With the final first-round pick in SB Nation’s 2021 writers’ mock draft, we’ve reached the Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers. After becoming the only team in the salary cap era to return all 22 starters from their Super Bowl victory, the Bucs can go in any direction they’re most interested in.
Bucs Nation selected Gregory Rousseau, edge rusher, University of Miami.
Tampa Bay has a top-tier edge duo in Shaq Barrett and Jason Pierre-Paul, but the latter is 32 years old and likely approaching the end of his prime. After going more than 10 years without a consistent pass rush, Tampa will likely want to keep the position as a strength moving forward.
Rousseau would give defensive coordinator Todd Bowles and defensive line coach Kacy Rodgers a premium lump of clay to mold in whichever way they prefer. Length is the keyword when describing Rousseau, as the 21-year-old stands 6’6 with nearly 35” arms and a colossal 83” wingspan. He is, by all measures, a large human being.
His athletic profile gave more than a few college guards trouble with defending him, which led to most of Rousseau’s gaudy one-year statistics that included 15.5 sacks — second in the nation only to Chase Young — and two forced fumbles along with 54 total stops. That length also gives him an absurd tackle radius, which comes in handy when chasing down quarterbacks and ball carriers.
Ultimately, he’s more athlete than football player at this point. He has good physical traits and the necessary motor to succeed at the next level, but he’ll be unable to maximize his talent without learning the finer points of the game — using his hands more efficiently, attacking with a cohesive plan, etc. He played his only college season at a lanky 240 pounds, but he did put on 25 pounds since opting out of the 2020 season so that should help teams feel better about his ability to keep weight on.
If Rousseau finds his name called by the Bucs, the team will have to decide what his ideal deployment is. If he adds more weight, he could serve in a similar interior rush role to veteran William Gholston (6-6, 281), who found himself as an underachieving tweener until Bowles helped him unlock his potential. His superior length, paired with plus body control and ability to shed blocks, could wreak havoc on interior offensive linemen at the next level.
If the Bucs think he’s fleet enough to consistently win off the edge with better technique and functional strength, Rousseau could have a similar trajectory to Pierre-Paul. He’ll need some time in an NFL strength and conditioning program to continue filling out his frame before he’s truly pro ready.
Luckily, Rousseau would be in an ideal situation where he can ease into more playing time while learning behind good veterans and an established coaching staff. It might take a couple seasons to figure out his best role, but Rousseau’s untapped promise might tempt general manager Jason Licht and Co. to pull the trigger.