YaYa Diaby didn't give up on his dream, and now he's a Tampa Bay Buccaneer.
Diaby was a versatile football player and a multi-sport standout in high school in the Atlanta area but didn't get much interest in recruiting circles – in part, for sure, because he was about 210 pounds at the time – and he found himself tossing bags at the airport. But he eventually got a tryout at Georgia Military College, and that opened up an avenue for him to pursue his dreams. He has done so relentlessly ever since.
"He went to a Georgia military school and then he found his way to Louisville, and he's just had to earn it every step of the way," said Buccaneers Vice President of Player Personnel John Spytek. "He's a really talented kid. He ran a 4.51 at 263 pounds, he plays his ass off, he's versatile, he can rush inside. He can maybe stand up in sub groups, he can probably go inside and rush a little bit, he can stand up and rush off the edge. He never gives up."
The Buccaneers nabbed Diaby in the middle of the third round, with the 82nd pick overall. In a draft with few blue-chip edge rushers at the top but a very deep pool of intriguing candidates, the Bucs found one who they think has all the traits to develop into a productive defender. Those traits include a passion for the game that will lead him to continue on the journey that began at an Atlanta airport.
"So we've got long arms, we've got power, we've got relentlessness, we've got speed – there's a lot of things to like," said Spytek. "Now, he's got some room to improve and to grow like a lot of guys do, but he's a talented kid that loves football and a lot of times those things work out.
"He's relentless. He chases things to the sideline, he can run quarterbacks down. I think if you start with that, you can learn a lot of the other things. This guy is wired to relentlessly get after the quarterback. We've got coaches who are great at what they do and will teach him how to develop an arsenal of pass-rush moves. We like to work with guys who run a 4.51 and can push tackles backwards."
The Buccaneers' first three picks in the 2023 draft have all added to the trenches. The team took versatile defensive lineman Calijah Kancey in the first round and mobile offensive lineman Cody Mauch in the second round. There are some other needs on the depth chart, and it's generally impossible to hit all of them in one draft, but the Bucs have obviously prioritized winning up front.
"I think the game starts up front and therefore is won up front," said Spytek. "I think we proved that when we won a Super Bowl. If you don't have one of the five great quarterbacks in the league, you'd better be able to affect the five quarterbacks in the league. And you'd better be able to protect the guy that you've got back there."
The Buccaneers targeted Kancey, who has outside flexibility but is primarily an interior lineman, with their first pick. Still, Head Coach Todd Bowles has made it clear that the team needs more pass-rush production off the edge in 2023. Fortunately, this year's pool of edge rushers gave the Bucs a chance to hit both spots within the first two days.
"Thankfully for us it was a pretty deep class at edge rusher," said Spytek. "With our scheme, we're pretty versatile with the guys who can play out there. We can hop into a 3-4 and we play a lot of four guys down. He's a great kid and he loves football. The background stuff we have and the character stuff our scouts did on him was exceptional."
View pictures of Louisville OLB YaYa Diaby, who Tampa Bay selected in the third round of the 2023 NFL Draft.