Shaquil Barrett, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' leading producer of quarterback sacks over the last four seasons, had a bit of a false start to his college playing career. He started out at Nebraska-Omaha in 2010 but had to find a new place to play after the school eliminated its football program after that season. He ended up at Colorado State and things went well from there; after racking up 12 sacks and 20.5 tackles for loss in his final season with the Rams he was named the Mountain West Conference Defensive Player of the Year.
Jose Ramirez, one of the Buccaneers' three sixth-round picks in the 2023 draft, had an even more circuitous collegiate route on his way to the NFL. He started at the University of Arizona but after one redshirt season and a coaching change, he elected to transfer, going to Riverside City College, a juco near Los Angeles, so he wouldn't have to sit out a year. That proved to be a springboard to Eastern Michigan where, as a senior, he won MAC Defensive Player of the Year honors after collecting 12.0 sacks and 19.5 tackles for loss.
Barrett entered the NFL as an undrafted free agent with the Denver Broncos in 2014. John Spytek, currently the Buccaneers' vice president of player personnel, was a national scout for the Broncos at the time. He sees similarities not only in the path to the pros that Barrett and Ramirez took, but also the way they get their jobs done.
"Jose just has a feel to rush the passer," said Spytek on the night Ramirez was drafted. "The more you watch, the more you appreciate [how] he just ends up around the quarterback a lot. I'm not comparing him to Shaq Barrett, but if I was, I'd say when I watched Shaq Barrett win the Mountain West Defensive Player of the Year when I was a scout for Denver, he just grew on you and grew on you and grew on you the more you watched him because he was around the quarterback all the time. They both were their conference defensive players of the year, they both were undersized. I'm not saying he is, but he reminds you of some of the things that Shaq did. Shaq isn't a Von Miller athlete, or a Myles Garrett, but he's highly rated in pressures throughout the last four or five seasons. I'm not saying Jose is going to be, but in college he was."
Barrett was mostly a rotational player for four seasons in Denver, recording 14.0 sacks in 61 games. The Buccaneers saw the potential for more output if Barrett got more playing time and signed him to a one-year prove-it deal in 2019. Barrett really proved it, immediately setting a new Buccaneers single-season record and leading the NFL with 19.5 sacks. He has amassed 44.5 sacks in 58 games as a Buc, playoffs included.
Ramirez certainly appreciated the comparison Spytek drew between him and one of the best pass rushers in the NFL over the last four seasons.
"It's a blessing and an opportunity, because when I hear that, I look at it like, 'Okay somebody believes in me,'" he said. "Earlier in my career, there were times where I didn't think I was good enough and things like that, but through this process I learned [how to have] confidence and being humble, too. Things like that, I take it in and think, 'Okay, these people believe in me, let me show them what I can do.' When I hear stuff like that, it brings me happiness."
Thanks to the extra year of college eligibility caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, Ramirez was able to play four more seasons at EMU, but he was only used sparingly in his first year in Ypsilanti, appearing in four games. He played all six contests in the pandemic-shortened 2020 season and recorded his first two sacks but didn't become a starter until 2021. He had a fine 6.5-sack campaign in 2021 but really took off last fall. Ramirez thinks his winding path to that breakout season taught him how to succeed on the field, comparing it to the three-school journey of fellow 2023 sixth-round pick Josh Hayes, a cornerback who played his last two seasons at Kansas State after a transfer.
"Learning how to be great," said Ramirez. "Kind of like Josh, our path was kind of the same – going to different places, being in college for six years. I feel like it teaches you faith and patience. I feel like one thing I learned in the process is don't change your dreams, change your habits. Everywhere I went, I learned that I wasn't giving my full potential, I wasn't doing this, or I wasn't at my full capacity. I feel, still, like I'm back at square [one] but at least now I've got the knowledge of how to get myself higher up there."
Ramirez hasn't met Barrett yet but when he does he plans to start by acknowledging his older teammate's accomplishments before moving on to learning as much has he can from him.
"As soon as I see him, I'm going to give him his flowers, first of all," said Ramirez. "I feel like people only give [players] their flowers after their career is over, but he's in his prime so I'll give him his flowers now and try to learn everything I can. Whether it's seeing how he moves, seeing how he teaches – everything he [does], I'm trying to be better than that."