Rushing To Improve

April 5th, 2023

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As he heads into his 10th draft as GM of the Buccaneers, Jason Licht has an opportunity to correct a major oversight.

Licht has made more than his share of dynamic picks since 2014, but he can’t be proud of his record for choosing disruptive pass rushers. And as the 2023 draft approaches, Todd Bowles is looking for a few good men to hound opposing quarterbacks off the edge.

The Bucs must improve their April history off the edge, explains Ira Kaufman.

Bowles is masterful at disguising coverages and manufacturing pressure, but he’s running out of reliable bodies on the edges. We don’t know how Shaq Barrett will respond after suffering a torn Achilles in Week 8. We don’t know if Joe Tryon-Shoyinka or Logan Hall will ever be impact players.

What we do know is the first defensive lineman drafted by Licht — Noah Spence — turned out to be a bust after a decent rookie season. Spence posted 5 1/2 sacks in 2016, then took down only two additional quarterbacks in his next 27 games. He wandered off to Washington, New Orleans and Cincinnati and is now out of football at the age of 29.

Anthony Nelson, chosen in 2019, is back in the fold as a solid backup. Tryon-Shoyinka and Hall have much to prove in the NFL, so production off the edge has to be a priority for the Bucs.

Inside The Pool

This draft is stronger at defensive end and outside linebacker than at defensive tackle, so Licht has to be looking hard at pass rushers .

Texas Tech edge rusher Tyree Wilson.

Alabama’s Will Anderson will be long gone when the Bucs select at No. 19 and it’s unlikely Tampa Bay will surrender draft capital to move up in a significant way. Tom Brady is no longer operating under center and ownership has understandably adopted a more long-range approach.

For a team like the Bucs that should be zeroed in on fortifying the trenches, there are intriguing defensive options like Texas Tech’s Tyree Wilson, Lukas Van Ness of Iowa, Georgia’s Nolan Smith, Myles Murphy of Clemson, Iowa State’s Will McDonald, Tuli Tuiqulotu of Southern Cal, Kansas State’s Felix Anudike-Uzomah and Northwestern’s Adetomiwa Adebawore.

Good luck with some of those names, Mr. Deckerhoff.

Draft mistakes have consequences. Well before Licht came aboard, Mark Dominik drafted Adrian Clayborn and Da’Quan Bowers at the top of the 2011 draft. They combined for only 47 sacks in their careers, so when Licht arrived, he felt pressure to ramp up the pressure. The Bucs mistakenly signed Michael Johnson (2014) and George Johnson (2015) as free agents before drafting Spence, who failed two drug tests at Ohio State and was banned from the Big Ten.

Former Bucs edge rusher Noah Spence.

“We did a ton of work on him,” Licht said after selecting Spence out of Eastern Kentucky at No. 39. “Maybe he did some immature acts, but he loves football. He could have been a very, very high pick, so we got great value I think.”

Dirk Koetter, about to start his first season as Tampa Bay’s head coach, also lauded Spence as a potential difference-maker.

“We thought the guy was the best pass rusher in the draft,” Koetter said. “Everybody knows we need one and we felt Noah was that guy. We felt deep down Noah is a good kid that made some immature mistakes. He knows he’s got the opportunity of a lifetime here.”

With Carlton Davis, Jamel Dean and Antoine Winfield Jr., the Bucs have the nucleus of a strong secondary. But that won’t matter if opposing quarterbacks have time to go through their progressions and probe for mismatches.

Is it a coincidence the Eagles and Chiefs ranked 1-2 last season in sacks and reached the Super Bowl?

Licht hit it big with his very first draft pick, selecting Mike Evans at No. 7 in 2014. The players selected ahead of Evans — Jadeveon Clowney, Greg Robinson, Blake Bortles, Sammy Watkins, Khalil Mack and Jake Matthews — have proven to be a mixed bag. You can make a compelling case that Evans has enjoyed the best career of the group.

Licht also hit on Ali Marpet, Donovan Smith, Chris Godwin, Vita Vea, Davis, Jordan Whitehead, Alex Cappa, Dean, Winfield and Tristan Wirfs. Not a shabby résumé, but notice, not a pass rusher among them.

Barrett signed as a free agent in 2019, a year after Licht traded a third-round pick to the Giants for Jason Pierre-Paul. Those savvy moves helped the 2020 Bucs raise the Vince Lombardi Trophy.

Now Licht has to demonstrate he can find a forceful edge rusher in the draft. Bowles is a defensive maestro and you can only imagine the pre-draft discussions going on at One Buc Place.

“Help me help you,” Bowles is saying to Licht.

“Help is on the way,” is Licht’s response.

Allow Buc Nation to chime in on this conversation with a loud “Show me.”

The draft’s more than three weeks away but Licht is already on the clock. History is stacked against him because this team hasn’t drafted a prolific edge rusher since the inaugural franchise pick of Lee Roy Selmon in 1976. Since then, a parade of first-round picks like Ron Holmes, Keith McCants, Eric Curry, Regan Upshaw and Gaines Adams took turns flopping in the NFL.

Noah Spence was part of a 2016 draft class Licht would like to forget. If the Bucs can land an elite pass rusher, this will emerge as a draft class to cherish.

Just win, baby.

25 Responses to “Rushing To Improve”

  1. Tampabaybucdan Says:

    We simply can’t gamble at #19 on an edge rusher…..the sure things will be gone… to trade down and pick one with an extra pick…..

    We should be able to get the best TE, S and one of the better OTs at 19.

