In fewer than two months, approximately seven - depending on trades, of course - 2021 NFL Draft prospects will find themselves en route to Tampa Bay to join the Buccaneers in pursuit of a consective Super Bowl title.
Free agency has yet to begin across the NFL, but that shouldn't prevent us from looking ahead to how the Buccaneers can address team needs, both short and long-term, via the draft at this point. Therefore, AllBucs is introducing a new series profiling numerous prospects at positions of need that Tampa Bay could take a look at come April.
To begin this series, we'll focus on what we believe is the Buccaneers' biggest team need, regardless of the outcome of free agency: The defensive line. Edge rushers that fit the Buccaneers' 3-4 outside linebacker position will be covered in their own article, rather, these prospects will play with their hands in the dirt at the next level.
As Ndamukong Suh is set to hit the market on March 17th and William Gholston will turn 30 this year, entering the final year of his contract, capable 3-4 defensive end prospects take priority over nose tackles for the Buccaneers this offseason. However, positional versatility is always welcomed.
Prospects included are projected to be available around when the Buccaneers make their selections in rounds specified under each prospect.
Christian Barmore, Alabama
Projected mid-to-late first round pick
An imposing defensive lineman who stands at 6-foot-5, 311 pounds, Barmore is explosive off of the line of scrimmage and carries the potential of an extremely threatening pass rusher at the next level.
Barmore needed a few weeks to get comfortable during his first season as a starter for the Crimson Tide in 2020, but that can be blamed on a preseason knee injury that limited his availability at the beginning of the year. As soon as Barmore found his groove, he emerged as a consistent playmaker, tallying six sacks in as many games to finish his junior campaign.
On the year, Barmore recorded eight sacks, 9.5 tackles for loss, 37 tackles, three forced fumbles, three batted passes, and 39 quarterback pressures (according to Pro Football Focus).
Although he primarily lined up at defensive tackle, Barmore saw plenty of action as an end in Alabama's scheme, particularly in odd fronts which would match his primary fit with the Buccaneers.
Barmore brings size and strength to the table that can continue to be refined, particularly to imrprove his consistency as a run defender, although he is solid there. Barmore will make his money in the NFL as an explosive pass rusher off of the line, however, with quality hand usage and the strength required to take on interior linemen, both on solo and double-team blocks. Once he beats his block, Barmore is quick in pursuit to chase and bring down ball-carriers, resulting in plenty of backfield plays as we saw last year.
We included Barmore in our first seven-round Buccaneers 2021 mock draft last month, as Tampa Bay's first round pick.
Daviyon Nixon, Iowa
Projected late first to early second round pick
Like Barmore, Nixon is a bit underexperienced as he's only spent one season as a starter, and that came in 2020, when Iowa only played eight games due to the coronavirus pandemic. However, in those games and the 13 appearances he had the year before, Nixon has flashed as a high-ceiling defensive lineman with intriguing traits and athleticism.
The 6-foot-3, 306-pound lineman exploded onto the scene with 5.5 sacks and 13.5 tackles for loss during his redshirt sophomore season, a year in which he earned consensus All-American honors. Nixon added 45 total tackles, an interception that he returned for a 71-yard touchdown, a forced fumble, and 21 quarterback pressures.
Nixon almost exclusively played along the interior of Iowa's 4-3 defensive front, primarily at three-technique but also lining up at nose tackle. He's taken snaps occasionally on the edge as well, but wouldn't be required to do so beyond a five-technique position in Tampa Bay, most likely.
Playing for the Buccaneers would require a bit of a transition for Nixon, but as Tampa Bay often deploys one-gapping techniques for its defensive linemen, odds are he Nixon could make the adjustment. An explosive rusher, Nixon's skill-set meets the Buccaneers' attacking philosophy on the defensive line and can be developed over time should Suh return for another year.
Carlos Basham Jr., Wake Forest
Projected late first to mid-second round pick
Basham entered the draft process with questions about his size, standing at 6-foot-3, 281 pounds with slightly below-average arm length. Although he was quite productive during his four and a half seasons at Wake Forest, some wondered if his his abilties would translate to the NFL considering his frame and lack of an ideal position.
Is Basham a true edge rusher, whether that be with his hand in the dirt in a 4-3 or as a standing edge in a 3-4, or his he a 3-4 defensive end? Can he play along the interior? These questions needed answers despite his 19.5 sacks, 35.5 tackles for loss, 173 total tackles, seven forced fumbles, eight defended passes, and 152 quarterback pressures.
Fortunately for Basham, he was a Senior Bowl standout this past January, displaying positional versatility and the ability to play all of those positions in some capacity along different fronts at the annual prospect all star game. A lot of concerns regarding his "tweener" label were eased after his performance in Mobile, Ala., and Basham ended up skipping the game as his practice showings were all scouts needed to see.
With some added weight, Basham appears to fit the Buccaneers' defensive end position and could be an ideal replacement for Suh when the time comes. Bahsam is a powerful rusher that wins with technique and a hot motor - he's not necessarily the most athletic defensive lineman in the class, but his speed and agility will work when combined with his strength at the point of attack.
Levi Onwuzurike, Washington
Projected late first to mid-second round pick
Should the Buccaneers pull the trigger and select Onwuzurike, he would be reunited with former two-year Washington teammate and fellow defensive lineman Vita Vea, who aligns at nose tackle in Tampa Bay's defense.
Onwuzurike currently profiles best as a 4-3 defensive tackle given his experince, but the length on his nearly 6-foot-3, 290-pound frame suggests that could play defensive end in multiple fronts. His penetrating role with the Huskies along their interior would mesh well with the Buccaneers' one-gapping style of defensive line play too, much like Nixon.
In three seasons of playing time at Washington, two as a starter, Onwuzurike tallied 95 tackles, seven sacks, and 16 tackles for loss. He utilizes good athletcism and power upon contact with blockers but could enhance his lower-body strength in order to better drive through offensive linemen at the next level.
Onwuzurike didn't play this past season for Washington, instead opting out and delcaring for the 2021 NFL Draft amid the coronavirus pandemic. Although he reportedly performed well in spite of that during Senior Bowl practices, Onwuzurike could benefit from being eased into the lineup for whichever team he is drafted by.
Jay Tufele, Southern California
Projected mid-to-late second round pick
Tufele, 6-foot-3, 315 pounds, is a gifted athlete for his size with impressive get-off speed from his position on the interior defensive line. About solely lining up as a three-technique in a base 4-3, Tufele will have suitors thanks to his ability to move throughout the trenches to create disruption and plays in the backfield. Tufele, too, is a one-gap defensive line prospect.
Across two seasons of action, Tufele compiled 6.5 sacks, 10 tackles for loss, 64 total tackles, an interception, a fumble recovery, and 46 quarterback pressures. Although his speed allows him to rattle quarterbacks, Tufele will benefit from training his skill-set to better convert speed-to-power to create better leverage agaimst stronger opposing linemen.
Like Onwuzurike, Tufele did not participate during the 2020 season, opting out due the coronavirus pandemic. Such a decision will need to be remembered should either prospect get off to a slow start in their NFL careers.