TAMPA, Fla. -- After re-signing nearly all of their players on defense from their Super Bowl win, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers don’t have major pressing needs going into the 2021 NFL draft. Coach Bruce Arians did say, however, that they’re looking for speed and physicality on defense that will translate into immediate production on special teams, depth on both lines of scrimmage and a quarterback who can learn under Tom Brady -- if the right one is available.
First, it should be noted that because there was no NFL combine this year, all timing was done at pro days by hand and testing surfaces vary from program to program, which can skew the numbers. The Bucs tend to rely more on on-field speed versus testing speed anyway, so if anything, these test numbers merely confirm what they can see on tape.
Here’s a look at who the Bucs already have on the roster at three positions in their the front seven, and who might fit the bill for the team in the draft.
Who the Bucs could target in the draft
Azeez Ojulari, OLB, Georgia. At 6-foot-2 and 249 pounds, Ojulari clocked a 4.62 40-yard dash time at his pro day and his arms were measured at 35 inches. He notched a three-sack performance at the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl, earning Defensive MVP honors. In 10 games this year, he registered 31 tackles, 12.5 tackles for loss, 8.5 sacks, four forced fumbles and two passes defensed. Even better? He models his game after Barrett. He’s got an explosive first step and can drop into coverage too -- he did so on 22% of plays -- something defensive coordinator Todd Bowles asks his outside linebackers to do a lot of. He’s likely a first-round pick.
Jaelan Phillips, OLB, Miami. Once regarded as the No. 3 overall high school prospect in the nation in the 2017 ESPN 300 rankings, Phillips gave up football while at UCLA in 2018 due to concussions. He also had a severely broken wrist from a moped accident and multiple ankle injuries.
But he transferred to Miami, sat out in 2019 to regain his strength (he lost 20 pounds away from football) and last season, he recorded 8.0 sacks and 15.5 tackles for a loss -- second in the ACC. At 6-foot-5 and 260 pounds, he ran a blazing 4.56 at his pro day (he said he’s been running in the 4.4s in training, but even a 4.56 is extremely rare for a player his size) and posted a 36-inch vertical, along with a 4.12 shuttle. He’s got great arm length and good bend. He could be available at the bottom of the first or top of the second.
Joseph Ossai, OLB, Texas. At 6-foot-4 and 253 pounds, Ossai ran a 4.62 40-yard dash at his pro day, and he uses that speed to get to the quarterback. He also posted a 41.5-inch vertical. He spent time in college standing up and with his hand in the dirt, although he looks most natural as a linebacker.
It’s hard not to love Ossai’s motor -- he is always going 100 miles an hour, which will fit in nicely with this Bucs’ defense -- but he needs refinement. When he gets to the quarterback, it’s because of athleticism -- not necessarily skill.
In nine games last year, Ossai had 5.5 sacks, 15.5 tackles for loss, two pass breakups and three forced fumbles. The Bucs also love closers (see Devin White, NFC divisional playoff) and Ossai notched the game-winning sack on fourth-and-8 in overtime to upset Oklahoma State (he had 12 tackles, six tackles for loss, 3.0 sacks, a forced fumble and fumble recovery in that game). If the Bucs wanted to go elsewhere with the 32nd overall pick, Ossai could be an option in the second round.
Joe Tryon, OLB, Washington. Tyron opted out in 2020 after a sophomore campaign, his only season as a full-time starter, in 2019. In 13 games at Washington, Tryon recorded 41 tackles, 12.5 tackles for loss, 8.0 sacks and a pass breakup with multi-sack games coming against Utah, Oregon State and Washington State. His 15 incompletions forced by pressures ranked third in the Pac-12, according to ESPN Statistics & Information.
