Skip to main content

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Anthony Nelson Emphasizing Footwork to Unleash Pass Rush Toolkit 

An overview of Anthony Nelson’s ascension in Year Five and consistent production on the field

A-Nelly pick 6

Competition accelerated on Wednesday between the hash marks as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers faced off with the New York Jets for a scrimmage-styled joint practice session at the Atlantic Health Training Center. On the far-left field, the Bucs' defense squared off with the Jets' offense. 

Zach Wilson took the snap and Buccaneers outside linebacker Anthony Nelson blew up the play. He dropped to cover the flat, instinctively trailed the ball with his eyes and plucked it out of the air. Nelson then sprinted in the opposite direction, returning it for a touchdown. He raced down the left boundary to the cheers of Tampa Bay's sideline, shifting the momentum to Tampa Bay during the 11-on-11 team period. 

"He's 'Steady Eddie.' He's always in the right place," Head Coach Todd Bowles remarked. "He has very good hands to be an outside 'backer, might have the best of the group. He's going to be where he's supposed to be."

Nelson is an underrated name across the NFL landscape, rarely occupying headlines, but is consistently in the right position. His ability to wreak havoc on offenses garnered a new contract in March. Nelson, who continues to catapult forward, inked a two-year deal with the Bucs. Tampa Bay selected Nelson in the fourth round of the 2019 NFL Draft and he has increased his sack total every year. The game has slowed down for Nelson in Year Five, fostering growth. 

"The one thing I have worked on is getting myself in the right position and getting my footwork down," Nelson stated. "That gives me a lot more options on the power and a lot more speed when I want to use it, so just making sure my footwork is solid and making sure I am in the right position of where I need to be." 

Nelson emerged as a starter in the second half of the 2022 slate, stepping into the starting lineup after Shaquil Barrett suffered a season-ending Achilles tendon injury. He concluded the year with a career-high 5.5 sacks, tying for second on the team. Additionally, he forced a team-high three fumbles, two of which came on crucial third-down strip-sacks in comeback victories over Arizona and Carolina in Weeks 16 and 17, which spearheaded the Bucs to an NFC South crown for the second-consecutive season. Nelson became one of the most improved players on the Bucs roster, showcasing an enhanced pass rush arsenal. The former Iowa Hawkeye possesses outstanding length, quickness and a relentless motor for hunting down quarterbacks. 

"Nelson has been very consistent," Bowles said. "He's not the fastest and he doesn't look the strongest and he has kind of a baby face, but he's been steady since he's been here. He's very strong at the point, he's a very good technician – getting after the passer – not to say more or less the speed guys or the power guys. He can do a little of both – he's very deceptive that way. We use him quite a bit. We consider him a 1a, 1b type of starter, even if he's not starting. He's reliable, he knows what he's doing all the time and he's always solid. You don't hear about him enough because he's always in the right place."

With explosion out of his stance to collapse the pocket and ability in coverage to erase screens/sweeps/end-arounds, Nelson solidifies the Bucs' defensive unit. He is a lethal bull rusher, extending his long arms into blocks while driving with his legs. He is able to quickly disengage, keeping his eyes downfield to make a play on the ball. Nelson is fundamentally sound and as he continues to refine footwork out of his stance to leverage an imposing speed-to-power conversion, he will continue to take significant strides forward. He has developed in utilizing power and building a repertoire of counters, taking his craft to new heights.

In addition to the pick-six on Wednesday, Nelson made plays whistle-to-whistle. Nelson was constantly in the backfield, including a play during 11-on-11. Nelson quickly bypassed the lineman and flushed Aaron Rodgers out of the pocket, forcing a hurried pass. No. 98 became a bright spot on the grass, elevating the play of the defense against an unfamiliar foe. 

"We see our scheme so much in the preseason, which is great but you kind of get used to it, and in the season, every week is a different scheme," Nelson discussed. "So, to be able to come out here and to go against an offense that does things a little differently than our offense it puts us off-balance a little, but that is how it is going to be during the season, and we are going to have to learn to adapt to that and that is what we are building towards in the preseason."

Latest Headlines