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How YaYa Diaby fits with the Buccaneers

Trenches, trenches, trenches for Tampa Bay.

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

The Buccaneers invested in another pass rusher to close out Day 2 of the NFL Draft, as they made YaYa Diaby of Louisville the 82nd overall selection.

If the overall goal was to get stronger and faster along the offensive and defensive lines, then Jason Licht and Todd Bowles have definitely succeeded at first glance with the recruitment of Calijah Kancey, Cody Mauch, and Diaby. The latter has gradually risen throughout the pre-draft process, starting with a very good Senior Bowl, then a great Scouting Combine, and finally some reportedly impressive in-person visits.

It’s been a long road for the former 0-star prospect, so let’s break down why the Bucs picked him and who he is.

Why Did the Bucs Pick YaYa Diaby?

Tampa clearly wants to follow the modern trend of stacking your pass rush five-to-six players deep, several with different profiles. It’s worked for teams like Philadelphia and New Orleans, and other teams are starting their own little stockpiles as well (like Las Vegas or Cincinnati).

But why wait until the third round to address edge when it was commonly mocked as their top pick?

Their first-rounder Kancey adds something new to the three-technique spot, and he has the polish to contribute immediately. In the top 20 picks, the goal should always be to find an instant impact like that — whether it comes from the defensive line or the edge rushers, you’re still getting more than you had previously.

And since you can never have too much pass rush, rounding out your depth with a player with whom you’re enamored is perfectly reasonable on late Day 2. That’s why Tampa picked Diaby, as they met with him thoroughly throughout the pre-draft process.

He gives them somebody who can be churned into the rotation slowly while Shaq Barrett, Joe Tryon-Shoyinka, and Anthony Nelson command majority snaps. Diaby also serves as a different flavor than the other guys, which expands what the defense can run.

What Kind of Prospect is Diaby?

Diaby made Bruce Feldman’s annual Freaks list, which highlights some of the most mind-bending athletes in each draft class. It’s well deserved, as Diaby carries a chiseled 6-foot-3, 263-pound frame with outstanding speed and explosiveness.

Stop me if you’ve heard this before, but Licht once again let his admiration for Relative Athletic Score (RAS) drive one of his draft decisions. Just like Kancey and Mauch, Diaby posted elite grades for his position.

And once again, it shows up consistently on tape. He launches out of his stance and uses pure power to blast through obstacles like a damn mantis shrimp. This should translate well to the pros due in part to his huge, powerful hands and optimal wingspan. Those same qualities, combined with good lateral agility, should also make him an asset as a run defender.

It’s all the more wild to think about when you learn Diaby came out of high school as a lanky 6-foot-1, 210-pound tight end/defensive end/kicker. As such, he effectively went unrecruited and enrolled in junior college instead. In those two years, Diaby radically transformed himself and forced his way onto Power 5 radars. He settled on Louisville and remained pretty quiet in the stat sheet for two years until breaking out in 2022 with 9 sacks and 14 tackles for loss.

One year of production can always be iffy to trust, especially when a lot of it comes from blunt physical mismatches. Diaby lacks creativity in his rush, and he’ll need to work diligently on how to create a better attack strategy and expand his range of moves.

It’s easy to come away slightly unimpressed. However, all teams expect that guys will come with more warts/limitations at this point. It’s not often you find fully fledged starters at Pick 82. Some names from the last five drafts who went at that spot: DeAngelo Malone, Dyami Brown, and Neville Gallimore. Expand to a 2-3 pick range in either direction, and you still find a limited pool of true successes: Nate Davis (guard), Michael Gallup (receiver), Tracy Walker (safety), Orlando Brown (tackle), and Mark Andrews (tight end).

That’s all meant to serve as a reminder to approach third-round picks with measured expectations — for better or worse. Scouting isn’t simple, player development is subject to wide-ranging variables, and hindsight is always 20-20.

We’re all allowed to have “our guys” during the draft, and it’s reasonable to feel skeptical, but let’s not pile on too hard before someone even takes the field. In a vacuum, Diaby is a fantastic, pro-caliber athlete with notable Power 5 production, and the 24-year-old’s best football is ahead of him at one of the game’s most important positions. He might not have been the direction everyone would choose, but it’s hard to call him a reach either.