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Projecting who will be Buccaneers’ highest-graded defender in 2019

Pro Football Focus posed the question. Let’s answer it.

NFL: Carolina Panthers at Tampa Bay Buccaneers Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Pro Football Focus’ grading system isn’t perfect by any means, but said grades usually lead to some good talking points.

This tweet from @PFF_Buccaneers certainly gives us something to think and talk about:

Before we get to the question posed, let’s just reflect on that list right there. I had quite a few takeaways from it:

  • There are four guys with multiple appearances: Jermaine Phillips (2006, 2007), Aqib Talib (2009, 2010), Gerald McCoy (2012, 2014, 2018) and Lavonte David (2013, 2017).
  • McCoy, who was recently released by the Bucs, is the only three-timer on the list. Not only that, but he was the team’s highest-graded player last year. So, to say he “doesn’t have it” anymore might not be entirely true. However, detractors will counter that being the highest-graded player on a bad defense isn’t anything to brag about.
  • Tampa Bay is surely hoping that McCoy isn’t the third guy on that list to go elsewhere and play even better. Of course, Talib has been one of the top corners in the game since leaving Tampa, and Michael Bennett has done very well for himself in his post-Bucs life.
  • The fact that there’s only one grade above 90 on a 13-player list of the highest grades just shows how bad the Bucs have been on defense over the last decade-plus.
  • This serves as a reminder that Brent Grimes really was a remarkable pickup for the 2016 season, which is easy to forget about because of how hard he was to watch in 2018.

Anyway... On to the question posed by the tweet. Who will be Tampa Bay’s highest-graded defensive player in the 2019 season?

For my money, I’m going with Lavonte David. That’s not going to be an uncommon pick, I assume, but there’s a reason it won’t be uncommon. David has been a consistent producer for the Bucs since he was drafted, regardless of scheme. He’s missed the 100-tackle mark just once in his career, but even that year he totaled five sacks, which is the second-highest total of his career. Of course, some years were more productive than others. But even his “down” years haven’t really been anything to complain about.

As good as David has been for the Tampa Bay defense, seeing him reach another level in 2019 would be no surprise at all. With Todd Bowles entering as the team’s new defensive coordinator, David will be put to better use. Bowles loves to be aggressive and he loves to blitz, which is going to be big for the veteran linebacker. When David can be aggressive, that’s when he’s at his best.

When he was able to play more freely under former head coach Greg Schiano, the Nebraska product put together some of his best years. In 2013, he racked up 145 tackles, a career-high seven sacks and a career-high five interceptions. He can do it all, which is why the transition from 4-3 weakside linebacker to a 3-4 inside linebacker shouldn’t be a concern. Getting to play next to rookie Devin White should be a good thing as well. Really, 2019 should remind everyone that Lavonte David is one of the most underrated players in the NFL.

David might be the most common pick to be the team’s highest-graded defender in 2019, but there are plenty of other options that seem viable. Vita Vea and Ndamukong Suh promise to be effective up front for Tampa Bay, while the aforementioned White could burst onto the scene as a rookie this year. And while the secondary is still a relative unknown as far as in-game play goes, there are some candidates there as well. Vernon Hargreaves III, Carlton Davis and rookie Sean Murphy-Bunting all come to mind.

What do you think, Bucs fans? Who will be the top-graded defender for Bowles and Co. this fall? Let us know what you think in the comments down below.