|ROUND 1:||ROUNDS 2-3||ROUNDS 4-7|
|8 p.m. Thursday, ESPN, NFL Network Bucs pick: No. 5 overall||7 p.m. April 27, ESPN, NFL Network Bucs picks: 4 (36th overall); 5 (68 overall)||Noon April 28, ESPN, NFL Network; Bucs picks: Round 5: 5 (140); Round 6: 4 (174); Round 7: 5 (212)|
The Bucs have invested heavily in the defensive line in the draft in the past two years with only a little success. In 2010 they used the No. 3 overall pick on tackle Gerald McCoy, left, and the 35th on tackle Brian Price. Last year the Bucs took end Adrian Clayborn 20th overall and end Da'Quan Bowers 51st.
Because of injuries, McCoy has played only 19 games (four sacks). Torn biceps (the left in 2010, the right in 2011) landed him on injured reserve. Price played in five games as a rookie before pelvic surgery, and he has been plagued by hamstring injuries. Clayborn led the Bucs as a rookie with 71/2 sacks. Bowers, who was recovering from knee surgery when drafted, showed only flashes of the player who led the nation with 161/2 sacks as a senior at Clemson.
New coach Greg Schiano believes McCoy can be dominant if healthy. But the Bucs needed to build depth in case of injury.
To that end, they have signed former Texans and Bears tackle Amobi Okoye to a one-year, $2 million contract. Okoye, 24, could push for a starting position. The Bucs also re-signed end Michael Bennett, a restricted free agent who was second on the team with four sacks last season, to a one-year, $2.742 million contract.
What they're looking for
The Bucs need big, physical tackles to provide depth and help stop the running game. Tampa Bay was last in rushing defense in the NFL last year, allowing an average 156.1 yards per game. The addition of Okoye will help, but it's not nearly enough. Pass rushers are also at a premium in the league, so the Bucs won't hesitate if one falls to them in any round.
Fitting the bill
LSU tackle Michael Brockers, left, declared for the draft after his redshirt sophomore season. At 6 feet 5, 322 pounds, he is already a monster in the middle. He has met with several teams near the top of the draft, including the Bucs. Last season he had 10 tackles for loss and two sacks. Another intriguing player is North Carolina end Quinton Coples, who played for Butch Davis, the Bucs' special assistant to the coach. Coples, 6-6, 284 pounds, was asked to move to tackle midway through last season; he resisted. He has 171/2 sacks over the past two seasons and is more suited at end. But versatility is good.
|1. Tackle Fletcher Cox|
6-4, 298 Mississippi State
|The third-year player was the only Bulldog to earn first-team All-SEC honors after recording 56 tackles and five sacks last season. He is a high-effort player who is versatile enough to play tackle and end. He is generally expected to be the first defensive lineman picked.|
|2. End Quinton Coples|
6-6, 284 North Carolina
|He produced 171/2 sacks over the past two seasons despite having been asked to move from end to tackle. A natural pass rusher, Coples will thrive at end in the NFL.|
|3. Tackle Michael Brockers|
6-5, 322 LSU
|Brockers, leaving after his redshirt sophomore season, has a big upside but dominated for only one season at LSU. He is linked to the Bucs in several mock drafts.|
|4. End Melvin Ingram|
6-1, 264 South Carolina
|He could be a third-down pass-rush specialist in something like the Giants' "NASCAR" package (four speedy ends lined up next to each other). Last year he had 81/2 sacks and 131/2 tackles for loss.|
|5. Tackle Dontari Poe|
6-3, 346 Memphis
|He did 44 reps of 225 pounds at the draft combine and ran 4.98 seconds in the 40-yard dash. He is projected as a top-10 pick by most analysts.|
|6. End Chandler Jones|
6-5, 247 Syracuse
|The brother of mixed martial arts champion Jon "Bones" Jones, he uses his hands well to get off blocks and had 10 sacks in 33 games. He is a projected second-round pick.|
|7. End Andre Branch|
6-4, 259 Clemson
|He is a converted linebacker with long arms who might lack the strength to be an every-down end in the NFL.|
|8. End Whitney Mercilus|
6-3, 261 Illinois
|Last year he won the Ted Hendricks Award, given to the best defensive end in the nation. He led the nation with 16 sacks, nine forced fumbles and 221/2 tackles for loss. He had only one productive season before deciding to leave school to help his parents, who are from Haiti.|
|9. End Nick Perry|
6-3, 271 Southern Cal
|Perry opted for the draft after his junior season, in which he led the Pac-12 in sacks with 91/2. He is considered a tweener at linebacker and defensive end but wants to play end in the NFL.|
|10. Tackle Jerel Worthy|
6-2, 308, Michigan State
|He anchored a Spartans defense that led the Big Ten in rushing yards allowed, sacks and total yards allowed. His father had a stroke in 2010; Worthy entered the draft early to support his family.|
The Bucs probably aren't looking to use their first-round pick on a defensive lineman, especially considering their investment in 2010 and '11. But if the situation dictates they trade down a few spots, it's possible Brockers becomes an option. Most likely, the Bucs will fortify their front seven in later rounds.
Rick Stroud, Times staff writer