Draft day is upon us and - as always - Buccaneers twitter is incredibly divided as to what the team should do. We’ve heard all kinds of names attached to the team, whether it’s Devin White, Ed Oliver, Quinnen Williams, Josh Allen, Brian Burns. The fact of the matter is that the team is in prime position to take an elite level talent with their first pick and help reshape the defense moving forward.
Here’s my stance; unless Quinnen Williams somehow falls into their lap at number five (of course, assuming Nick Bosa is gone as we all expect), the Buccaneers need to take LSU linebacker Devin White.
Quinnen Williams is one of those rare talents that you just can’t pass on. Outside of him, there is no one that will impact this defense - or this team - more than White.
Now, that’s not to say Oliver, White, Burns, or any of these other players aren’t also rare talents, but Williams is in another stratosphere and it would be difficult to pass on him. The key here is position scarcity. It’s something I’ve preached repeatedly on the Locked On Bucs podcast and will say it again here on the eve of the draft. There are no linebackers after Devin White or Devin Bush that can start for this team in 2019. In Todd Bowles’ defense, an inside linebacker that can quarterback the defense, be an effective run stopper, drop into coverage, have sideline to sideline speed, and impact every level of the defense is an absolute must have.
In fact, you can argue that inside linebacker in the defense the Bucs are about to switch to is far more important than that of most other defenses in the NFL. After losing Kwon Alexander, they need a replacement in a bad way. Yeah, yeah - drafting or reaching for need is what can get teams in trouble. That is, unless, drafting an elite talent matches up with a position you need. Then it’s just smart drafting.
Anyway, back to my point about position scarcity - one of the clear strengths of this draft is along the defensive line, whether you’re talking about interior line or edge rushers. That means you can find starters along the defensive line or at edge rusher on day two. They will be there and do exist. Are they as good as Oliver or Allen or Burns? No, but they project to be above average players. You look at guys like Dexter Lawrence out of Clemson or Jerry Tillery out of Notre Dame as linemen that could slide to the second. Edge rushers like Jachai Polite from Florida, D’Andre Walker from Georgia, or Jaylon Ferguson from Louisiana Tech would again be starting caliber players that are there on day two.
Starting caliber linebackers available on day two? None. There aren’t any. They don’t exist.
Forget arguing position values in the draft. It’s not real. If teams were so concerned with positional values in the draft, the only players drafted in the top fifteen-to-twenty of the draft would be quarterbacks, left tackles, and edge rushers. That’s not reality. That’s Madden. That’s fantasy football. We wouldn’t have seen guys like Ezekiel Elliott, Saquon Barkley, Quenton Nelson, Mike Evans, Jalen Ramsey taken where they were. Anyone regretting those picks? Hardly.
You draft the player, not the position or its perceived “value”. Wouldn’t you rather have an elite linebacker to be the captain, the leader of this defense who fits perfectly in the scheme being created and have him for the next ten years in addition to an above average defensive lineman or edge rusher instead of an elite level defensive lineman/edge rusher and a starting interior linebacking corps of Lavonte David and.........Riley Bullough? Jack Cichy? Davonte Bond? Nothing against those guys, but they aren’t getting the job done. Not in a must win season.
Yes, the Bucs need to replace Jason Pierre-Paul, but not this season. Yes, the Bucs will likely move on from Gerald McCoy and will need to replace him. As a long time McCoy defender and apologist, tell me - is his production really so high that he can’t be replaced by Lawrence or Tillery? The answer is an emphatic no. The Bucs still have JPP and Nassib who were one hell of a duo last season and look to replicate that success in a more modern, more effective scheme. Add to that Shaq Barrett and the hope that Noah Spence can regain his dominant form when playing his natural position at his natural weight, the edge rush is looking better off than people give it credit for.
The gaping, glaring hole is next to Lavonte. Devin White is the perfect player to fill that. The guy that helps every level of the defense, that can track down ball carriers from anywhere on the field, that can impact the pass rush up the middle, and he can do so while being a leader from the second he walks in the front door. White isn’t going to care that he’s a rookie, he’s going to walk in and hold everyone accountable. He’s a leader and that’s what leaders do.
That’s what you need out of a top five pick. An elite player, yes, but an elite locker room guy and an elite person. “Position value” be damned, drafting Devin White would be a gigantic leap in the right direction for this franchise.