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Lovie Smith was in danger of losing his "defensive coach" reputation. Sixteen months after taking over as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' head coach, Smith's team finally used a draft pick on a defender: LSU linebacker Kwon Alexander.
The Buccaneers' run of nine straight offensive players drafted in the 2014-15 drafts was more of a coincidence than a plan, but the team's interest in Alexander was obviously very real. In order to insure they didn't miss out on the quick and rangy linebacker, the Bucs traded the first of their two seventh-round picks (#218) to the Oakland Raiders for the privilege of moving up five spots in the fourth round.
READ:Bucs Draft LB Alexander
That was the second straight aggressive move to get a targeted player, and both trades involved pick #128. On Friday night, Tampa Bay moved up four spots from the first pick in the third round to #61 overall in the second round in order to nab Hobart guard Ali Marpet. That deal came at the cost of a swap of fourth-round picks, as Indianapolis got #109 and the Bucs moved down to that #128 spot.
Knowing they were likely to focus on the offensive line on Day Two of this year's draft, and with the first overall selection reserved for quarterback Jameis Winston, the Buccaneers shored up their defensive depth chart in free agency. Linebacker Bruce Carter, defensive tackle Henry Melton, cornerback Sterling Moore and safety Chris Conte – all players who were familiar with the Bucs' defensive scheme – came aboard as unrestricted free agents and defensive end George Johnson was acquired in a trade with Detroit.
Still, Smith and company would certainly like some young defenders to develop in their system, and Alexander is the first such addition through the draft. The 6-1, 227-pound playmaker fits the mold of an outside linebacker in Smith's 4-3 system, with very good speed and a non-stop motor. He was also very productive in the Tigers' defense during his two seasons as a starter, racking up 155 tackles in 2013 and 2014 combined.
Alexander, who gave up his senior season to declare for the draft, is still just 20 years old and obviously has room left to develop as an NFL player. At LSU, played in 32 games over three years, starting 23. His career collegiate totals include 166 tackles, 15 tackles for loss, 1.5 sacks, three forced fumbles, six passes defensed and seven quarterback hits.
Alexander's skill set should make him an immediate contributor on special teams in Tampa Bay while he competes for a starting job, possibly on the strong side with Lavonte David clearly entrenched on the weak side. Of course, the rookie defender would likely be competing for that spot with Danny Lansanah, who had a breakout season for the Buccaneers in 2014, with three interceptions while starting at all three linebacker spots.
Interestingly, the Buccaneers hadn't drafted a linebacker in the fourth round since 1997, when they used a compensatory selection to take Alshermond Singleton, who went on to start on the strong side for the 2002 Super Bowl-winning team.
Even with the trade, the Buccaneers have three more picks to execute on the final day of the NFL draft. The team is currently set to select at #162 in the fifth round, #184 in the sixth round and #231 in the seventh round. Thanks to a series of deals before and during this year's draft, none of those spots were where the team was originally slated to pick.