The Tampa Bay Buccaneers did not select a pass-rusher with the fifth-overall pick in the 2019 NFL Draft, at least not by name. But their pass rush got better on Thursday night.
The Buccaneers did select LSU linebacker Devin White at that spot, adding a fast, rangy, tough and charismatic player to their new-look defense. White will step in next to established star Lavonte David as the two inside linebackers in Todd Bowles' 3-4 front. The outside linebacker position in this defense will be manned by edge rushers like Jason Pierre-Paul, Carl Nassib, Shaq Barrett and Noah Spence.
Tampa Bay could have added another player to that latter group, as such edge players as Josh Allen, Rashan Gary and Brian Burns went among the next 11 picks, but they had long been locked in on White as the player who could make the biggest impact on their defense. And that includes rushing the passer. Bowles and Head Coach Bruce Arians prefer an aggressive approach and multiple looks on defense, and that includes taking those "off-ball" linebackers and throwing them at the quarterback.
That's something that General Manager Jason Licht and the Buccaneers believe White can do very well, on top of his more traditional responsibilities roaming the middle of the field. And that made White the best fit for Tampa Bay in every way.
"We went through a lot of exercises," said Licht. "We talked about these guys over and over. We watched every play they ever played in college. And we felt very comfortable that we made the right decision. Devin's a linebacker but he's also an attacking player. He's a pressure type linebacker. He can get to the quarterback as well."
Indeed, White had 8.5 sacks over three seasons for the Tigers, though he was not an edge rusher, including 4.5 during his sophomore campaign. He also collected 29.0 tackles behind the line of scrimmage, so his penetrating ways aren’t limited to just bringing down the quarterback. He will form a potentially dangerous duo with David, who has also rushed the quarterback well when asked to do so. David has 21.5 sacks in seven seasons, including 7.0 in 2013 and 3.5 last year. When Bowles' defense is working at its best, opponents don't know where the pressure is going to come from, and sometimes what looks like a blitz is really just an exotic four-man rush. Having inside 'backers who can contribute to that is crucial.
All of which makes White a very intriguing weapon for the Buccaneers and the perfect piece for Bowles to use creatively.
"He's obviously a very fast player; that's not the reason we took him alone," said Licht. "He's a physical guy. He can pressure with his ability to blitz. He's one of the better blitzing linebackers we've seen in a long time. I think Devin would have been a great fit in a 3-4 or 4-3, but the fact that he can play downhill like he does and get after the quarterback, it fits Todd. We're excited about that, that's for sure."
However you want to classify White, the player the Buccaneers took with the fifth-overall pick is one that is going to be on the field at all times, and one that is going to patrol that entire field, including the part on the other side of the line of scrimmage. That's exactly what he plans to do.
"I'm looking to be an every-down linebacker," said White. "I'm going to play pass coverage, I'm going to play downhill, I'm going to play side-to-side. I'm going to cover everybody. If they need me to cover tight ends, running backs, I'm going to go out there and play a little quarters. Whatever they want me to do I'm going to do it."
What the Bucs want White to do is everything, and the fact that rushing the passer is part of it just increases his value as the highest "off-ball" linebacker the franchise has ever selected.
"You've got linebackers that can cover; they don't play the run that great," said Licht. "You've got guys that play the run, that are stuffers, that can't cover that great. He can do both exceptionally well, in addition to blitzing, which is an art in itself. You can have a super-athletic guy that can run but he just doesn't have that knack of getting to the quarterback, and he has it."