Bucs grab Iowa defensive end Anthony Nelson in fourth round of NFL draft

The Bucs stay on the defensive side of the ball with their fifth pick, turning their attention to the line.
Iowa defensive end Anthony Nelson walks on the field during a game against Maryland in October in Iowa City, Iowa. [AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall]
Iowa defensive end Anthony Nelson walks on the field during a game against Maryland in October in Iowa City, Iowa. [AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall]
Published April 27, 2019|Updated April 27, 2019

TAMPA — In taking the defensive players they have over the course of this weekend’s draft, one of the common themes has been selecting players with versatility to fit into the multiple schemes that new defensive coordinator Todd Bowles’ 3-4 defense will include.

And while Iowa defensive end Anthony Nelson, who the Bucs selected in the fourth round with their first pick of Day 3, has played primarily in a 4-3 defensive front in college, the Bucs believe he can help the team defense in a variety of ways.

“We like the versatility and you have to be intelligent to do all those things with Todd, so he fits that mold,” Bucs general manager Jason Licht said. “We know he can rush the passer. We know he can lineup in the 4-3. We think he’s certainly athletic to do some of the things we’re going to ask outside linebackers to do in a 3-4. That’s the beauty of him.”

Licht said he believes Nelson could line up at outside linebacker in the 3-4 or play with his hand down in a 4-3 or as a five-technique in a 3-4 front.

Nelson, who was selected with the 107th overall pick, was the fifth defensive player drafted by the Bucs, but the first on the defensive front.

Nelson met with the Bucs at the Senior Bowl and the NFL Combine, but said he really didn’t know who would select him.

“To see this coming is hard to say," Nelson said. "I just kind of sat around and didn’t know what team was going to pick me. There were like 15 teams that I thought would take me. I’m just grateful for the opportunity and grateful to be a Buc now.”

The Bucs like their ends to have length, and last year, defensive end Carl Nassib used that quality to have a successful season both as a pass rusher and in run support.

“No two players are exactly the same, so it’s unfair to do that,” Licht said regarding any comparisons to Nassib. “He is in his mold in terms of his body type. He plays very hard and he’s a good athlete. He bends very well. He has good speed to power. He’s got good instincts. He’s a really, really smart guy. ...Productive guy, one of the more productive guys in the draft.”

Nelson, a 6-foot-7, 271-pound redshirt junior, also fits that mold. He finished second in the Big Ten last season with 9-1/2 sacks and logged 13-1/2 tackles for a loss.

“Length is a big tool for me,” Nelson said. “Long guy, long arms. Yeah, it’s just knowing how to use it and you’ve got to use it to your advantage. It’s one of my strengths and it’s one of the things I have to use consistently getting leverage on guys and just using it the best I can to make plays.”

Follow Eduardo A. Encina at Follow @EddieInTheYard.