (LB) LSU
White earned SEC All-Freshman honors after playing in all 12 games and recording 30 tackles. He blossomed into a star in 2017, leading the conference with 133 tackles, enough to earn him first team All-SEC. In 2018, White won the Butkus Award for best linebacker in the country after registering 123 tackles, three forced fumbles and three sacks.
White was one of the most well-rounded, complete linebackers in the NFL Draft. His presence was clearly felt, as quarterbacks had less than half the quarterback rating while he was on the field as opposed to when he was off. White is a capable cover man and is excellent as putting heat on quarterbacks. He should be an instant starter with significant impact.
Round 2 (39th) Sean Bunting (CB) Central Michigan
Bunting was a redshirt freshman in 2016, but still had 18 tackles and two interceptions, playing in all 13 games. Starting every game in 2017, Bunting had 49 tackles, five interceptions and two forced fumbles. Last season, he was named first-team All-MAC and making 37 tackles, two forced fumbles and two interceptions.
Bunting displays good speed, excellent ball skills and long arms that could find him playing press coverage off the line. However, his build is rather slight by NFL standards, which could cause issues until he adds to his frame. He’s not yet as quick as some corners, but has the speed to make up for that. Given time to develop, Bunting could emerge as starting cornerback on the outside.
Round 3 (94th) Jamel Dean (CB) Auburn
Originally slated to play at Ohio State, Dean was medically ineligible due to numerous high school injuries. However, he was cleared to play at Auburn, but had another knee injury in 2016, putting him out for the season. Staring all but three games in 2017, Dean had 43 tackles and eight passes defensed. Last season, his tackles dropped to 30, but Dean recorded nine passes defensed and two interceptions.
Clearly wanted to bolster the secondary, the Buccaneers drafter down for two picks and chose Dean, who impressed with a 4.3 40 at the NFL combine. He had very good size at 6’ 2” and 210 pounds and is excellent in press coverage. With the need great at secondary, Dean adds another competitive player who will battle for playing time and add depth.
Round 3 (99th) Mike Edwards (DB) Kentucky
Edwards played in nine games as a freshman, recording 39 tackles and an interception which he returned for a touchdown. He intercepted three more passes the following season while reaching 100 tackles, 5.5 for loss of yardage. Continuing his great ball-hawking skills, Edwards recorded four interceptions in 2017 and 96 tackles. As a senior, Edwards had 9.5 tackles for loss and two more interceptions, one returned for a touchdown.
Edwards is a versatile player who can line up anywhere in the secondary. His aggressive style of play enabled him to break up over 20 passes along with his ten interceptions at Kentucky. Edwards should also be a solid man to come in on a safety blitz, which fits perfectly into the Buccaneers defensive scheme.
Round 4 (107th) Anthony Nelson (DE) Iowa
Nelson made an immediate impact at Iowa, recording 33 tackles and seven sacks as a freshman in 2016. As a sophomore, he lead Iowa with 7.5 sacks, had four broken up passes, a blocked kick and two forced fumbles. Last season, Nelson was third-team All-Big Ten after registering 9.5 sacks and 45 tackles.
Addressing another much needed area, Nelson has good size at 6’ 7” and 275 pounds and uses his long arms well to get leverage on offensive linemen. However, he isn’t particularly quick and likely wont be a starter this season. Nelson should be part of the mix along the line in a situational or rotational basis this season.
Round 5 (145th) Matt Gay (K) Utah
Gay had a long journey to get to this point. A former soccer player in 2014 and 2016, Gay tried out as kicker at BYU but was declined. In 2017, Utah gave Gay a chance as a walk-on. He ended up having a sensational season, hitting 30-of-34 field goals, including 5-of-6 from beyond 50. In 2018, Gay was named third-team All-American, hitting 26-of-31 field goals, including 3-of-5 from beyond 50. He was also excellent on kickoffs, resulting in over 70 percent touchbacks.
The Buccaneers had a similar selection a few years ago, drafting Roberto Aguayo in 2016. However, Aguayo converted only 4-of-11 kicks from beyond 40. Gay is significantly better at long range kicking, hitting over 70 percent from 50 on out. While kickers can be picked up as free agents, adding points form this position is important, so this selection could prove beneficial.