Tampa Bay Buccaneers Defensive Line Analysis

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Gerald McCoy is one of the five best defensive tackles in the NFL. He was awarded a spot on the Associated Press’ All-Pro Second Team with Ndamukong Suh and Calais Campbell. Aaron Donald and Damon Harrison were on the First Team. But McCoy by himself wasn’t enough to overcome the deficiencies on the defensive line.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers Defensive Line Analysis

McCoy started in 15 games in 2016 for the second consecutive season and posted 6.5 sacks for an approximate value of 12 according to Pro Football Reference. It’s the second highest approximate value of McCoy’s career.

The Buccaneers had 38 sacks (tied for seventh most in the NFL), but they just couldn’t consistently set the tone physically according to Pro Football Focus. They also allowed 102 rushing first downs, which was tied for the fifth most in the league.

Defensive end Robert Ayers was brought in as a free agent after two seasons with the New York Giants and was adequate with 6.5 sacks.

William Gholston had career highs with 14 starts and 3.5 sacks in his fourth season with the Buccaneers. While Gholston’s role is likely best served as a backup with a specialist as an edge defender, the fact that he’s shown gradual improvement every year provides optimism.

Clinton McDonald has had his two best seasons with the Buccaneers and produced 3.5 sacks in 12 starts as a defensive tackle, which more or less equals replacement level.

Noah Spence flashed potential as a rookie out of Eastern Kentucky and was probably the Bucs’ second best defensive linemen with 5.5 sacks, three forced fumbles and playing in all 16 games.

Akeem Spence signed with the Detroit Lions after a solid four years with the Buccaneers as a backup defensive tackle. He played in 16 games three times.

DaVonte Lambert was an undrafted rookie defensive end out of Auburn and saw action in 11 games and five starts, but generated just 14 total tackles.

Ryan Russell had one sack in eight games after one season with the Dallas Cowboys. Sealver Siliga had one sack in six games after coming over from the Seattle Seahawks during the season.

John Hughes and Channing Ward each appeared in five games and produced a combined 11 tackles. Hughes came over from the Cleveland Browns during the season and Ward was an undrafted rookie out of Mississippi.

Pass Rusher Still A Need In Draft

The Buccaneers knew they needed to upgrade on the defensive line and they did that successfully with the signing of defensive end Chris Baker. Baker, in the past two seasons with the Washington Redskins had a combined 10.5 sacks. Baker seems to have the same profile as Ayers and Gholston, but he grades well on Pro Football Focus.

Although he played just one snap for the Bucs last season, Jacquies Smith is interesting as a restricted free agent who should return. Smith played just one game because of an injured knee, but had 13.5 sacks in his first two seasons with Tampa Bay.

However, the Buccaneers should still consider taking a pass rusher in the NFL Draft. Since they already have a stockpile of defensive ends with the addition of Baker, one player they should strongly consider is Tim Williams out of Alabama. Williams, who is ranked 32nd on NFL.com and 26th on Pro Football Focus, is technically an outside linebacker but plays as an edge defender like Vic Beasley.

Daryl Smith has been a consistent linebacker in his career, but he’s been in the league for nine seasons and was 34 after his first season with Tampa Bay. He should be still useful as a third linebacker with Kwon Alexander and Lavonte David, but he could decline at any time.

Williams is still raw, but he would have time to develop with Smith still in the fold while performing as an edge rusher to compliment the defensive line with his pure pass rushing ability.