The Tampa Bay Buccaneers had the last pick of the first round in the 2021 NFL Draft, and they used it to set the edge.
The Buccaneers, picking 32nd after winning Super Bowl LV in February, selected University of Washington edge rusher Joe Tryon to join a defense that dominated in the postseason and is returning all of its key players. Tryon opted out of the 2020 NCAA season amid the pandemic but had 8.0 sacks and 12.5 tackles for loss for the Huskies in 2019, earning second-team All-Pac 12 honors.
Tampa Bay is famously returning all of its starters and virtually every major contributor from its 2020 championship team, which put the organization in a good position to stick with its board and pick the best available player. General Manager Jason Licht says the Buccaneers have the luxury of taking their time with Tryon in terms of defining his role in the defense.
"He's a very fluid athlete," said Licht. "He's got very good feet. He's got good lateral quickness. He plays with tremendous effort, which raises his game speed in my opinion because he never gives up. We just thought his workouts really jumped off the tape, just the way he can move his feet, move laterally and play with balance in his drops. He's going to be a very versatile guy for us."
View pictures of Washington OLB Joe Tryon, who Tampa Bay selected in the first round of the 2021 NFL Draft.
This marks the second time in the last four years that the Buccaneers have selected a front-seven defender from Washington in the first round. Tampa Bay used the 12th overall pick in 2018 to snare interior lineman Vita Vea, who has become a dominant force on the Bucs' defensive front. Last week, the Buccaneers exercised their fifth-year option on Vea's contract for the 2022 season.
Vea's presence after he returned from an ankle injury in the playoffs last season clearly helped the Bucs' pass-rush as a whole. Tryon believes he can do the same.
"My strengths are getting after the quarterback," he said. "I don't got to come off the field. I can play the run on first and second down, get after the quarterback on third down. My versatility, their scheme – I fit any scheme. Drop me into coverage or anything, I'm an all-around player."
The Buccaneers may not need an immediate impact from its rookie class in 2021, but Tryon will have the opportunity to step right into a rotational role on the edge. Tampa Bay has a star-powered starting duo at outside linebacker in Shaquil Barrett and Jason Pierre-Paul but did not have another OLB with more than one sack in 2020. Tryon and 2019 fourth-round pick Anthony Nelson give the Buccaneers good depth at the position and the possibility of future starters.
"I think he's going to be a nice piece to have," said General Manager Jason Licht. "Any player we pick this year, as we've said, is going to be – I guess you would call – a luxury. But in his particular case it's nice to stockpile in edge rushers. We have two pretty good ones there at outside linebacker and we like Anthony and Cam Gill shows a lot of promise. But you can't have too many of those guys. He's big, he's athletic, he plays very hard."
Tryon is eager to begin his NFL career on a team with well-established pass-rushers.
"I'm going to be a sponge," said Tryon. "Those dudes are some really big-time players. They've been doing it, playing at a high level for the past decade, so I can't wait to soak that all in and learn from them, because that's a big-time opportunity.
On a night that began with three quarterbacks taken with the first three picks, plus a dramatic trade up by the Chicago Bears to get their own franchise passer, the Buccaneers stayed put and waited for the board to come to them. There were five quarterbacks selected in the first round overall, and 18 offensive players taken overall, which led to a wealth of defensive prospects still available late on Thursday night. The last five players selected, and six of the last seven, were defenders.
This is the first time the Buccaneers have made the final pick of the opening round. After their victory in Super Bowl XXXVII at the end of the 2002 season, the Bucs were slated 32nd but had already traded that pick to Oakland in order to get the rights to Head Coach Jon Gruden.
The draft continues on Friday evening with the second and third rounds, and concludes on Saturday with Rounds 4-7. The Buccaneers currently own one pick in each of the next five rounds and two in the seventh round.