On Thursday, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers used the fifth-overall pick in the 2019 NFL Draft to select LSU's Devin White, a linebacker known for the impressive speed and range that allows him to make plays all over the field. Later that evening, General Manager Jason Licht pointed out another benefit of adding White to the Buccaneers' defense: He's a very effective pass-rusher.
White was in Nashville for the draft on Thursday night but he flew to Tampa on Friday for the obligatory press-conference introduction. Afterwards, Head Coach Bruce Arians indicated another reason why White was their most coveted player: He's a superb coverage weapon against the pass-catching backs and fleet quarterbacks who have led to a revolution in NFL offenses.
"Position flexibility is huge for us," said Arians of the many ways White can be deployed. "Obviously, he's a three-down player. He can walk out on the edge and do some things. Then the other thing is, he can cover backs. He can cover the great backs. With all the spread that's coming in now, there's no quarterback that's going to out-run him. I don't worry about Kyler Murray as much now, playing him in November, running around. You want [White] to be the spy, because he can run him down and catch him. Those things that are evolving in the league now, you need speed. You get it in that size and physicality, you've got something really special."
This is particularly notable because the NFC South just happens to have some of the most dangerous versions of that type of running back. The Saints' Alvin Kamara has caught exactly 81 catches in each of his first two NFL seasons so far, leading to 1,535 yards and nine touchdowns. The Panthers' Christian McCaffrey hauled in 107 passes next year and nearly succeeded in posting the rare 1,000/1,000 ground/air combination. Even the Falcons got 64 catches out of their three primary tailbacks last year. Oh, and Carolina has a quarterback who is known to tuck it and run from time to time, too.
The Bucs need a counter for those offensive threats, and they think White is it, which made their decision on Thursday night even easier.
"You don't draft for need, but when need and the player match, then you hit a home run," said Arians. "This is one of those home runs. It was a grand slam. A guy that can play the middle of your defense but also on third down check those guys and be able to run with them. For our division, it was huge."
None of this is projection on the Bucs' part based on White's (excellent) speed or any of his other measurables. They saw him covering some of the best backs in the nation on his LSU game tape. That experience also gives White confidence as he heads to the NFL, and to the Buccaneers' division in particular. No defense expects to completely shut down a player like Kamara or McCaffrey, but anything they can do to limit those players' production will help lead to supremacy in the South.
"I played in the SEC against guys like Damien Harris, Trayveon Williams…many other guys that are stars in the league now," said White. "It's just an easy transition. I'm very confident in my abilities. I know they're going to make plays and I'm going to make plays, so I can't just say I'm going to come in and shut them down. But I know I'm going to do a great job of handling my business, because when I'm on that line, I'm giving you everything I got. And I think what I've got to give is very decent. It's going to get better. If they see me lock people down in college, just know that I'm going to be on a whole different level in the NFL because I'm going to get some great coaching."