AUBURN, AL - SEPTEMBER 10: Quarterback Barrett Trotter #14 of the Auburn Tigers throws a pass while under pressure from defensive lineman Fletcher Cox #94 of the Mississippi State Bulldogs in the first quarter on September 10, 2011 at Jordan-Hare Stadium in Auburn, Alabama. (Photo by Butch Dill/Getty Images)
This may sound crazy - in fact, I'm pretty sure it does sound crazy - but the one thing we haven't discussed here is the possibility of the Bucs selecting a defensive tackle with their first draft pick. And despite first appearances, it's entirely possible, though hardly likely. We've seen defensive tackles mocked to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers occasionally over the past few months, although it hasn't been a common occurrenc4e. And on its face, these selections may make some sense: the Bucs' defense was awful in the middle, last year, and the easiest way to fix that and move to a new Cobra Kai Defense is to add defensive tackles.
Of course, the counterargument is simple: the Bucs have two promising young defensive tackles in Gerald McCoy and Brian Price, though both have struggled with injuries, and the team recently signed Amobi Okoye to add some depth. Yet the need at defensive tackle remains. Brian Price has the talent to be a good defensive tackle, but it remains to be seen whether he can ever develop into a productive defensive tackle after the massive hip injuries he has had. Amobi Okoye is a good signing for depth at three-technique, but he's not versatile enough to play nose tackle, while he also hasn't been a consistent performer as an undertackle. Finally, Gerald McCoy looked stellar when he was on the field last season, he wasn't on the field enough to make a major impact - and when he left, the Bucs' defense collapsed. Your defense should not be so dependent on one player, and if the Bucs want to have more security at defensive tackle they must add talent.
Interestingly, the Bucs' need doesn't so much come at the much-coveted three-technique defensive tackle position, which is the natural position for Gerald McCoy, Brian Price and Amobi Okoye. Instead, they must find a long-term answer at nose tackle. The team hopes that Brian Price can develop into a quality starting nose tackle, but so far he has only flashed talent. Gerald McCoy fared well when he played the position, but his explosive gifts are better used at the three-technique position, where he can really wreak havoc, rather than mostly taking up blockers at nose tackle.
The problem the Buccaneers face is that there are no great nose tackles to select high in this draft - or arguably in any draft, as the position isn't valued that highly. Fletcher Cox is the consensus best defensive tackle in this draft, but he's basically a slightly stronger, but less talented and developed version of Gerald McCoy when McCoy entered the draft: an athletic, disruptive player who can shoot a gap and fits best at three-technique. There's Quinton Coples, a defensive end who would likely work best as a defensive tackle for the Bucs - but there are questions about his motor, and he would also fit best at three-technique. Finally, there's Dontari Poe - a physically gifted but extremely raw and unproductive college defensive tackle. He does have the size to be a nose tackle, but he's nothing but a mass of raw ability and a very risky addition.
Of course, the Buccaneers could still select Fletcher Cox or even Quinton Coples with plans of playing him at the three-technique position. Cox could develop in a rotation early on, while the team could move Gerald McCoy to the nose tackle position. While McCoy won't put up gaudy numbers at that position, he showed last season that he has the strength and tenacity to play that position and still be disruptive.
While this may seem like investing too many draft picks in a defensive line while leaving the rest of the defense poorly stocked, it is critical to remember that the defensive line helps everyone else get better as well. When the Bucs still had a fully healthy defensive line early last season, the front seven as a whole played well, including the much-maligned linebackers. That was a defense that kept the Atlanta Falcons to 30 rushing yards in a close game, the Detroit Lions running backs to just 3.3 yards per attempt, the Indianapolis Colts to 60 rushing yards, and the New Orleans Saints to 72. The Bucs showed that they could perform well with that group of linebackers, as long as the defensive line played well.
The Bucs need a stable front four for their new Cobra Kai Defense to work. They have the talent and production at defensive end, but they need to get better play out of their defensive tackle position. They can hope that Brian Price stays healthy and manages to capitalize on his skills, or that Frank Okam finally develops into a quality starter - but the Bucs may not want to take that risk. While it's hardly likely that they take a defensive tackle early in the draft, don't rule out the possibility if they feel he is the best player in the draft.