Tampa Bay Buccaneers

2022 State of the Bucs: Defensive Line

Taking a position by position look at the Buccaneers heading into the 2022 season, continuing with the defensive line.

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Position Group: Defensive Line

Players: Vita Vea, Ndamukong Suh, Will Gholston, Pat O'Connor, Rakeem Nuñez-Roches, Steve McLendon, Kobe Smith, Willington Prevlion

2021 Evaluation: The calling card of this Buccaneer defense under coordinator Todd Bowles was its ability to stop the run first. And guess what? That started up front with these guys. Tampa Bay finished third in rushing yards allowed per game with an 82.5-yard average. But that wasn't all they were able to do this year. While outside linebacker Shaq Barrett once again led the team in sacks with 10.0, Suh posted the second-most with 6.0 on the season. That's his most in a single season, matching last season's total, which ranks as the third-most in a single season for him in his career. Gholston had a career-high 4.5 with Vea right behind him at 4.0. Vea may not have the gaudy stat numbers afforded to defensive tackles in 4-3 base schemes but he was a game wrecker nonetheless. It earned him an eventual Pro Bowl nod, replacing Aaron Donald in this year's Pro Bowl out in Vegas.

Add every sack by an interior defensive linemen together and you get 15 of the team's 47 sacks this year as the unit pulled double duty in both rushing defense and the pass rush. They were also responsible for 44 of the team's quarterback hits on the season.

And that made a difference in the passing game as a complementary piece to the back level. While the defense ranked 21st in pass defense using yards per game as the metric, they actually ranked fourth in passing yards per play with just a 5.97-yard average. Considering how much teams passed against them due to their notorious rushing defense, that's a huge win.

2022 Outlook: Suh, Gholston, O'Connor and McLendon are all free agents this offseason. The former two are responsible for a huge chunk of production from this unit and the Bucs would do well to retain at least one of those players. Gholston is the second-longest-tenured Buccaneer behind Lavonte David and has become a staple in the Tampa Bay community. O'Connor also pulls double duty as a special teams' staple.

Vea just recently signed a contract extension that keeps him a Buc through 2027. Nuñez-Roches' contract goes through 2023 and both Smith and Prevlion are signed to reserve/futures contracts.

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