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The 2018 Bubble: Who is the odd man out at each defensive position?

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Now it’s time to turn our attention to the defense.

NFL: Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Cincinnati Bengals
Riley Bullough found his way onto the field last season. Can he do the same in 2018?
Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

Each position will be listed in order according to the Bucs’ most recent depth chart, e.g. Kwon Alexander the starter, Adarius Glanton the backup, and so on. Note: we are aware that there are no official depth charts available until before the first pre-season game of 2018. Player contracts are hyperlinked with their name(s). Check out the offensive side of the ball here.

We’ve already taken a look at which players are on the outs for the offense. Let’s take a look at the defense.

Defensive End

  • Jason Pierre-Paul - One of Tampa’s biggest free agent acquisitions. JPP will be just fine.
  • Vinny Curry - Possibly the most impactful player on the defensive line this season.
  • Noah Spence - If Spence returns to his preinjury form, then the defensive line will be stellar.
  • William Gholston - Gholston is a good rotational player, but very pricey.
  • Davonte Lambert - He went on IR early last season. Can he recover?
  • Will Clarke - Clarke made the active roster last season so it’s not a long shot here.
  • Demone Harris - Chances are slim that he makes the roster.
  • Patrick O’Connor - O’Connor could make special teams with a good camp.
  • Evan Perrizo - Perrizo is just here for the ride at this point.

It’s hard to see Tampa carrying more than six defensive ends into the season. The only reason Gholston is safe for 2017 is because the Bucs will not be able to recover any money if he is cut, otherwise, he’d be a top pick to not make the roster. If Lambert can’t recover from his injury, then he could get overtaken by one of the newcomers.

Defensive Tackle

  • Gerald McCoy - The Bucs’ defensive cornerstone since 2010.
  • Beau Allen - Brought in to add experience and toughness, Allen should make an immediate impact.
  • Vita Vea - The newest first-round pick on the squad. Vea is bound for a great rookie year.
  • Mitch Unrein - Solid but not spectacular, he will provide much-needed depth.
  • Stevie Tu’ikolovatu - Unfortunatley for Stevie, his injury from last season will probably be too much to overcome.
  • Channing Ward - Ward just doesn’t fit in to this equation. It’s pretty simple.

The rotation is pretty obvious here. Allen and Unrein are solid vets brought in to toughen up the interior of the line, while Vea was drafted to help share the load with McCoy. Tu’ikolovatu and Ward are talented, but there just isn’t enough room for them unless a major injury occurs.

Linebacker

  • Lavonte David - Arguably the NFL’s most underrated weakside linebacker.
  • Kwon Alexander - Arguably the NFL’s most underrated mike linebacker.
  • Kendell Beckwith - Hopefully he can recover his offseason injury and build upon a great rookie season.
  • Cameron Lynch - Solid depth player, but could get pushed out by one of the younger players.
  • Adarius Taylor (Glanton) - On track to return after breaking his leg last year. He is safe if the injury doesn’t hold him back.
  • Devante Bond - Another solid depth player who can make plays when needed. Should be safe.
  • Jack Cichy - This is a tough one. He’s practicing, so his recovery is going well. Special teams seems like a reasonable destination, but it is not guaranteed.
  • Nigel Harris - Harris played for three teams in 2017, it’s hard to see him making the roster.
  • Riley Bullough - A Hard Knocks favorite, Bullough got to see some playing time last year.
  • Shaheed Salmon - There’s almost no chance Salmon makes the roster.
  • Eric Nzeocha - Nzeocha will have to turn many, many heads in order to make the cut.

Linebacker is probably the most stacked position on this team. The Bucs have very good depth behind their starting three, but Beckwith’s injury could open the door for an unknown to make the roster early on. Assuming Beckwith will be fine, it looks like Harris, Bullough, Salmon, and Nzeocha will either be on the practice squad, another team, or on the streets come September.

NFL: Atlanta Falcons at Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Beckwith’s potential absence could create opportunities for younger players.
Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Cornerback

  • Brent Grimes - The old man of the group, but the Bucs’ best corner. This will probably be his last year in Tampa.
  • Vernon Hargreaves III - Hargreaves has been a disappointment thus far. He needs a strong 2018 season.
  • Ryan Smith - Still a budding player. His development needs to pick up the pace.
  • M.J. Stewart - The first corner drafted by Tampa in 2018. Stewart’s versatility will keep him around for a while.
  • Carlton Davis - Could be the steal in Tampa’s 2018 draft.
  • Javien Elliot - He was on the roster last season, but could get replaced by one of the youngsters.
  • David Rivers - Another player trying to make his way onto the field.
  • Reese Fleming - Special teams or practice squad for Fleming.
  • Mark Myers - Myers will bring in competition, but that’s about it.

Stewart and Davis are the keys to this position. It doesn’t seem likely that’ll actually push someone out of a roster spot - the Bucs are too thin - but they could supplant a starter by the time the season rolls around. Look for major shakeups in the depth chart if that happens.

Safety

  • Chris Conte - Conte is solid and is too valuable when it comes to depth, but Evans should be the starter by fall.
  • Keith Tandy - Tandy is another solid player who should receive a push. He is safe roster-wise.
  • Justin Evans - One of the Bucs’ promising young defenders.
  • Josh Robinson - He provided good depth last year. Whitehead may pass him by though.
  • Isaiah Johnson - It’s hard to see Johnson making the roster.
  • Jordan Whitehead - Tampa’s fourth-round pick. He plays much bigger than his size.
  • Godwin Igwebuike - Another UDFA trying to make his way.

Safety is another position where could see some shakeups happen, as well. Justin Evans really came on last year and should have the starting job in 2018. If Whitehead has a really good camp, he could pass up Robinson and vie for playing time with Tandy. Tampa carries just five safeties usually, so Johnson and Igwebuike are fodder for now.