INDIANAPOLIS — This is the time of year when mock drafts are all the rage and more than a few have been published that have no doubt left Buccaneers fans scratching their heads in confusion.
Though a dominant pass rusher is clearly the Bucs greatest need, the suggestion that they would fill that need by drafting Buffalo outside linebacker Khalil Mack seems to make little sense.
With Lavonte David emerging as one of the league’s best weakside linebackers and coach Lovie Smith planning to employ a 4-3 scheme that makes limited use of the strongside backer, Mack doesn’t seem like a fit for the Bucs.
Mack, though, is not your average outside linebacker.
Though the 6-foot-3, 248-pounder out of Fort Pierce has been groomed in a 3-4 scheme and is considered a prototypical 3-4 backer, he could also fit as not just 4-3 backer but maybe even a 4-3 end.
“He’s a productive, explosive, fast-twitch pass rusher, one of those guys that can fit any scheme,’’ Bucs GM Jason Licht said. “He has speed along with power, not just one or the other, and so he’s a very interesting guy.’’
As several mock drafts have suggested, Mack is of great interest to the Bucs. It’s his versatility that makes him so, but the NFL’s ever-growing penchant for passing the ball adds to their interest.
With traditional 4-3 defensive teams such as the Bucs being forced more and more by passing offenses to play in sub packages and formations, Mack could fit with them as 4-3 backer, too.
“I think the important thing is that if you are drafting him as a 4 3 team you have to make sure that in nickel and sub situations, you’re freeing him up to go get the quarterback,’’ said NFL network game and draft analyst Mike Mayock.
“And in today’s NFL, because of the versatility in defenses, I think that’s fine. Four-three teams are doing all kind of different things in sub packages. That’s why I just kind of call (players like Mack) edge guys now.’’
The Bucs could use one of those edge guys. They could probably use two or three. Though they surpassed the 30-sack mark for the first time since 2007 last year, coach Lovie Smith says the Bucs have a dearth of edge rush talent.
“We want to be able to rush four guys and get pressure,’’ Smith said. “That’s what the Tampa Bay Buccaneers were built on and that hasn’t changed. So we have to have a double-digit sack guy on the outside, and right now we don’t have that right now.’’
Smith isn’t alone in his thinking.
“I think first and foremost, they do need an edge guy,’’ Mayock said when asked what he thought the Bucs needs were in this draft. “That’s why, if [Khalil] Mack is sitting there, he would be of interest to me.
“After (South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon) Clowney, I think (Mack) is the most gifted edge (rusher) in this class. And I think regardless of your scheme, you need to draft those kind of guys and play them.’’
On the lookout
The Bucs have needs that stretch beyond the defensive line, of course. With the exception of safety and running back, there is a need to address virtually every position on the field. Mayock believes that after defensive end, two stand out above the rest.
“One or two of (the best) offensive tackles should be there for the Bucs when they pick, too, and I think they also need a new age tight end,’’ Mayock said. “If they (keep the seventh overall pick) and gave their quarterback another weapon, I’d be all for that.’’
Change of pace
Licht has spent the last six years, first in New England and then in Arizona, building defenses that run a 3-4 scheme. Now he’s building one that will run a 4-3 scheme. That presents a bit of a challenge, he said, but not as great a one as some may think.
“You have to re-program yourself a little bit in the types of players you look for at linebacker, for example, but really what it comes down to is you’ve got to find good football players,’’ Licht said. “Good people and good leaders, of course, but just good football players. That’s what we want.’’