The Tampa Bay Buccaneers selected LSU linebacker Devin White with the fifth overall pick in the 2019 NFL Draft on Thursday night, adding a dynamic playmaker to the heart of their new-look defense. It is the highest pick the Buccaneers have ever spent on an off-ball linebacker.
The investment of such significant draft capital at the position, and on White in particular, is no surprise given the Buccaneers' change in defensive scheme under Bruce Arians and Todd Bowles, as well as the team's recent results on that side of the ball. In addition, the departure of Kwon Alexander in free agency amplified the Bucs' need to add a difference-maker to the middle of the field.
Indeed, White should make an immediate impact in Tampa Bay's defense. At LSU last fall he won the Butkus Award as the nation's top collegiate linebacker after leading the SEC with 123 tackles. His game is defined by speed and range, allowing him to make plays all over the field as evidenced by his bursting stat line. In 38 games and 25 starts for the Tigers, White collected 286 tackles, 20.0 tackles for loss, 8.5 sacks, four forced fumbles, 10 passes defensed and an interception.
The addition of White continues a makeover to a Buccaneers defense not only in scheme but in several key areas of personnel. White gives the team another playmaker to pair with the extremely productive Lavonte David in the middle of the field, while free agent signee Deone Bucannon can play a variety of roles as a hybrid safety/linebacker. The Buccaneers also used free agency to add Shaq Barrett, who will play on the outside in the new 3-4 defense and either rush the passer or drop into coverage. These new additions have turned a position that was an area of concern after Alexander left into a potential strength.
View photos of LB Devin White from his playing days at LSU.
White is the first linebacker the Buccaneers have drafted in the first round in more than two decades. The most recent was eventual Hall of Famer Derrick Brooks, the 28th-overall selection in 1995 who would become a centerpiece to one of the best defenses in NFL history on his way to the Hall of Fame. The Buccaneers don't need White to land in Canton in order to improve on a defense that ranked 27th in yards allowed and 31st in points allowed in 2018, prior to the arrival of Arians as the team's new head coach. Bowles, the Bucs' new defensive coordinator, is expected to install a very aggressive defensive scheme that should make great use of White's impressive speed and range.
The 6-0, 237-pound White was a star running back as a prep in Louisiana, rushing for 5,031 yards and 81 touchdowns in his career. Though he also played on defense, he went to LSU hoping to remain on offense only to find the Tigers' depth chart dominated by future NFL players Leonard Fournette and Derrius Guice. He moved to defensive full time and earned SEC All-Freshman honors in 2016. He was a second-team All-American as a sophomore after leading the conference in tackles, then rose to first-team status this past fall before declaring early for the NFL Draft.
At the NFL Scouting Combine in February, White solidified his status as one of the top defenders available in the draft, running his 40-yard dash in 4.42 seconds and excelling across the board in the other drills. He was also the clear leader of an LSU defense, and his "Rover" position in the Tigers' 3-4 front lined him up in a variety of spots.
Prior to Thursday night's selection of White, the highest pick the Buccaneers had ever used on a true middle-of-the-field linebacker was the seventh selection in 1981, which landed Hugh Green, another NFL standout. The Bucs did draft Broderick Thomas sixth in 1989 and Keith McCants fourth in 1990, both of whom were listed as linebackers, but both were expected to be pass-rushers. Thomas did remain at linebacker but McCants played defensive end in the Bucs' scheme.