PHOENIX – The best place to get honest information at the NFL annual meeting in the desert was at the social gathering Monday evening at the Arizona Biltmore.
Head coaches, general managers and owners were clustered around unofficial team tables with their families, loosened up by a few drinks and the realization they survived the pressure-cooker for another year and are still in the exclusive club. Free agency is waning, and attention has turned to the draft.
One of the main things I kept hearing at that event earlier this week is that the Bucs are taking LSU linebacker Devin White if they stay at No. 5. One general manager told me that would not be a reach because White deserves to go that high. He also may fill the biggest need on defense with the loss of Kwon Alexander to the 49ers in free agency.
White would be the first linebacker drafted in the top five since 2015, when the Jaguars drafted Dante Fowler at No. 3. But the name you kept hearing as a comparison to White is another Butkus Award winner: Patrick Willis, the 49ers linebacker who went to seven Pro Bowls. Both played at 6-foot-1, 240 pounds.
Right now, the Bucs have Jason Pierre-Paul and Carl Nassib as the outside linebackers/edge rushers with Lavonte David and Deone Bucannon as inside linebackers. But Bucannon does better in a sub package. The Bucs need a new quarterback of the defense and White, at 21, is better than Alexander rushing the passer and plays with just as much fire. He also wants to be the next Luke Kuechly by being able to identify every play before the snap.
The only thing that may change that is if several quarterbacks are selected ahead of the Bucs pick and some defensive linemen, such as Quinnen Williams or Josh Allen, were to be pushed down to them.
This is more than White noise.
Arians is aware that while he needs help on the offensive line, his early draft capital has to be spent on defense, where the Bucs allowed 29 points per game. Bowles has gotten some situational players who will be motivated by one-year deals. There’s so much depth in the draft at defensive line, the Bucs could find good players in rounds 2 through 4.
They need to draft a future Pro Bowl player who will call the defense and hold everyone accountable. Arians was asked if White was worthy of a top-five pick?
“Yeah. Yeah,’’ he said. “Devin Bush, Devin White, I mean, these guys are special. Then you look at those outside guys. It’s an unbelievable group (of linebackers).
“You’ve got your wish list. We know we’re going to get one of these five. It’s just who takes a quarterback and who doesn’t."
Contact Rick Stroud at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @NFLStroud