The Tampa Bay Buccaneers need an edge rusher. They've needed one ever since Simeon Rice left in 2006. The last time any Buccaneer managed 10 sacks or more in a season was 2005 -- when Rice did so. And since then, the Bucs have tried every which way to find someone who can consistently get to the quarterback.
The Bucs have players like that. They actually have a lot of pass-rushing talent: Gerald McCoy, Clinton McDonald, Robert Ayers -- those players can beat their direct opponents and find a way to the quarterback. But on passing downs, those players all play inside, between the tackles. They're going up against centers and guards -- they're not lining up wide and beating an offensive tackle around the edge.
That is what edge rushers are for, and the Bucs don't really have any players who fit that mold. Jacquies Smith and Howard Jones did combine for 13 sacks in limited time last year, and they have the potential to do more -- but both players did very little outside of those 13 plays. It's always possible that these players break out this year and turn a few flash plays into consistent pressure, but it's dangerous to rely on projections like that.
Yes, it's true that Mike Smith is more versatile in his use of defensive linemen than Lovie Smith. Players who were 4-3 ends under Lovie, could turn into 3-4 ends or 4-3 defensive tackles under Mike. And he's more likely to fit a 3-4 linebacker on the edge of a defense. But the fundamental principles of his defense don't change. As with any other NFL team, Mike Smith will have edge rushers, inside rushers, and some players who can switch between those roles.
What Mike Smith can't do, though, is turn a hybrid player into a pure edge rusher. No matter how versatile his scheme is, William Gholston and Robert Ayers are not going to line up wide, outside a left tackle and beating him around the edge. They're useful players -- but they're not that. What they need is someone like John Abraham -- the Falcons' cornerstone edge rusher under Mike Smith.
The Bucs can win without a player like that, but it would almost certainly mean more blitzes and a bigger burden on a secondary that has its own issues. The easier way to win is to find an explosive edge rusher somewhere. At this point, that somewhere is the draft -- but rookie edge rushers tend not to make a massive impact. And hybrid rookies will make even less of an impact: that's DeForest Buckner, for instance. I've also seen folks argue that Joey Bosa would be best as an inside pass-rusher.
Finding an edge rusher is hard, though. The Bucs know: they've been searching for a decade. Will this finally be the year they find one?