The Tampa Bay Buccaneers do not need a defensive end, not really, and yet we’re seeing that choice pop up all over mock drafts and lists of top needs. Perhaps mostly because the Bucs still haven’t had a player with more than 10 sacks in a single season since Simeon Rice left.
Player needs are determined by a lot more than production, especially production of the sort that consists of a single, highly variable statistic. The Bucs did not have many sacks — in part because Robert Ayers missed four games, Jacquies Smith missed 15, and Noah Spence played with a shoulder injury for most of the season.
Despite those limitations, the Bucs still racked up 38 sacks last year, and ranked seventh (!) in Football Outsiders’ adjusted sack rate, which takes into account game situations. The Bucs actually had fairly little trouble getting to the quarterback, and put up the most disruptive Bucs defense in years.
With Noah Spence likely to improve in his second season, and Jacquies Smith coming back healthy (assuming they tag him as a restricted free agent), the Bucs have the top-end quality they need at the position. Add in the fact that undrafted rookie Channing Ward played some decent football as well, and the possible re-signing of William Gholston, and there’s depth, too.
That doesn’t mean the Bucs won’t add a defensive end. They’re likely to re-sign William Gholston and if they don’t, they’ll probably add a third-tier free agent or a mid-round pick at the position. And if they have the opportunity to sign or draft a true impact player, they can always go for them — not because they have to have a quality injection at the position, but because top-tier pass-rushers are valuable for any team.
But none of that makes defensive end a real need. If the Bucs go into the season with Robert Ayers and Noah Spence as their starters and William Gholston, Channing Ward and Jacquies Smith as the backups, they should be just fine.