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Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Bucs 'Always Looking' for More Edge Rush Depth

The Buccaneers believe they can get more in 2024 out of such promising young outside linebackers as Yaya Diaby, Markees Watts and Jose Ramirez, but could also add to the position if the opportunity arises


The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are currently building the 90-man roster they will take into their 2024 training camp, where it will then be whittled down to 53 for the regular season. It's a process that repeats itself every spring and summer, often with many of the same beats.

However, no two roster builds are ever quite the same, and one of the more unusual aspects of the Buccaneers' initial band of 53 last September was the decision to keep six outside linebackers. Since the arrival of Todd Bowles as first the defensive coordinator in 2019 and then the head coach beginning in 2022, the Bucs have usually devoted either four or five spots out of 53 to the edge rush group. The team that Tampa Bay took into Super Bowl LV, for instance, included just four outside linebackers.

Of course, that team had Shaq Barrett, who had 31.5 sacks over his first two seasons in Tampa, playoffs included. Starting opposite Barrett was Jason Pierre-Paul, the Bucs' only 2020 Pro Bowl selection after his 9.5-sack campaign (plus two more in the postseason). Pierre-Paul last played for the Buccaneers in 2021 and the team recently made the difficult decision to release Barrett, who subsequently signed with the Miami Dolphins, for salary-cap reasons.

Back to last September. The unusual move to keep six outside linebackers, including undrafted rookie Markees Watts, was a nod to the importance of the position and the difficulty of developing talent there. The Bucs still only planned on using a four-man edge rotation in games, but they simply didn't want to let any real pass-rushing talent out of the building. The question six months later is how do the Buccaneers currently feel about their edge rush depth, and it's a pressing question because the 2024 NFL Draft is rapidly approaching.

Obviously, that depth took a hit with the release of Barrett, who played 747 defensive snaps in 2023, the most of any of those six outside 'backers. Those snaps need to be replaced, whether by additions to the roster or greatly expanded roles for younger players. Outside linebacker Cam Gill is also still an unsigned free agent, but the Bucs may be interested in bringing him back. Gill played just 81 defensive snaps last year but has been developing with the team for since 2020 and has shown flashes of pass-rush prowess in the past.

The Bucs' current OLB depth chart includes Watts, presumptive starters Joe Tryon-Shoyinka and Yaya Diaby, sixth-year man Anthony Nelson and 2023 sixth-round draft pick Jose Ramirez. Watts actually grabbed a spot on the active roster over Ramirez, but the latter stayed around on the practice squad all season. Both players impressed enough on the practice field against starting tackles Tristan Wirfs and Luke Goedeke to suggest they could be ready to step up in 2024.

"You're always looking for pass rushers, and you're always looking to upgrade," said General Manager Jason Licht. "It doesn't matter if you have two All-Pros there, you're still looking for depth there. So we're always going to be looking there. But we are all really excited about Markees [and] Jose. Anthony obviously has been a steady force there. Some of those young guys were giving our tackles a lot of trouble during the week last year. They talked to me about it all the time – Tristan and Luke were saying, 'This Jose is going to be something else.' I'm excited to see him in camp this year. Last year he was hurt, so it's going to be fun to watch."

Nelson, Tryon-Shoyinka and Diaby have all had seasons of at least 5.0 sacks in the NFL – Diaby led the Bucs as a rookie with 7.5 – but none have hit triple digits. The Bucs could be searching for a player with the potential of that 10-sack campaign in the draft, but they may also end up piecing together an effective pass rush from the pieces on hand.

"We have a great deal of confidence in Watts becoming more of a complete player, and we still have Cam Gill – we'll see [if he's re-signed] – and then Ramirez," said Head Coach Todd Bowles. "We're looking to get better. We can get better from a game standpoint and helping those guys out, too, but if we had to play we know we can play. But we're always trying to upgrade the sack total. You're always looking for that 15-sack guy, and sometimes that's just a shot of luck. Sometimes you get back there and the ball's out."

Those three also have plenty of NFL starting experience. Diaby cracked the starting lineup about halfway through his rookie campaign; Nelson and Tryon-Shoyinka were memorably a two-man crew down the stretch in 2022, both playing every defensive snap over the course of about a month.

"Well, they've both started games, so we don't have a problem with that," said Bowles. It's just the efficiency of the pass rush. We kind of know where we want to use Joe at now. He's more of a joker type player for us, to move around and do different things for us and set up [plays]. Nellie's just very efficient and effective where he is."

Tryon-Shoyinka was the Buccaneers' first-round pick in 2021, the last player off the board on the first night of the draft. He had 4.0 sacks in a rotational role as a rookie, then 4.0 again as a full-time starter in 2022 before topping that with 5.0 last year. The Bucs obviously want more out of Tryon-Shoyinka and all of their edge rushers in terms of sheer sack numbers, but Tryon-Shoyinka has carved out a role where he can make an impact in a number of ways, not all of which show up on the stat sheet.

"Joe's a very unique player," said Bowles. "He's not going to be the go-around-the-corner Shaq type of guy. Joe can move all across the line of scrimmage and help us in a lot of things. He's our linebacker, he's our defensive end, he's our three-tech, he's our part-time nickel, he's our part-time inside 'backer. He can come from a lot of areas. He has a lot of jobs. He's a different kind of rusher. He's very athletic. He can stunt and do a lot of things. He's not just going to come and bull you and go around the corner.

"Do we think he can rush the passer? Yes. Has he left some sacks out there? Yes, but he's made some great plays for us, or set up great plays for other people. And that goes unnoticed because you don't see him at the finality of the play. We look for Joe just to come back for us and do those things for us and get better and better at what he's doing."

Pairing the Buccaneers up with an edge rusher at the 26th pick in the first round of this year's draft has been a popular move by mock drafters this offseason, and as Licht said the Bucs are always looking for more talent at that spot. However, they also believe they have some intriguing internal options for rebuilding that outside linebacker rotation in the post-Shaq Barrett era.

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