  2. Tampabaybucfan Says:

    We simply can’t gamble at #19 on an edge rusher…..the sure things will be gone… to trade down and pick one with an extra pick…..

    We should be able to get the best TE, S and one of the better OTs at 19.

  3. Beej Says:

    Read a long story/interview about the Booker Reese/Sean Farrel debacle, many quotes from Farrel (You’ll not hear from Reese, who is thought to be living homeless on Jacksonville)

    It can’t get as bad as selecting the wrong guy on the first round, then begging for a do-over

  4. Jason Says:

    No more drafting Gumby to rush the passer! Gimme a 300+ pound dude.

  5. Defense Rules Says:

    TBBF … ‘We simply can’t gamble at #19 on an edge rusher’.

    Agree that Rnd 1 picks can’t be gambles; inexcusable to not get a starter or (as a minimum) a key rotational player out of that 1st round. To get starters in their rookie year out of Rnds 2-4 picks is awesome, but probably shouldn’t be expected. Starters from Rnds 5-7 are pure gravy.

    Right now, with only 3 picks in Rnds 1-4, I’d go with OT, DE/OLB & CB/S, selecting BPA by round in those targeted position groups. TE is a definite need, but unless the 2nd coming of Gronk falls into our laps, I’d wait until Rnd 5. Same with RB. Not at all opposed to packaging picks & moving into the 4th Rnd however.

  6. FortMyersDave Says:

    I thought the greater need was getting a plug and play LT so Wirfs can stay at RT. Plus if someone is batting 0.000 on drafting talent from the edge, do the Bucs, who really need to make every pick count, waste their mid first round pick on another bust at edge desperately trying to get a decent pass rusher? That gamble sounds like the definition of insanity to me…..

  7. So there's Hope Says:

    You can’t argue with the track record regarding edge rushers it is what it is… Licht has always been better drafting big lineman.

  8. Brandon Says:

    OLB Hugh Green was drafted AFTER Selmon and could rush the passer. Marcus Jones had one good season. He’s probably the last/only Buc drafted edge rusher to get 10+ sacks in a season other than Selmon and Green.

  9. Rob Hamada Says:

    LT at 19 if Jones, Harrison, or Johnson is there. If not, trade down if possible. If not, take the best available starter.

  10. Beej Says:

    I’d completely forgotten about that guy, he was a great player

  11. miken Says:

    The Mark Domminic , I’ll take Adrian clayboune 3 pick before Cam Jordan was the one that cost us for over a decade.

  12. Infomeplease Says:

    Best available, if it’s an edge rusher, great. If it’s a left tackle, great. If it’s a tight end, great.

  13. Goatfarmer Says:

    Spence might have turned out if not for his trick shoulder, and he played in pain. I feel bad for him, but it’s about results.

    Ira, you said “Good luck with some of those names, Mr. Deckerhoff.”

    LMAO! Hilarious. In other words, Dave Moore, you better learn all the pronunciations! Gene called JTS “Tryon Showinski.” Nice Polish fella.

  14. Ufcguy32 Says:

    Licht can’t draft rb, or draft pass rushers. Simple as that. He or whoever is scouting should be fired. Do you realize how many times we’ve passed on top.tier talent for projects or small name school guys. This guy has a God complex. Instead of simply taking the guy on tape he picks some no name so he looks smarter than he really is. .
    We passed on Dalvin Cook for oj…..thats aged well.
    We picked bunting over justin reid. That’s aged well. There’s so many top guys we’ve dumped to I’ve got no faith in him for these positions

  15. Chris@Apple Roof Cleaning Tampa Says:

    We COULD have had Cam Jordan, but the Rockstar took Adrian Clayborne instead!

  16. Señor Harry in Costa Rica Says:

    Thank you Ira for pointing out the obvious everyone is missing. EDGE is the 2nd most important position on the team and we have fill-ins operating in this capacity. Please find us an EDGE rusher Mr Licht – that needs to be a #1 priority

  17. SlyPirate Says:

    He can’t draft edge rushers but he nails the FAs. Maybe stick with what works?

  18. Jack Burton Mercer Says:

    Pass rush is definitely our #1 priority. Anything less than great success in the draft at that is failure. I don’t care if we get a great sack man in first or the sixth, just get one.

  19. rrsrq Says:

    Sneak in Isaiah Land in the late rounds from FAMU. He is a little small, but he knows how to rush the passer, I’m sure with a pro regiment, he will be successful. Should have drafted James Houston last year, from Jackson State, lets keep ignoring athletes from the HBCUs.

  20. TDTB2022 Says:

    The right DE = 2023 NFC South Champions again.

    Go Licht!!!

  21. Dooley Says:


    Isaiah Land? hell yes and I would love for us to find a way to grab Aubrey Miller Jr. in the building. Another HBCU standout is Jadakis Bonds out of Hampton(my moms’ alma mater) and I actually got to see him play Richmond homecoming weekend this past fall.

  22. Jon Grudin Says:

    Love every IRA podcast. Particularly when Lee and Steve jump in with different opinions and there’s a lot of spirited banter with IRA back and forth. Thanks Joes.

  23. PewterStiffArm Says:

    Wow Ira, this shows my age. I watched every single one of these players stink up the Old Sombrero and Ramond James, priceless.

  24. Jimmy J Says:

    And we have never drafted a franchise qb. It’s amazing the teams that hit on it more than once. The packers come to mind. 30 drafts and not 1.

  25. Noles Says:

    Well none we developed at QB but we did draft Williams, Testaverde & Young. They were just better when they left even HOF better