The Tampa Bay Buccaneers drafted Auburn cornerback Carlton Davis in 2018 and then went back to get his Tigers teammate, cornerback Jamel Dean the next spring. This past February, both Davis and Dean started on the dominant defense that helped the Buccaneers secure their second Super Bowl championship.
Given those results, it's not surprising to see the Buccaneers grab another Auburn defender in the 2021 draft. With their fifth-round pick, number 176 overall, the Bucs landed on inside linebacker K.J. Britt who had an outstanding Senior Bowl week after a 2020 season cut short by injury.
"Obviously we like the fact that he played big-time ball at an SEC school, and we've had some success with Auburn kids on the roster, especially on the defensive side of the ball," said Buccaneers Director of Player Personnel John Spytek. "So we went back to the well."
Spytek said that with a smile and, obviously the Bucs aren't going to pick a player simply because he attended Auburn. There is plenty more that the team likes about Britt, who fills an obvious need for depth the inside linebacker spot. After starters Lavonte David and Devin White, the only other player on the depth chart at that position was veteran reserve Kevin Minter.
"He's going to have to carve out his role," said Spytek. "Obviously we have Devin and Lavonte and they're going to be entrenched as the starters. K.J. can follow Kevin Minter's lead as to how you do it and how you carve out a role on [special] teams. We think he's the kind of person who is going to do whatever it takes to help the team and do it as well and as hard as he can. That's exactly what we're looking for around here."
Specifically, the Buccaneers appreciate Britt's style of play and his commitment to the team, as well as his strong production when he was on the field the last two seasons.
"He's a classic, inside hammer, kind of an old-school MIKE almost," said Spytek. "He's hard-hitting, tough, aggressive, physical, very smart. He's a very mature person, very driven, loves football. You could probably give him the old 'throwback' moniker. He could have played the game 20 years ago, as well, and fit right in."
After two years as primarily a special-teamer at Auburn, Britt got his chance to start in 2019 and made the most of it, racking up 68 tackles, 10.0 tackles for loss, 3.5 sacks and two forced fumbles and proving to be a force against the run. His 2020 season started well, too, but ended after two games due to a thumb injury. He did return to action for the Senior Bowl in January, and his teammates for the week voted him the best linebacker at the game.
The Bucs had much more tape on Britt to study from 2019 than 2020, but before he got hurt he put one play on his reel that Spytek and Bucs scouts enjoyed. On the opening kickoff of the season, Britt was part of the cover team and before the play he pointed at the Kentucky return team that was tasked with blocking him. After the kick, Britt promptly sprinted down the field and knocked that player to the ground.
"He was really off to a great start to the season with double-digit tackles in the first two games before he had the unfortunate injury and couldn't play for a while," said Spytek. "He was just a really steady player [in 2019]. I think that comes from his makeup – he's just a great, great kid. I think he's kind of the perfect guy to fit into our group down here with two very solidified starters and another great backup and teammate with Minter. He's going to fit in that room great."