The Tampa Bay Buccaneers opened Day Three of the 2019 NFL Draft the same way they finished Day Two, by addressing the defense. This time, however, they specifically found some fresh talent for the front line.
The Buccaneers used the fifth pick in the fourth round, number 107 overall, to select Iowa defensive end Anthony Nelson, a highly-productive pass-rusher with a non-stop motor. Nelson had 9.5 sacks last year and 23.0 over the past three seasons. The 6-7, 271-pounder uses power to fight his way to the quarterback but also has nimble feet, which caught the attention of Buccaneer scouts.
"I'm not a big numbers guy, but if you take a look at his testing numbers from the Combine, he's got pretty freaky three-cone and short-shuttle times, especially for a guy that's 6-7," said Buccaneers Director of Player Personnel John Spytek. "He's got great feet. I learned a long time ago from Andy Reid that linemen with great feet typically end up playing well. He's going to be in the same role that Carl Nassib's playing right now."
Indeed, Nelson's mark of 6.95 seconds in the three-cone drill in Indianapolis was fourth-best among all defensive linemen and edge rushers, ranking a bit ahead of such first-round picks as Nick Bosa, Montez Sweat and Brian Burns. Nelson's 4.23-second trip through the 20-yard shuttle was equal to that of Kentucky's Josh Allen and tied for fourth-best in that same group of players.
And in terms of matching numbers, Nelson's height and weight are in fact nearly identical to those of Carl Nassib (6-7, 275). The Buccaneers claimed Nassib in September when he was surprisingly waived by the Cleveland Browns and landed an eventual starter who finished second on the team with 6.5 sacks. The Buccaneers are transitioning to a 3-4 defensive front under new Defensive Coordinator Todd Bowles and both Nassib and Nelson will be used as edge rushers.
"He's a great kid, versatile – he's like Carl Nassib 2.0," said Spytek of the newest addition to the Bucs' stable of pass-rushers. "You go look at the measurables, they're similar, exact same test score. Good kid. He's a high-motor kid, he's smart and he's instinctive. He's going to work hard and he's going to play hard."
After red-shirting in 2015, nelson saw his first action for the Hawkeyes in 2016 and racked up 33 tackles, 6.0 sacks, 8.0 tackles for loss, two forced fumbles and one pass defensed despite starting just one game. He then started all 26 games over the next two seasons, with 7.5 sacks and 9.5 tackles for loss in 2017 and 9.5 sacks and 13.5 tackles for loss in 2018. Nelson also broke up six passes during his collegiate career.
Though they were separated by about 13 hours, the Buccaneers added three players to their defense in the span of 14 picks in the draft. After trading down in round three and turning pick number 70 into selections at 94 and 99, the Bucs landed Auburn cornerback Jamel Dean and Kentucky safety Mike Edwards. That followed the Round Two choice of Eastern Michigan cornerback Sean Bunting. On Thursday night, Tampa Bay started its draft efforts with the selection of LSU linebacker Devin White first overall.
As such, the Buccaneers have, through four rounds, committed all their picks to the defensive side of the ball, not surprising after that crew finished 27th in the NFL in yards allowed and 31st in points allowed in 2018. Still, this is the first time since 1995 that Tampa Bay has opened a draft with five straight defensive players. That year, the franchise laid the foundation for what would develop into one of the best defenses in team history, drafting future Hall of Famers Warren Sapp and Derrick Brooks in the first round. Whether or not any of this year's draftees end up in Canton, the Buccaneers do hope that they are once again making moves that will lead to a big turnaround on the defensive side of the ball.