This report card will assign grades to each defensive position of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers roster. These grades should give insight for what the team needs to upgrade over the off-season.
When healthy, this was one of the best units in the league. Akeem Hicks was a great pick up and Vita Vea is a beast in the middle. When they are both playing, it is very hard to run the ball. But Vea appeared in only 14 games, and Hicks for 11. Vea was hampered by an injury throughout the second half of the year and it held this unit back. The team tried to replace Suh this past offseason by drafting Logan Hall, but he wasn’t ready to significantly contribute this year.
Edge Rusher also suffered when Shaq Barrett was knocked out for the season. The team got 45 sacks on the year, but Vea had the most with 6.5. They lost JPP in free agency as well and their depth was really tested. Joe Tryon-Shoyinka was a real disappointment after getting his career off to a strong start in 2021. He notched 4.0 sacks on the year, good enough for 5th on the team. Backup Anthony Nelson exceeded that total.
Going forward, the team has some decisions to make on some free agents along the defensive line. Getting Barrett back will be a significant boost, but they’ll need to see some growth from their 1st and 2nd year players if they are going to improve from last year.
Two of the best linebackers in the league, Devin White and Lavonte David, are tackling machines. Both players had 124 tackles on the season. White was second in quarterback sacks this year but often struggled with pass coverage. David is the better pass defender of the two but is a free agent this offseason.
With David’s age and Brady’s retirement, he may not want to stick around for a potential rebuild. White is the future of this defense but is only under contract for one more year. Getting White under contract with a long term deal should be a high priority item in the offseason.
A very strong unit led by Jamel Dean and Carlton Davis III, they finished 9th in the league in total pass defense. What is even more impressive about it is Tampa’s pass rush was hampered by the loss of Shaq Barrett, but the secondary still shined. This is easily a Top 5 Unit talent wise and with a consistent pass rush to help them out, the Secondary could shine even more.
The problem this offseason is Dean and Sean Murphy-Bunting are free agents, as well as the entire safety position. Dean becomes a Franchise Tag candidate at $18.1 Million, but it’ll likely mean losing out on more free agents unless they come to terms on a long term deal. Murphy-Bunting would almost certainly be one of those cap casualties. Winfield will be back next year at safety. Will that be the case for Keanu Neal and Mike Edwards? They essentially play the same position as Winfield would play. Could Neal replace Lavante David in a hybrid role at linebacker?
Punter was a strong position for them last year and is solidified for the long term. The Buccaneers drafted Jake Camarda in the 4th round of the 2022 NFL Draft. However, place kicker was an issue. Ryan Succop doesn’t have the leg he once had and made only 80% of his kicks. Expect this team to look for suitable replacements in the offseason. Lastly, no punt or kick off returns for touchdowns. While that is not unheard of in this league, they should look to get better. The offense really could have used some sparks on special teams.
Overall Defensive Grade
For the season, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers finished 9th overall in total defense. While that is impressive, Buccaneer fans can’t help but feel there was a lot of unfilled potential left on the field. Injuries and free agency hurt this unit and with salary cap issues this offseason, this defense might take a bitter hit going forward. If they can keep most of the players and framework together, they could be a top 10 defense next year.
For more information about the Tampa Bay Buccaneers Offense, check out my Buccaneer Offensive Report Card.
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As the confetti fell in victory lane in Daytona on the Hendrick Motorsports No....