The Buccaneers addressed their pass rush last offseason, but ended up with mixed results.
Jason Pierre-Paul was the team’s prized addition from last spring, and he lived up to the hype. He finished the season with 12.5 sacks, becoming the first Tampa Bay player to put up double-digit sacks since Simeon Rice did it in 2005. Carl Nassib was a late addition to the defensive line, putting up 6.5 sacks and serving as one of the team’s most pleasant surprises of the year. But on the downside, Vinny Curry only put up 2.5 sacks. With his lack of production and struggles from Noah Spence, Will Gholston and nearly every other defensive end on the roster, the Bucs still need help.
That’s why the post-Super Bowl mock draft from Pro Football Focus senior analyst Mike Zenner looks promising for Tampa Bay. At No. 5, Zenner has the Bucs selecting Clemson EDGE Clelin Ferrell.
Ferrell was a threat to enter the draft after the 2017 season, but he decided to stay for another season with the Tigers. The decision paid off, as he was a key part of a defense that led the way to a national title. In 2018, he racked up 11.5 sacks to bring his total to 27 in three years as a starter. That kind of production would be welcomed by a Tampa Bay defense that badly needs to create more pressure off the edge.
Here’s what Zenner had to say in his blurb about the pick:
The offseason prescription for the Bucs calls for defense, defense and more defense. Any position will do. Ferrell has the size and traits teams covet on the edge in the top 10.
That analysis is more than fair. The Bucs have a major need for defensive help heading into 2019. As James Yarcho outlined here, defense is still the key to success when it comes to winning in the NFL.
That has certainly been the case for Tampa Bay, especially in the years since its last playoff appearance. Since 2008, the Bucs have been in the top half of the NFL in scoring defense just three times. Here’s where they’ve ranked since that 2007 playoff appearance, accompanied by their final records:
2008: 10th (9-7)
2009: 27th (3-13)
2010: 9th (10-6)
2011: 32nd (4-12)
2012: 23rd (7-9)
2013: 21st (4-12)
2014: 25th (2-14)
2015: 26th (6-10)
2016: 15th (9-7)
2017: T-22nd (5-11)
2018: 31st (5-11)
Is it a coincidence that they’ve had winning records all three times they’ve had a defense in the top half of the league since the start of 2008? Probably not.
It’s obvious that Tampa Bay needs to improve its defense. The back end of the unit could use the most help, but Ferrell being selected at No. 5 would definitely be a step in the right direction as well. It’s still very early in draft season, so a lot could change. We’ll see where things go from here.