The Buccaneers have had plenty of breakout players over the past decade. Lavonte David had a great rookie season and a year later, recorded 145 tackles, seven sacks and five interceptions.
Gerald McCoy produced 9.5 sacks after three years of injury plagued seasons. And yes, 9.5 sacks is a great number for a defensive tackle. Many fans are looking to the offensive side of the ball for elite talent just waiting to be unleashed, but don’t overlook this defense. Here are three (plus a bonus) players on defense who will have a pro-bowl caliber seasons in 2019.
Vernon Hargreaves III
After three disappointing years, Vernon Hargreaves III has the chance to show fans why he was drafted 11th overall in 2016. In 2018, Hargreaves suffered a shoulder injury in week one against the New Orleans Saints that ended his season.
In the two seasons prior, Hargreaves only had one interception 25 games played.
As many other Buccaneers fans, I have been vocal about the ineptitude of Mike Smith, constantly playing a sit back zone defense while opposing offenses drove down the field with ease.
This year, I see Todd Bowles using Hargreaves the way he excelled at the University of Florida.
Press man coverage.
With blitzing linebackers, quarterbacks should have less time to make a decision, forcing a mistake. Interceptions are fluky, but I would not be surprised if Hargreaves can pick off at least six passes this year, with a few sacks mixed in for a true breakout campaign.
If you look at the official depth chart, Shaquill Barrett is listed as the number two outside linebacker behind Noah Spence. But don’t let that fool you, I think Barrett is going to breakout in this defense.
Barrett was sort of forgotten in his time on the Denver Broncos. Backing up Von Miller, Barrett still managed three sacks on limited snaps. I expect Barrett to rotate with Noah Spence, if not outright start week one.
After the preseason game against the Miami Dolphins, I feel confident that Barrett can be a force off the edge. I expect Barrett to accrue a minimum of eight sacks and three forced fumbles.
Okay, I’ll admit, this one is kind of cheating. Devin White has massive expectations in his rookie year. After being drafted 5th overall in April, White has had a quiet preseason. Some have even started to ring the alarm bells.
But I am far from panicking.
Some of the nervousness has to do with a great game by Devin Bush against the Buccaneers week one. But Todd Bowles has stated that he has only revealed about ten percent of his playbook.
Devin White was the quickest linebacker in this draft class, and Bowles is likely holding back blitzes designed for White in the preseason.
White can easily amass over 100 tackles on the season, and I expect similar stats to Lavonte David in 2013, where he recorded seven sacks and five interceptions.
I expect a breakout season in year one for Devin White
NFL fans who do not follow the Buccaneers expect this defense to repeat their horrible performance of 2018.
I highly disagree.
Todd Bowles may not be a great head coach, but he is a fantastic defensive coordinator. In 2013, Todd Bowles led the Arizona Cardinals to the number seven ranked defense in points allowed. In 2015, the Cardinals defense were fifth in the NFL with a playoff push into the NFC Championship game.
You could argue that the Cardinals had great players, and that coaching had little to do with their success. While this is true to a degree, Bowles has a proven track record of adapting his scheme to his players strengths.
I expect huge things for this defense in 2019, and while I avoid making hot takes, I think this defense can go from the 31st ranked defense in points allowed, to top 12.