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Why the Bucs got it right with the selection of Calijah Kancey

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers started the 2023 draft with the 19th selection and finished with a brand-new pass rusher. 

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: OCT 22 Pitt at Louisville Photo by Michael Allio/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The Buccaneers 2023 draft class is going to have much different expectations than what had been the ‘norm’ in recent years. The Tom Brady era is officially over and that means a lot for Tampa. For the draft specifically, it means there will be a major shift in the pressure on prospects the team brings in. Rookies of the previous three draft classes were walking into a ready-made team with a preset standard of playoffs and a run at a Super Bowl. That sets a rookie up with a significant burden to have early success. The 2023 NFL draft represents the removal of those expectations and overwhelming pressure. Due to the organizational change in circumstance, how Tampa chooses to attack this draft will be quite interesting.

Round one is over and done and the Buccaneers addressed a large-scale need. Last year, Tampa’s pass rush was a weakness, not a strength. For the first time since Todd Bowles’ arrival in 2019, getting to the quarterback was a struggle and Tampa Bay’s interior pass rush has been lacking since the glory days of Gerald McCoy. Vita Vea has often received praise for being able to bull rush through offensive linemen and he did register a career high 6.5 sacks last year still, pass rushing is not his primary role. The drafting of Calijah Kancey could say something about Tampa’s second round pick from last year’s draft, Logan Hall. Despite appearing in all 17 games last season, Hall only tallied 2.5 sacks and just 12 total tackles. During his media availability this offseason, Jason Licht has spoken positively about Hall and the development the team saw in him throughout his first NFL season, but the NFL is results oriented and results were lacking in Hall’s debut season.

Jason Licht’s clearly been focused on improving the Bucs pass rush since the team’s Super Bowl Victory against the Kansas City Chiefs, where Tampa’s defensive front dominated the contest. All three of Jason Licht’s drafts since, have started with a pass rusher. Kancey is a proven stud at the collegiate level, during his time at Pitt he posted 19 sacks and over 27 tackles for loss. Kancey may be undersized for his position, but his performance is not—

The NFL Combine is a time for athletes to be athletes and at the Combine Calijah Kancey was an athlete. Kancey showed Tampa Bay that he can (athletically) mirror one of the greatest the organization has ever seen. The former Pitt Panther measured in at six feet, one inch, carrying a weight of 281 pounds. Buccaneers Ring of Honor member and NFL Hall of Famer Warren Sapp is listed at an inch taller and roughly 20 pounds heavier, but at the combine, Sapp’s pre-draft measurements were identical to those of Kancey. To further the comparison, Sapp ran a fantastic 4.69 40-yard dash. Calijah Kancey actually bested Sapp, clocking a 4.67 in his 40-yard dash. Standing at the same height, while being saddled with the same weight, does not make a player Warren Sapp, but comparisons to Tampa Bay legends are always noteworthy.

Drafting Calijah Kancey will hopefully help to restore some of the spark that was missing from the Bucs pass rush during the 2022 season. If Tampa wants to make another run at the playoffs, being able to rely on their defense to create pressure on opposing teams’ quarterbacks will be a crucial component.


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