A draft so full of great defensive linemen, even the Bucs can’t miss

Tampa Bay’s need to add a young, strong pass rusher should be filled by this year crop of selections.
Mississippi State defensive end Montez Sweat (9) waits for the next drill during warm-ups before their NCAA college football game against Louisiana Tech on Saturday, Nov. 3, 2018, in Starkville, Miss. (AP Photo/Jim Lytle)
Mississippi State defensive end Montez Sweat (9) waits for the next drill during warm-ups before their NCAA college football game against Louisiana Tech on Saturday, Nov. 3, 2018, in Starkville, Miss. (AP Photo/Jim Lytle)
Published Mar. 3, 2019|Updated Mar. 3, 2019

INDIANAPOLIS — This year, the Bucs have no excuse not to draft a great defensive lineman. Not a very good or an even okay defensive lineman. We’re talking about a franchise-changing, game-wrecking defensive lineman who can turn a quarterback into an insomniac the night before a game.

And for a change, the Bucs front office and scouting staff can rest easy knowing it’s impossible to swing and miss on this pick.

All they had to do was walk around the Indiana Convention Center on Saturday during the scouting combine and they would’ve been knocked down my one.

Ohio State’s Nick Bosa, Alabama’s Quinnen Williams, Kentucky’s Josh Allen, Mississippi State’s Montez Sweat, Michigan’s Rashan Gary and Houston’s Ed Oliver each stepped up to the podium and practiced their rookie of the year speeches.

Usually there’s a player or two at the top of the draft that’s been in more hot water than spaghetti. But this class of defensive linemen is the most talented, highly principled, versatile and accomplished that the NFL has seen in nearly a decade.

“I would tell you that it’s a great year to be looking for D-linemen in general,’’ 49ers general manager John Lynch said. “I hear people talking … eight years, this is as strong of a class as the last eight years at the defensive line. I concur. It’s not just exclusively at one position. There’s inside guys, there’s outside guys.”

The Bucs have the No. 5 overall pick, and a couple of quarterbacks are likely to be selected ahead of them, so the math even works.

The head of the class is believed to be Bosa, who missed most of last season at Ohio State due to an abdominal injury. Bosa has D-line bloodlines. His brother Joey has been a sack-master in his three seasons with the Chargers.

Nick Bosa is an edge rusher who plays with one. And unless Arizona takes Oklahoma quarterback Kyler Murry No. 1 overall, Bosa will be looking for real estate in Phoenix by the end of April.

“It would be a dream come true,” Bosa said of being the first pick. “It would mean so much to me to be thought of (as) the best player in the draft.”

But Bosa has competition. Lots of it.

The Bucs have drafted one defensive end — Noah Spence — in the past five years. And Spence, who had 5½ sacks as a rookie, recorded all of three tackles last season. In fact, Tampa Bay recorded only 10½ sacks from players under the age of 25 last season. So without getting into the weeds with stopwatches and scouting reports, here’s the thumbnail the Bucs can follow, for the reasonable price of a subscription.

Quinnen Williams, DT, Alabama

He played for Nick Saban. Nuff said. He was a monster in the middle at 6 feet 3, 303 pounds. Finished with 71 total tackles, 19½ tackles for loss and eight sacks. Put him next to the Bucs’ first-round pick last year, defensive tackle Vita Vea, and no team rushes for a yard. Only drawback is he just turned 21, looks 16 with his braces and really started for only one year. “Like a year ago, I was getting ready for spring practice not knowing if I was going to start or what position I was going to start at,’’ Williams said. “It’s amazing to me. I’m blessed. I come from a place where a lot of people don’t get to do this.’’

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Josh Allen, DE, Kentucky

He was the best pure edge rusher in the SEC. But really, he’s better than that. Just ask him. “I think I’m the best player in this draft,’’ Allen said. “I believe that. If a team doesn’t believe that, I’ll see them during the season.’’ Don’t be shy, Josh, which player in the NFL are you most like? “Khalil Mack and Von Miller,’’ he said. “I say that because those two are the best at their positions, and I feel like I’m the best, so I may as well compare myself to them and my game is similar to theirs.’’ Whoever turns the draft card in to the commissioner with Allen’s name on it should break an ankle.

Montez Sweat, DL, Mississippi State

Long, versatile and can play with his hand in the dirt or standing up as an outside linebacker in the Bucs’ new 3-4 alignment. Will remind you of Hall of Fame defensive end and former Dolphins great Jason Taylor. “But I’m my own player,’’ he said. “I want to create my own success.” Coaches for the 49ers and Raiders had Sweat at the Senior Bowl, and they select Nos. 2 and 4, so …

Rashan Gary, DL, Michigan

He could play any of the four defensive line positions, he’s that versatile. Rare combination of power and quickness, and will probably play defensive tackle. “I’m able to do a lot of things a lot of defensive linemen in this class can’t do, and I pride myself on being able to do that,’’ Gary said. He also had a secret he wanted to share Saturday: “That I’m the best player in this draft, offensively and defensively.”

Ed Oliver, DL, Houston

He plays with a high motor. Credits his success to horse power. He has been riding them since he was 5. One of his horses, Oreo, made him tough. “I swear that horse tried to kill me a couple times,’’ he said. “When you fight with a 1,000-pound animal, I ain’t worried about no 300 pounds.’’

The Bucs don’t need a draft board. They need a dart board. Put these names on them, close your eyes and throw. You can’t miss.