Last year, Bucs fans' hopes and dreams were focused on first-round pick Gerald McCoy. Unfortunately, McCoy got off to a slow start, not making an impact until late in the season. When he did make an impact, it was late in the season and his surge was halted by a torn biceps, which landed him on IR. But this should not have been unexpected: history told us that defensive tackles in their rookie year don't often make a big impact.
This year, Bucs fans are pinning their hopes on Adrian Clayborn and Da'Quan Bowers, the Bucs' top two draft picks. These two players are supposed to energize a lackluster pass rush and help the Bucs finally stop the run again. But what does history tell us about rookie defensive ends? Hit the jump to find out.
Because the Bucs drafted defensive ends in the first and second round, I decided to look at all defensive ends drafted in the first two rounds since 1982, the first year the NFL started tracking sacks. I also wanted to weed out all the players who didn't play much, so I added a qualifier of at least 8 starts, or half a season's worth. Both Clayborn and Bowers are expected to be the starters from the first day. Pro Football Reference is perfect for this sort of research, so all these stats come from that site.
Unfortunately it's very time-consuming to differentiate between 4-3 and 3-4 DEs in this contest, so I didn't even attempt to do that. That undoubtedly depresses the results a little, as a 3-4 DE will naturally accumulate fewer sacks than a 4-3 DE simply because of the scheme. 71 defensive ends qualified, and they accumulated a total of 331.5 sacks, or 4.7 sacks on average. If Clayborn and Bowers simply match that, they will have 9.5 sacks. Not a stunning amount, but considering the fact that all Bucs defensive ends had a combined 10.5 sacks last season, this would certainly represent an improvement, assuming other defensive ends chip in a little as well.
Of course, Bowers or Clayborn could go off for a huge amount of sacks as well, but don't count on it. Only 9 defensive ends on the list had 10 sacks or more: Burt Grossman, Kevin Williams (he played at left defensive end in his rookie year), Darren Howard, Julius Peppers, Simeon Rice, Leslie O'Neal, Reggie White, Dwight Freeney and Jevon Kearse. Those are some very big names, and it's unlikely either Buc will match that total.
Even if Clayborn and Bowers fail to produce in their rookie season, that doesn't mean they have failed. Mario Williams had 4.5 sacks in his rookie year, but is one of the best and most well-rounded defensive ends in the NFL. Phil Hansen started with 2 sacks, but had a long and productive career with Buffalo totaling 61.5 sacks. Joe Johnson had just one sack in his rookie year, but played 10 years and made two Pro Bowls. Lance Johnstone started out with one sack, but had four years with double-digit sacks in an 11-year career. Darrell Russell had 3.5 sacks in his rookie year, before blowing up with two Pro Bowl selections - after which his career ended due to positive drug tests. And more recently, Chris Long had just 4 sacks in his rookie year, but had a very, very good third season with 8.5 sacks and a lot more quarterback pressure.
All that to say that a good rookie year is probably the start of a very good career, but a poor rookie year doesn't mean a player is a bust. Although no doubt we'll hear that word thrown around if these guys don't rack up a lot of sacks quickly, as that seems to happen every year.