Consensus Growing for Buccaneers at No. 26 Overall Pick

Laiatu Latu

UCLA defensive end Laiatu Latu celebrates after sacking USC's Caleb Williams.

There seems to be a consensus growing in regard to which player the Tampa Bay Buccaneers will select at No. 26 overall in the 2024 NFL draft.

Mock drafts from The Athletic, PFF and ESPN all now have the Buccaneers selecting UCLA All-American defensive end Laiatu Latu toward the end of the first round on April 25 in Detroit.

“It’s very possible a team could fall in love with Latu’s combination of production and pass-rush refinement and jump up on him in the early 20s (maybe even the teens),” The Athletic’s Nick Baumgardner wrote. “Given his length, injury and speed concerns, it’s also possible he slides a bit — and Tampa Bay could reap the benefits.”

Laiatu Latu’s Sack Projection Through First NFL Season

Using the SackSEER projection system, which predicts how many sacks a player will have through their first five NFL seasons, ESPN’s Aaron Schatz had Latu ranked as the No. 3 edge-rusher prospect behind Alabama’s Dallas Turner and Florida State’s Jared Verse.

Schatz projected Latu to have 23.6 sacks through his first five seasons — coincidentally the length of a rookie contract when a team exercises the fifth-year option on a player.

Schatz’s formula also figures in “SRAM” which means “sack rate as modified” and measures per-game sack productivity. It also figures in things like position switches in college and if a player enters the NFL draft with college eligibility remaining.

“Latu’s combine performance was unimpressive in the jumps, with a below-average 32-inch vertical and an average 9-foot-8 broad jump,” Schatz wrote. “However, he comes in a close second to Turner in SRAM because he had 10.5 sacks as a junior in 2022 followed by 13 sacks as a senior in 2023.”

How was Tampa Bay’s Pass Rush in 2023?

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers had an elite pass rush in 2023, but did it in an unusual way.

The Buccaneers finished tied for No. 7 in the NFL with 48 sacks in 2023 but didn’t have a single player in the Top 10 in the NFL in individual sacks. In fact, the Buccaneers only had one player in the Top 50 in the NFL in sacks — rookie outside linebacker YaYa Diaby (7.5 sacks).

NFL All-Pro safety Antoine Winfield Jr. was second on the Buccaneers with 6.0 sacks.

The Buccaneers released their leader in sacks for the last five seasons with outside linebacker Shaquil Barrett, who signed with the Miami Dolphins. Barrett had 45.0 sacks over the last five seasons and led the NFL with 19.5 sacks in 2019.

Latu had 23.5 sacks over the last two seasons at UCLA — 10.5 in 2022 and 13.5 in 2023. In 2023, he was named the Pac-12 Pat Tillman Defensive Player of the Year and won the Ted Hendricks Award as the nation’s top collegiate defensive end.

“Latu has a strong case for EDGE1 in this class but will likely be the third one taken on draft night,” wrote PFF’s Max Chadwick. “His 96.3 grade this past season didn’t just lead all players in the country; it was the highest-graded season from a Power Five player since PFF began charting college football in 2014. Tampa Bay should sprint this card in after releasing Shaquil Barrett his offseason.”

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