Position Group: Outside Linebacker
Players: Shaquil Barrett, Joe Tryon-Shoyinka, Anthony Nelson, Carl Nassib, Cam Gill, Genard Avery, Hamilcar Rashed
2022 Evaluation: In 2022, the Buccaneers' defense ranked ninth in total defense (324.3), 15th against the run (120.7) and ninth in pass defense (203.6). Todd Bowles' bunch produced 45.0 sacks (seventh), which is tied for fifth-most in franchise history. Nose tackle Vita Vea led the charge with 6.5 sacks, followed by Anthony Nelson (5.5) and Devin White (5.5). The outside linebacker unit did not meet expectations this past season in terms of getting to the quarterback. At the conclusion of the year, Head Coach Todd Bowles vocalized his assessment of the position group, citing a desire to see more consistent pressure from the unit.
"I think when your nose [tackle] is your leading sack guy, I don't think the pass rush was good enough," Bowles described. "We fell off some, we missed some – but they came from a multiple group of people. You want to be able to get there with four so you can play more coverage. I thought we got better from a pass defense standpoint in that aspect, but we can also rush the passer better."
The Buccaneers' defense suffered a significant loss in late October as Shaquil Barrett, a player who routinely commanded double teams, suffered a torn Achilles tendon in the third quarter of the 27-22 loss to the Baltimore Ravens. His promising 2022 campaign came to a premature end. Barrett, the team's leading sack producer of the previous four seasons, concluded the 2022 season with 30 tackles, 3.0 sacks, six tackles for loss, six quarterback hits and a forced fumble.
During his second year, Joe Tryon-Shoyinka showed flashes but never reached his ceiling. Finishing at the top of rushes to close on quarterbacks will be the primary focus for Tryon-Shoyinka entering Year Three. Last season, Tryon-Shoyinka accumulated 41 tackles (23 solo), six tackles for loss, 4.0 sacks, 14 quarterback hits and two passes defensed. With elite bend for his frame and a quality motor, Tryon-Shoyinka possesses untapped potential. As he continues to face a variety of block combinations and enhances his repertoire of counters, Tryon-Shoyinka will enhance his craft as an imposing pass rusher.
Anthony Nelson stepped in for Barrett and did not disappoint. As one of the most improved players on the Bucs' roster in 2022, Nelson consistently made timely plays that garnered momentum. He amassed 44 total tackles (25 solo), four tackles for loss, 5.5 sacks, six quarterback hits and three forced fumbles. The fourth-year player received 680 defensive snaps during the 2020-21 seasons combined and tallied 633 in 2022, after Barrett landed on injured reserve in Week Nine. Nelson made his presence felt last season, showcasing effective counter moves. The former Iowa Hawkeye continues to develop at leveraging power and expanding his arsenal.
After Cam Gill suffered a Lisfranc injury, the Bucs brought back a familiar face. Tampa Bay signed Carl Nassib to a one-year deal in August, adding much-needed depth to the position group. Nassib began his career in Cleveland but had his most impressive stint after joining the Buccaneers in 2018. In his two seasons in Tampa, Nassib recorded 12.5 sacks, 63 tackles and three forced fumbles while appearing in 17 regular-season games. His production with the Bucs earned him a three-year, $25 million deal with the Raiders in 2020, but the emergence of Maxx Crosby and Yannick Ngakoue limited Nassib to a rotational role. He made his way back to Tampa Bay, reuniting with Todd Bowles – his defensive coordinator in 2019. Nassib filled another reserve role with the Bucs, contributing 23 tackles (16 solo), six tackles for loss, 3.5 sacks, six quarterback hits and three passes defensed in 2022.
The remaining depth options featured Cam Gill, who was placed on Injured Reserve after sustaining a Lisfranc injury in the preseason opener and Genard Avery, who spent most of last year on the practice squad. Hamilcar Rashed was signed to the Bucs' practice squad in December and subsequently signed a reserve/future contract in January with Tampa Bay.
2023 Outlook: Of the aforementioned players, Anthony Nelson, Carl Nassib and Genard Avery are impending unrestricted free agents. Additionally, Cam Gill is a restricted free agent, meaning he is a player with three accrued seasons in the NFL and an expiring contract. The Bucs will have several challenging decisions looming as they are poised to lose depth options and a talented plug-and-play athlete in Nelson. Nelson helped fill the void left by Barrett opposite Tryon-Shoyinka and Nassib became a viable rotational player. The Bucs will strive to bolster the outside linebacker group this offseason with salary-cap limitations.