HOOVER, Ala. — Bucs fans know all about the recent stream of LSU defensive stars into the NFL.
Tampa Bay has drafted three of them in the last five years (Kwon Alexander, Kendell Beckwith and No. 5 overall pick Devin White). The Bucs looked at Tyrann Mathieu as a free agent and probably had interest in trading for Patrick Peterson, although neither move materialized.
This year’s Tigers have another standout on the way — one who’s putting up numbers unmatched by his LSU predecessors and should draw the attention of the Bucs and every other NFL team in the coming months.
Do-it-all defender Grant Delpit.
“I think Grant Delpit is the best defensive player in the country coming back this year,” Tigers coach Ed Orgeron said.
Yes, Orgeron is biased. But he’s also right. Few players in recent history have had the skillset of the 6-foot-3, 203-pound Delpit.
As a true sophomore, the IMG Academy product led the SEC with five interceptions while recording five sacks. Only one other SEC player has matched that stat line in the last decade: Robinson High alumnus Javier Arenas, who did so during Alabama’s 2009 perfect season.
Those numbers made Delpit the ninth unanimous All-American in LSU’s storied history. He won the Jack Tatum Award as the top defensive back and earned the right to wear LSU’s prestigious No. 7 like Peterson and Mathieu.
“In high school, I’m watching Tyrann highlights, making crazy plays…” Delpit said at SEC media days. “I’m envisioning myself doing that.”
And now he’s doing it — and more.
Mathieu finished his LSU career with only four career interceptions; Delpit already has six.
But like the Honey Badger, Delpit’s biggest strength is his versatility, which leads to unique numbers: 74 tackles (9 ½ for a loss), nine pass breakups, four quarterback hurries, one forced fumble and one fumble recovery.
Delpit fills the box score by moving around the field. He spent some of last season roaming deep as a traditional safety or covering a receiver. Then he’d move up to linebacker alongside White. Or creep up to the line of scrimmage to blitz off the edge or thwart a fake field goal.
“Anywhere coach puts me, I’m going to make the play…” Delpit said. “Anywhere on the field, I got you.”
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Delpit can get you from anywhere because he’s big and strong enough to handle offensive linemen, quick enough to close ground on receivers and smart enough to juggle the responsibilities that come with playing multiple positions.
If that sounds a lot like another recent safety prospect from a school the Bucs know well, it should.
“I talk to Derwin a lot,” Delpit said.
The Bucs liked Derwin James when he came out of Florida State and had the chance to draft him in 2018. They picked Washington defensive tackle Vita Vea instead.
Vea finished his first season with 28 tackles and three sacks in 13 games. James was an All-Pro for the Chargers.
“That’s definitely a guy I try to watch his film, try to model my game after,” Delpit said of James. “He’s a hard hitter, but at the same time, he’s a ball hawk.”
So is Delpit, which is why he’s high on way-too-early mock drafts. ESPN analyst Todd McShay had him No. 3 in his first mock draft. His colleague, Mel Kiper Jr., ranked Delpit as the No. 2 draft-eligible prospect.
Delpit can fortify those expectations and add to his accolades this season as the focal point of the top secondary in the nation and the best Orgeron has ever coached. Expect it to be his final audition before leaving early as LSU’s latest NFL-bound defensive star.
“It’s going to be great, because I feel like I can fit into the defense wherever they need me to,” Delpit said. “In the box, covering, on the line, rushing off the edge. Anything a defensive coordinator has in mind, I can do.”