Linebackers not a high priority this draft for Bucs

Alabama Crimson Tide linebacker Ryan Anderson (22) looks at the loose ball after causing Clemson Tigers running back Wayne Gallman (9) to fumble the ball during the second half Monday, Jan. 09, 2017 in Tampa.
Alabama Crimson Tide linebacker Ryan Anderson (22) looks at the loose ball after causing Clemson Tigers running back Wayne Gallman (9) to fumble the ball during the second half Monday, Jan. 09, 2017 in Tampa.
Published April 25, 2017

TAMPA — In Lavonte David and Kwon Alexander, the Bucs have two young linebackers who never come off the field when healthy, key parts of Tampa Bay's defense for the present and future.

The Bucs' third linebacker spot is something of a part-time job, as the strongside linebacker comes off the field when Tampa Bay goes to its nickel defense, which means he's playing only about 35 percent of the defensive snaps.

As such, even when the job is wide open, as it is right now with veteran Daryl Smith not re-signed from last season, it's not necessarily an urgent draft need. The Bucs could draft a new "Sam" linebacker, or they could turn to Devante Bond, a sixth-round pick out of Oklahoma last year who sat out the 2016 season with a hamstring injury.

"It depends," Bucs general manager Jason Licht said of the urgency to draft an SLB this weekend.

"It depends on if that strongside linebacker that you're looking at has value as a pass rusher, or some kind of value as a fifth rusher or in coverage, your different combinations that you can use. … If he's strictly a two-down player, he's probably not going to be as high on this board."

It's a good year to not really need a linebacker. This year's class has limited talent at the top of the draft. Perhaps the top linebacker, Alabama's Reuben Foster, reportedly had a diluted drug sample at the NFL combine, raising a question mark off the field that could hurt him Thursday night.

If Foster falls, Temple's Haason Reddick — who had 101/2 sacks last season —may be the first linebacker taken, with Florida's Jarrad Davis also likely to go in the first two rounds. Bucs linebackers coach Mark Duffner still has been active in working out draft prospects, including later-round options such as Ohio's Blair Brown and Cincinnati's Eric Wilson.

One intriguing wrinkle as the Bucs look at in-house options at SLB is second-year defensive end Noah Spence, who is relatively small for an end at 6 feet 2, 251 pounds.

First-round options

Reuben Foster, Alabama: Likely a weakside linebacker in a 4-3 defense, and Bucs are well covered there, but some defense will benefit if his off-field flags drop him.

Haason Reddick, Temple: Active all over the field, he had 211/2 tackles for loss for the Owls in 2016. Has moved himself into the first round, but just how high?

Jarrad Davis, Florida: Probably high to take him at 19, and seems unlikely he'll fall to No. 50. Somewhere in between, he could be first player taken from Gators.

Mid-round options

Ryan Anderson, Alabama: More of a prototype Sam linebacker in size — had 19 TFLs and nine sacks as a huge part of Tide's defense as a senior. Still there at 50?

Raekwon McMillan, Ohio State: Prolific tackler, potential third-round pick who would fit in well with Bucs. Compared to ex-Tampa Bay SLB Mason Foster.

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Alex Anzalone, Florida: Injuries limited his college career, but good speed — ran a 4.63 at 241 pounds — and is one of several Gators that should go in Friday's rounds.

Late-round options

Blair Brown, Ohio: Shorter at 5-11, but went off for 128 tackles in 2016, including 15 TFLs. Can speed and instincts overcome lack of prototype NFL LB size?

Anthony Walker Jr., Northwestern: Super in 2015, he dropped off but has good pass coverage skills for his size (238) and should still be available on Saturday afternoon.

Samson Ebukam, Eastern Washington: Lived in Nigeria until age 9. Another small-school name to remember — might be best served as a 3-4 OLB or 4-3 end.