The NFL conducted the first round of its 2021 draft on Thursday night and for the first time since 2012 there were no edge rushers selected among the first half-dozen picks. Virtually every draft in the last decade has featured at least one player viewed as a blue-chip, top-of-the-round pass rusher, and often more than one. There were two take in the top four picks in 2019, for instance, two in the top three in 2017 and three in the top six in 2013.
Discounting the potential pass-rushing skills of off-ball linebacker Micah Parsons and Zaven Collins, the first player viewed as primarily an edge rusher to be selected Thursday night was Jaelan Phillips. The Miami Dolphins selected the University of Miami product 18th overall. Michigan's Kwity Paye (21st) went to the Colts three spots later and then the round ended with a mini-run on the position. Houston's Payton Turner went to the Saints at number 28, followed by Miami's Gregory Rousseau to the Bills at 30 and Penn State's Jayson Oweh to the Ravens with the next pick.
Finally, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers finished the first round by nabbing University of Washington outside linebacker Joe Tryon. Shortly after, General Jason Licht said Tryon was the highest player left on their board and was ranked higher by the Bucs than some of the players who went before him. As for the run on edge rushers, the end of Round One may have just delayed it a bit. Georgia's Azeez Ojulari and Wake Forest's Carlos Basham probably won't have to wait long to hear their names Friday night and others such as Joseph Ossai of Texas, Rashad Weaver of Pitt and Ronnie Perkins of Oklahoma could get Day Two calls as well.
View pictures of Washington OLB Joe Tryon, who Tampa Bay selected in the first round of the 2021 NFL Draft.
So, with no top five-prospects in the field but a whole lot of intriguing options later in the round and into Day Two, why did the Bucs zero in on Tryon. Like most of these prospects, he has the speed and quickness to have a shot at a productive NFL career as a pass-rusher, but the Buccaneers put high value on two of his other traits: Passion and power.
"[He's the] type of football player and person that we hold in high regard – a smart, intelligent, passionate player who loves to play the game," said Head Coach Bruce Arians on Friday. "Obviously he has all the skills in the world but the passion and energy he plays with is something that really, really excites us. I think he'll be able to contribute right away in a number of different roles."
Tryon didn't play for the Huskies in 2020 as one of many highly-rated prospects who opted out of the season amid the COVID-19 pandemic. It was a difficult decision, but not one that affected the Buccaneers' opinion of him. And they had plenty of tape to watch from 2019, when he had 12.5 tackles for loss and 8.0 sacks, including a strong run at the end. Six of his sacks and 10 of his TFLs came in Washington's last five games.
The Buccaneers believe he can drop the quarterback at the next level, too, and they expect him to pick up pass-rush moves from veterans Shaquil Barrett and Jason Pierre-Paul. But one thing he won't have to learn from the vets is how to win with power.
"He's got power, and power is something you can't teach," said Arians. "You either have it or you don't. A lot of edge rushers are speed guys; tackles in this league just knock those guys down. If you can't basically bull-rush and have power and turn it into speed, or speed to power, you're going to struggle. And Joe's showed that he has that ability. He's obviously going to be a huge contributor on special teams right away as he continues to improve that toolbox. But he has the main ingredients."
Which is not to say he's a one-trick pony. The Bucs think he can get around the edge and also drop into coverage when needed, as Barrett and Pierre-Paul occasionally do.
"When he closes on the ball, it's impressive," said Arians. "He's improved a bunch dropping. Obviously he's done a lot of work in the offseason, this season, in zone drops, breaking to the ball. All those things add up. It obviously adds up really fast on special teams. We got better right away. There's so many things you can do with a player who has position flexibility like Joe does."
Arians expects the Bucs' veteran pass-rushers to welcome Tryon into the fold immediately, knowing that there is always room for more help in that part of the game. Arians also thinks Tryon is fortunate to be joining a room led by Outside Linebackers Coach Larry Foote. The Bucs have a full head of steam heading into 2021 after their championship season was capped by an absolutely dominant defensive performance in their Super Bowl LV win over Kansas City. Tryon has to get back up to speed after his season off but doesn't anticipate that being an issue.
"I definitely kept the momentum going and I finished the season strong," he said. "I'm ready to build off that. It's been a long time but I'm ready to get going again. That's a high-scoring offense that they shut down [in the Super Bowl], so it just goes to say they've got great players, great philosophy and great coaching. I can't wait to be a part of that culture."