Like other positions on the roster, the Buccaneers have moved past proven veterans on the defensive line and are shifting more toward young upside for the future.
Players of the past like Ndamukong Suh and Akiem Hicks have given way to last year’s first pick Logan Hall and new addition Greg Gaines (just 27 years old). Between those latter two and Vita Vea, the starters are set but the roster really needs more high-quality rotational depth.
You can strongly expect some level of draft investment in less than two weeks, but it will largely come down to value. GM Jason Licht might seek someone on late Day 2 or early Day 3, and Zacch Pickens quite possibly presents the best option in that scenario.
ZACCH PICKEN’S COLLEGIATE CAREER
Pickens was heavily recruited out of T.L. Hannah High School in Anderson, S.C., being pegged as a 5-star prospect by 247Sports and Rivals.com. ESPN rated him 4 stars.
After fielding offers from other Power 5 programs like Florida State and Clemson, Pickens settled on the University of South Carolina. He played right of the gate as a true freshman in 2019, logging more than 200 snaps over 12 games (13 total tackles, 4 run stops).
He saw a significant uptick in 2020 during the pandemic season, playing 445 snaps and recording 36 total tackles, 13 run stops and one sack. In 2021, Pickens took a step forward as a pass rusher with 14 total pressures, including 8 QB hits and 5 sacks. He made 22 run stops as well.
In his final year, he continued his solid production with 43 total tackles, 22 run stops, 19 total pressures, and 3 sacks.
Pickens participated in the Reese’s Senior Bowl and was voted the American team’s defensive line practice player of the week.
Zacch Pickens is menacing up front, and his stock is sure to rise after the Senior Bowl.— Tyler DeSena (@DeSenaSports) February 3, 2023
I was able to talk to Pickens in Mobile regarding his versatility and experience with the coaching staff.#SeniorBowl #TheDraftStartsInMOBILE pic.twitter.com/iixG97gZmY
PRO DAY AND SCOUTING COMBINE
Pickens took part in the Scouting Combine and the S.C. Pro Day. He measured in fairly well, with average height and weight for the position (6-foot-4, 298 pounds) but very good length (34 3/8” arms with 10 3/8” hands).
His athletic testing largely reflected what shows up on tape. He’s a functional, good-quality athlete who isn’t going to overwhelm NFL competition but is definitely enough to get on the field more often that not with refinement in other areas.
He ran a good 40-yard dash (4.89) and 10-yard split (1.67). His jumps were mixed with a 30.5” vertical and 9’8” broad. His three-cone (7.45 seconds) was solid, while his bench press was surprisingly poor (22 reps).
Zacch Pickens is a DT prospect in the 2023 draft class. He scored a 9.16 RAS out of a possible 10.00. This ranked 125 out of 1478 DT from 1987 to 2023. https://t.co/jKp0i4eIo3 #RAS pic.twitter.com/adBYZ4ksnz— Kent Lee Platte (@MathBomb) March 15, 2023
Overall, Pickens looks coordinated in drills and puts some really strong reps on tape. He’s got a good first step and uses his long arms to generate immediate pushback into blockers. He has really smooth body control that allows him to navigate gaps, and he pairs that with a hot motor and sharp football intellect (experience with multiple alignments and roles over 32 college starts).
South Carolina’s Zacch Pickens first shows his ability to anchor down and make a run stop, then penetrates to force runner back inside, and finally shows his wiggle and quicks for the sack.— Bobby Football (@Rob__Paul) April 8, 2023
Nice combo of explosiveness and power; Day 2 prospect in the 2023 NFL Draft. pic.twitter.com/sBa4EO2JV7
WHAT PICKENS CAN DO FOR THE BUCS IN 2023
Todd Bowles is going to like Zacch Pickens, this much I can nearly guarantee you. Out of all the measurable thresholds that are consistent with Bowles’s draft history, Pickens meets all of them except for the bench press and weight — and even then his playing weight of 290 falls just a few pounds short.
Beyond that, Pickens will scratch Bowles’s itch for versatility, and he has the necessary traits to play in the team’s attacking one-gap scheme as a 1- or 3-technique. There needs to be improvement with Pickens’s overall consistency, leverage, and hand usage, but these issues stem more from poor coaching at S.C. than his actual ability. The quickness, coordination, and favorable build are all pluses.
How quickly he comes around to NFL coaching and conditioning will affect how many snaps he gets in the rotation. As long as he’s active on game days, that’s a win for Tampa in Year 1.
Pickens has everything you want in a project defensive lineman. He’s a high-quality ball of clay who just needs the right coaching to become a solid starter.
How he’s viewed following this season will depend hugely on the performances of others like Hall and Gaines, the latter of whom is on a 1-year deal. The team might choose to fast-track Pickens’s development if they need a capable body, but otherwise they might feel more content to play the long game with him.
It’s always hard to peg players like this given the wide variance of outcomes, but the talent is absolutely there to be an impact player by Year 3.
Pickens is largely regarded as a third-round player with occasional fourth-round evaluations.
The Athletic’s Dane Brugler ranks Pickens as his 83rd overall prospect, which is especially worth noting since the Bucs are currently slated to pick 82nd overall.
Lance Zierlein of NFL.com gave him a 6.24 grade, which represents the ceiling of an average starter. He compared Pickens to Maurice Hurst, who’s carved out a decent career as a rotational piece and spot starter when healthy.
ON THE CLOCK...
Give us your thoughts, Bucs Nation. Would you like to see Pickens join the likes of Vita Vea on the defensive line as a developmental piece? Let us know in the poll and discuss in the comments below.
The Buccaneers Should Target Zacch Pickens in the NFL Draft...
This poll is closed
In the third round at his projected value
Trade back in the third round and see if he slips
In the fourth round
He shouldn’t be on their board/draft another prospect higher