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Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Rookie Review: Calijah Kancey 

A look at Calijah Kancey’s breakout rookie campaign for the Buccaneers


Calijah Kancey, the Buccaneers' 2023 first-round draft pick out of Pittsburgh, became an imposing force in the trenches. In his first year, Kancey posted an impressive resumé. He was named the NFL Defensive Rookie of the Month for November. Kancey became the first interior defensive lineman in team history to win Rookie of the Month honors, recording 10 tackles (seven for loss), four quarterback hits, 2.0 sacks and one pass defensed through four games in November.

Following that month, Kancey was the only rookie with 25-or-more pressures on fewer than 350 defensive snaps per TruMedia data. The gap-penetrating athletic freak concluded his rookie season with 10 tackles for loss, 12 quarterback hits and 4.0 sacks. With violent hands, first-step quickness, superb contact balance, effort and a vast array of counter moves in his pass-rush toolkit, Kancey bolstered the Bucs' interior.

"He surprises all of us every day with his knowledge of the game and his work ethic," said nose tackle Vita Vea. "I am excited to get out there with him and to see his growth."

He accelerates off the line with jaw-dropping speed and has embraced a cerebral, tactical approach to the game. Kancey wins with leverage, urgency and twitchy feet. He possesses change-of-direction agility and his downhill-charging attack overwhelms leaning blockers. Kancey has the rare discernment in-game to not only attack but react amidst the chaos to alignments.

Due to his small frame by NFL defensive linemen standards (6-foot-1, 280 pounds), Kancey has to work harder on technique at the point of attack in preparing for double teams. He must utilize flawless technique in order to achieve the proper leverage or he will be moved off his spot. Pad level is vital and Kancey has honed his craft, turning a surmised weakness into a strength. Kancey proved his value in Year One and changed the complexion of games with his prowess at the line of scrimmage and solidified Todd Bowles' defensive onslaught. In a reminiscent tour through the 2023 schedule, here is a breakdown of some of Kancey's most memorable moments on the gridiron during his rookie campaign:

Club Swim

This play by Kancey against the Panthers in Week 13 did not result in a sack but the initial rush epitomizes what he does best. On third-and-six in the second quarter, Kancey timed the snap perfectly with a blazing get-off and used the wide alignment to put himself in an advantageous position. The guard was forced to kick out and Kancey hit him with a sudden club-swim move. Kancey bypassed as the opponent leaned, imposing his will. The outcome of the play did not change the reality that Kancey delivered a lethal inside move, won the one-on-one with explosive hands and forced Bryce Young off his spot.

Run Stuff

Kancey put on a clinic against the Titans in Week 10. One of his most notable plays came in the fourth quarter from second and goal. Kancey displayed his stellar athleticism by getting thin in the hole, which helped him avoid the guard who tried to get a hand up and created a small surface area for the tackle. That play, a challenging feat for any player to make and one that few defensive tackles in the NFL can accomplish, embodied Kancey's unique skillset. The Pitt phenom perfected it with ease. He fired past the tackle and dropped Derrick Henry behind the line of scrimmage, which set up third down. Kancey concluded the Week 10 matchup with three combined tackles, two tackles for loss and two quarterback hits. He became the first rookie with multiple tackles for loss in consecutive games since Micah Parsons and Jaelen Phillips accomplished the feat in 2021.


In Week 13 against Carolina, Kancey showcased his pass rush arsenal and ability to transition between moves. From fourth-and-one, Kancey delivered the game-sealing play. Initially, Kancey used a power, bull rush move and tried to knock the guard back. He then stacked an arm over move to try and pull the guard down once he opened his hips to the inside. However, the Panthers' guard reacted effectively and Kancey adjusted. He stuck his left hand into the guard's chest to maximize power and felt Bryce Young about to escape the pocket. Kancey then crossed the guard's face and matched Young stride-for-stride, displaying his mobility skills in space. No. 94 delivered the hit, forcing Young to release the ball and Antoine Winfield Jr. capitalized with an interception.

Cross Chop

In the Divisional Round against the Lions, Kancey forced a punt in the second quarter on the last drive of the first half. Kancey, a heat-seeking missile, quickly bypassed right guard Graham Glasgow with a lethal cross-chop maneuver and sacked Jared Goff. He provided momentum for the Bucs heading into the intermission. Elite players step up in critical moments and on that particular drive, the rookie set the tone.

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