The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are determined to put more pressure on opposing passers any way possible. They think their newest member, Calijah Kancey, can help with that effort in multiple ways.
On Thursday night, the Buccaneers used the 19th-overall pick in the 2023 draft to land Kancey, the All-American defensive lineman from the University of Pittsburgh. Kancey was a three-technique interior lineman for Pitt but at varying times lined up all over the Panthers' front, from nose tackle to the edge. He racked up 14.5 sacks over the past two seasons and has the potential to give the Buccaneers one of the most difficult commodities to find: pressure up the middle.
"We think we got a chance to get somebody, [where] in this day and age it's hard to find interior pass rushers," said General ManagerJason Licht. "They're very few and far between. So hopefully, we got one."
Tampa Bay's defense generated 45 sacks during the 2022 season and ranked 12th in the league in sacks-per-pass-play rate (7.89%). But they got more than half of their sacks from off-ball linebackers and defensive backs. Head Coach Todd Bowles noted earlier in the offseason that the team needed to generate more pressure off the edges, and Licht said in his pre-draft press conference that the team needed more speed overall. Kancey, who ran a sizzling 4.67-second 40-yard dash at the Combine and displays impressive explosion off the snap, can help in both regards.
"He's a super-disruptive interior player that you can actually play outside a little bit too," said Licht. "I know that our coaches are excited about all the different things you can do with a player like this just because of his elite athleticism, quickness; [he's] super intelligent, [and] just a great competitor.
"We've been talking about him, you know, through the whole process of the different ways that we can use him and how we're going to have to adjust a little bit, but maybe for the better."
Kancey was a unanimous All-American selection as a redshirt junior in 2022 and the ACC Defensive Player of the Year. Despite missing two games he recorded 31 tackles, 7.5 sacks and 14.5 tackles for loss. As a sophomore, he racked up another 7.0 sacks and 13.0 tackles for loss and was a first-team All-ACC selection. He says he can also be a force against the run.
"I bring that pop," said Kancey. "I think guys kind of don't know how explosive I am. I think guys kind of fall asleep on my run game. As you see, I had a lot of TFLs in the previous years. I actually love stopping the run. We're going to surprise a lot of people."
Still, Kancey was a top-20 pick in the 2023 draft – and Licht says he was sweating that out until the Bucs were on the clock – because he has the potential to get after the passer. Kancey describes himself as a hard-worker who is ready to be a "sponge" as soon as he joins his new teammates.
"Something I hope to do when I get to the next level, is I want to learn the playbook and I want to be able to play faster than [I do]," he said. "I think knowing the playbook and knowing what you have to do helps you play faster – that's something I'm going to put a lot of work into."
The Buccaneers had a need along their defensive front after seeing multiple defensive linemen hit free agency in March. Rakeem Nunez-Roches left for the New York Giants and both Will Gholston and Akiem Hicks remain unsigned free agents. Logan Hall, the Bucs' top draft pick a year ago, is expected to step into a larger role in his second season but there is plenty of room for Kancey to step quickly into a significant role.
Kancey is the 12th defensive lineman the Buccaneers have drafted in the first round, which makes it their most targeted position in team history. He's the second Pitt player to join the list, following linebacker Hugh Green in 1981.