Thursday, February 22, 2018
Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Breaking down NFL draft: Linebackers (w/ video)

Whom the Bucs have

Lavonte David, WLB (6-1, 233): Pro Bowl player is under contract long term. Got back to splash plays with interceptions and sacks in 2015.

Kwon Alexander, MLB (6-1, 227): Draft steal in last year's fourth round was immediate starter. Value was most evident in his absence during four-game suspension for violating league's performance-enhancing drug policy.

Daryl Smith, SLB (6-2, 250): Veteran has 120-plus tackles in each of past three years. Will be active as experienced leader despite part-time role on strongside.

Jeremiah George, LB (5-11, 234): Clearwater graduate helped on special teams last year; had a blocked punt. Likely back as backup and special-teams player.

Josh Keyes, LB (6-2, 223): Shined in preseason, missed cut, was brought back. Had four tackles in Week 17. Will battle for special-teams role in second season.

Depth: Other linebackers returning from 2015 who played on special teams include Adarius Glanton and Darius Eubanks. Bucs will likely keep only six linebackers. Battle for backup jobs may come down to who can lead on kick-coverage units and handle multiple positions as a backup.

Top five draft prospects

Myles Jack (above), UCLA (6-1, 245): Versatile and athletic, has also played safety and running back. Knee is concern over reported knee and cartilage problems, but speed can make him an NFL star.

Jaylon Smith, Notre Dame (6-2, 223): Knee injury in bowl game means he likely won't play this year. Talented enough to still be a first-rounder.

Reggie Ragland, Alabama (6-1, 247): Middle linebacker doesn't miss on tackles. Heavy hitter; strong against run. Will improve in pass coverage.

Darron Lee, Ohio State (6-1, 232): Size a concern for some, but showed speed and instincts with Buckeyes. Former high school QB can blitz well.

Su'a Cravens, Southern Cal (6-1, 226): Aggressive converted safety had 15 tackles for loss in 2015. Smallish but quick enough to draw comparisons to Bucs' Lavonte David.

Under the radar

Antwione Williams, Georgia Southern (6-3, 245): Bucs sent LBs coach Mark Duffner to work him out. Has good size. Had four forced fumbles last year and 10½ tackles for loss. Could be smart third-day pick.

Free agency

Bucs let Bruce Carter go in free agency and didn't tender Danny Lansanah, so David is the only linebacker who was on the roster a year ago. Daryl Smith was signed as a veteran presence and "bridge" to mentor what looks to be a rookie strongside linebacker taken in middle rounds.

Best guess

With two young linebackers likely not coming off the field in David and Alexander, how much would the Bucs invest in a third linebacker who would be likely to come off the field in the nickel package? They can upgrade their fourth linebacker and look for a third-day pick, hoping for the same mid-round jackpot they hit last year with Alexander in the fourth round.

Greg Auman, Times staff writer

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