The fourth round of the 2013 NFL Draft was all about the defensive front for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and the Big Ten was where they looked for help.
After nabbing powerful Illinois defensive tackle Akeem Spence with the 100th overall pick earlier on Saturday, the Buccaneers used pick #126 to add athletically-gifted defensive end William Gholston of Michigan State. Tampa Bay's defensive line will feature a very heated competition in training camp as the team looks to replace a pair of departed starters and create a more productive pass rush.
"I feel like this Big Ten duo is going to go down to Tampa and try to play as hard as we can," said Gholston of the Bucs' fourth-round picks. "I know our conference is strong."
The 6-7, 278-pound Gholston has a strong frame and is extremely agile for his size. He can hold his own at the point or cover tight ends in space and he's got short-area quickness that could make him an intriguing pass-rusher in Tampa. At Michigan State he performed on both edges of the line, commonly playing the "boundary," meaning that after the ball was placed at one of the hash marks, he lined up on the end that had the closer sideline.
Within that framework, Gholston racked up 142 tackles, 10 sacks, 30 tackles for loss, 13 passes defensed and two forced fumbles over the course of three seasons and 36 games at Michigan State. During his 2012 junior season, the Detroit native contributed 4.5 sacks, 13 tackles for loss and a remarkable 10 passes batted down, a function of his 34-inch arms and impressive wingspan. Gholston's 30 tackles for loss are the 10th highest career total in school history. He was a second-team All-Big Ten pick by both the coaches and the media in 2011.
Though those numbers were respectable, Gholston believes his performance exceeded the raw statistics because he contributed heavily to team success.
"When the chance was there to make a play, I felt like I did and I capitalized on it. But I also played within the scheme of the defense and we finished with the top defense for the last three years in the Big Ten and the top five for the last three years in the nation. My numbers may not have been that high, but as a unit we worked efficiently and everything that I did helped out my team."
Indeed, in his last collegiate game, Gholston won Defensive Player of the Game honors in the 2012 Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl, helping his team defeat TCU, 17-16, with nine tackles, one sack and a pass defensed. He chose to enter the draft a year early after that game because he wanted to take his name to another level.
"I didn't know what round I was going in, and that didn't matter to me," said Gholston. "I just wanted the opportunity to play in the NFL and now that I have it I'm going to make sure I take advantage of it. The level of competition in the NFL was basically the reason [I came out early]. I wanted to raise the level of my game, raise my level as a player, and I felt the only way to do so was to play against the best and the most elite players in the country, and that's everybody in the NFL."