At 6-foot-5 and 262 pounds, he ran a 4.65 40-yard dash. He has great length with 34-inch arms. He changes directions well, as seen by his 7.18 three-cone drill, and he has an explosive first step. He doesn’t have ideal bend or ankle flexibility as seen by some of the premier edge rushers. He needs to improve as a run defender and in shedding blocks, and to come up with a better pass-rush plan and counter plan, but he could be coached up. A lot of his pressures also came when he was unblocked. He could be in play in the second round.
Jayson Oweh, OLB, Penn State. Oweh’s testing numbers are off the charts. At his pro day, Oweh clocked a 4.37 40-yard dash at 6-foot-5, 252 pounds -- the fastest of any edge rusher this year -- a 39.5-inch vertical and a 6.84 three-cone drill. So he has speed, length and change of direction abilities. But he started only eight games at Penn State. He also didn’t record a sack or forced fumble in seven starts in 2020. His final college stat line: 7.0 sacks, 13.5 tackles for loss and two forced fumbles in 24 career games, and the Bucs like players who were productive in college.
He’s inconsistent, he needs to make better use of his hands and he needs to develop a real plan against opponents, along with developing counter moves. But he can stop the run. Developing behind Pierre-Paul and Barrett without the pressure of being a Day 1 starter could help him realize his potential.
Interior defensive linemen
Who the Bucs could target in the draft
Levi Onwuzurike, DT, Washington. Some will argue that the real value at defensive tackle in this year’s draft is in the middle rounds. But Onwuzurike could be an option for the Bucs at No. 32 or if they trade back. Onwuzurike opted out of the 2020 season due to the risks of COVID-19, but many believe he’s the best interior pass-rusher in this year’s class. He possesses a quick first step and could be developed behind Suh. In 2019, when he earned All-Pac 12 honors, 32% of snaps came at nose tackle (0 technique) and 21% of his snaps came at the 3-technique, so he’s versatile.
Christian Barmore, DT, Alabama. He had 65 quarterback pressures over the last two years, the most of any Power 5 conference player. He also recorded a team-high 8.0 sacks along with 46 tackles, 34 pressures (11.1% pressure rate) and two forced fumbles. His 8.0 sacks were tied with Quinnen Williams for fourth-most in a season by an Alabama defensive lineman over the last 15 seasons. His 19% pressure percentage is by far the highest of any 3-technique since 2019. By comparison, Javon Kinlaw, who was the 14th overall pick in last year’s draft, produced a 13% pressure percentage.
Daviyon Nixon, DT, Iowa. The Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year, Nixon could also develop behind and rotate in with Suh. He can get to the quarterback and is stout against the run, a plus for the NFL’s top-ranked run defense in 2020. Nixon produced 20 tackles at or behind the line of scrimmage in 2020 -- third-most in FBS at the defensive tackle position. He also led the Big 10 with 13 tackles for loss this past year. The Bucs like players who show up in big games, however, and Nixon disappeared against Minnesota, Illinois and Wisconsin, so he’ll have to account for that.
Who the Bucs could target in the draft
Jamin Davis, ILB, Kentucky. Davis has been linked to the Bucs in a lot of mock drafts, but that was before they re-signed David in free agency, which may de-prioritize the position. Still, it’s hard to overlook the scary numbers Davis put up at his Kentucky pro day, posting a blistering 4.37 40-yard dash, a 42-inch vertical and an 11-inch broad jump. He had only one start in 13 games in 2019, but in 2020, he exploded with 96 tackles -- second-most in the SEC -- three interceptions, a sack, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery. Right now, a number of mock drafts have him projected to go in the middle of the first or the second round.
Derrick Barnes, ILB, Purdue. Versatility is Barnes’ best attribute -- he lined up inside and outside at Purdue because the team needed a vocal leader inside. His best fit is likely inside at the next level, although some teams do see him as an outside linebacker. The 6-foot and 238-pound Barnes ran a 4.57 40-yard dash at his pro day and put up a 37-inch vertical. He could be groomed into a future replacement for David and has special teams experience. He projects as a mid- to later-round talent -- a great spot for a developing player.