The Bucs’ defensive ends should be a strength this coming season. Both of their presumed starters – Robert Ayers and Noah Spence – played well in 2016 despite dealing with injuries, so it’s expected that they’ll flourish next season with clean bills of health. Run-stuffing behemoth William Gholston has been brought back on a shiny new contract, while pass-rush extraordinaire Jacquies Smith will be making a return from ACL surgery. Together this group complements each other well with a solid blend of early and late down production. With that said, the defensive end position will be a major priority next off-season.
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Ayers will turn 32 this season and can’t be relied on as a starter for more than this season. Gholston and Smith can fill their role well enough, but aren’t the balanced players you look for in a starting defensive end. Noah Spence, while extremely gifted, isn’t a proven commodity quite yet. There’s enough certainty to be excited for 2017, but not enough for beyond that.
The Bucs were intrigued with several different defensive ends in this years’ draft, which suggests that they were trying to get out ahead of the issue if their draft board shook out the right way. Defensive end is arguably the second or third most important position on the field, so it’s more than deserving of premium off-season capital. Jason Licht has yet to use a first round pick on the defensive end position, but next year could certainly be the first.