Oh hey, it's another position with good starters and depth concerns. I am shocked.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have two tremendously talented starters at defensive end in Da'Quan Bowers and Adrian Clayborn. Both were picked in the first two rounds of the 2010 NFL Draft, and much was expected of them. Bowers was at one point seen as the top player in the draft, but fell to the second round because of injury. Meanwhile, Clayborn had been seen as a tremendous prospect after his junior season -- but had a disappointing senior season, causing him to fall to the middle of the first round.
So far, though, both have failed to produce consistently in the NFL, mainly due to injuries. Bowers entered the NFL as an injured player, and looked raw (if talented) as a rookie. His second year was further marred by an Achilles injury, keeping him out for nearly half of the season and preventing him from working out during the offseason. He showed his physical gifts last season, but needs to continue to develop.
Clayborn wasn't injured in his rookie season, and led the Bucs with 7.5 sacks. Last season, though, he was sidelined for the season with a knee injury in his third game. Clayborn isn't as physically gifted as Bowers, but he plays with great effort and his violent movements jump off tape. If both can stay healthy, the Bucs have a great pair of bookends -- but that's a pretty big if.
More depth than advertised
Depth is an issue for the Bucs, to an extent, but they do have one player who has at least proven to be somewhat okay as a starter in Daniel Te'o-Nesheim. The defensive end can play three-technique defensive tackle in a pinch, given him the necessary versatility to win a roster spot. But Te'o-Nesheim is far from a disruptive force, and the Bucs' pass rush will suffer greatly if they have to start him once again.
The same may not be true for unproven rookies William Gholston and Steven Means. Both of them were relatively raw prospects with great physical talent. So far it's not clear how either is developing, which shouldn't be surprising: no contact has been allowed in offseason workouts so far, so evaluating them is difficult. Gholston should start out as Bowers' backup at left defensive end. He's a very big man who was a quality run defender in college but struggled a bit as a pass rusher. He too has the versatility to play both defensive end and defensive tackle, and we may see him as a three-technique on passing downs early in the season.
Steven Means is a little less developed than Gholston, but he has some very intriguing traits. He's an explosive, speedy and quick-twitch edge rusher who needs to learn how to play the position. I wouldn't expect him to provide much as a rookie, but he's a developmental player with great upside.
A final name who gives the Bucs some depth is Aaron Morgan. He showed up some last season as a backup right defensive end, and he's primarily a speed rusher. He looked a little one-dimensional last year, but he does have the ability to beat offensive tackles and could be a valuable piece if he develops in the coming months.
The rest of the players on the roster will need to have outstanding minicamps to make it onto the roster. They haven't done anything in their careers yet and there's no reason to believe they will -- but you never know.
Projected roster: Adrian Clayborn, Da'Quan Bowers, William Gholston, Steven Means, Aaron Morgan, Daniel Te'o-Nesheim
Check out our Training Camp Preview section for more on the key position battles.