Could the Bucs bolster their pass rush in the middle rounds of this month’s draft by looking toward Cincinnati’s Myjai Sanders?
The Bucs’ busy 2022 offseason has seen them bring back many of their starters both on offense and defense while also making some significant upgrades to their depth. If they learned anything from last year’s failed run to a Super Bowl repeat, though, it’s that you can never have too much depth. So, where does the team still need it?
Offensively, Tampa Bay signed Russell Gage and brought back Breshad Perriman to shore up its depth at receiver. Along the offensive line, the Bucs re-signed Aaron Stinnie, a key backup who may find himself stepping into a starting role in 2022 depending on how the NFL Draft plays out. As for the backfield, Leonard Fournette and Giovani Bernard are back, with Ke’Shawn Vaughn potentially figuring in as the 2B or No. 3 option. There are still some holes to fill on the depth chart offensively, but it’s the defense that we’re focusing on today.
The additions of Logan Ryan and Keanu Neal give the Bucs a good deal to work with in the secondary, but if there’s anywhere where they could still use a shot in the arm, it’s up front on the defensive side of the ball. The Tampa Bay pass rush was inconsistent for much of the 2021 season and with Jason Pierre-Paul’s future uncertain, the EDGE position for Todd Bowles’ defense currently features Shaquil Barrett, Joe Tryon-Shoyinka, Anthony Nelson and Cam Gill. It stands to reason, then, that the team might be looking to address the position later this month.
So, today, we’ll take a look at another potential piece for the Buccaneer defense: Cincinnati EDGE Myjai Sanders.
MYJAI SANDERS’ COLLEGIATE CAREER
Sanders was a three-star recruit out of Camden County High School in Georgia before choosing Cincinnati over Washington State, Virginia Tech, UCF, USF, Mississippi State, Kentucky, Maryland and Rutgers, among others. He played in 10 games as a freshman during the 2018 season before starting 14 games in 2019. As a sophomore, he totaled 36 tackles (19 solo), seven tackles for loss, four sacks, eight quarterback hurries, two passes defended, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery.
The rise continued for Sanders and the Bearcats in 2020, with the tall pass rusher posting 31 tackles (22 solo), 10.5 tackles for loss, seven sacks and five passes defended as Cincinnati made an undefeated run to the Peach Bowl before losing to Georgia. That season, Sanders was a semifinalist for the Bednarik Award in addition to being named a First-Team All-AAC Selection.
Myjai Sanders has been named a semifinalist for the Chuck Bednarik Award for the Outstanding Defensive Player of the Year.
— Cincinnati Football (@GoBearcatsFB) December 7, 2020
Cincinnati’s historic 2021 season saw an undefeated 13-0 record lead to the first College Football Playoff appearance by a Group of Five program. Sanders was a key cog in the Bearcat defense once again, though his numbers dipped slightly, likely as a result of seeing more double-teams. He finished his final collegiate season with 34 tackles, 6.5 tackles for loss, 2.5 sacks and five passes defended. He was once again honored as a First-Team All-AAC Selection in addition to earning a place on Pro Football Focus’ All-AAC First Team.
Following his four seasons with Cincinnati, Sanders was invited to the 2022 Senior Bowl. He was a standout in practice, continuing to display some of the speed that made him such a force at the college level.
One prospect who could look like Day 2 steal in 2-3 years is @GoBearcatsFB EDGE Myjai Sanders. @MyjaiSanders had fifth fastest max acceleration (5.88) among all players at Senior Bowl behind only 3 DBs and 1 LB. Here’s how that type of explosive closing burst looks on a field. pic.twitter.com/KImQNcj1XO
— Jim Nagy (@JimNagy_SB) February 27, 2022
PRO DAY AND SCOUTING COMBINE
Much of the pre-draft process for Sanders involved questions about his weight. After weighing in at 242 pounds at the Senior Bowl, he was down to 228 pounds at the NFL Scouting Combine. It was later reported that he was battling an illness while in Indianapolis that caused the weight loss, which he then seemed to prove as he came in at 247 pounds at Cincinnati’s Pro Day on March 24.
At the Combine, Sanders ran the 40-yard dash in 4.67 seconds, which put him among the top performers at his position. His 33-inch vertical wasn’t as impressive, but he posted solid numbers in the broad jump and 20-yard shuttle. With there now being an explanation behind the weight loss—and especially since he’s put that weight back on—the only big drawbacks that still exist (in terms of measurements) are his hand size and arm length.
Much of Sanders’ game is predicated on his speed rather than his power, so he has proven that he can work around what he lacks in hand size and arm length. Overall, he has a long frame, standing at 6-foot-5. He’s a tall, quick presence off the edge that can make quarterbacks uncomfortable. But he has a leaner build, which might create problems at the next level.
WHAT SANDERS CAN DO FOR THE Bucs IN 2022
Right now, Sanders projects as a speed rusher that will be especially effective on passing downs. He’s not as strong against the run, which will limit what he can offer from the jump. However, considering the Bucs’ roster, he wouldn’t be a bad fit in the early days. Shaquil Barrett has one of the outside linebacker spots locked down, while Joe Tryon-Shoyinka will presumably be tasked with stepping up on the other side in his second professional season. Anthony Nelson took a step forward in 2021 and Cam Gill flashed some promise, but Sanders would add another element of speed to the Bucs’ pass rushing depth.
The former Bearcat has a great first step and can use his hands quickly and effectively. He put some impressive reps on film against Alabama in the College Football Playoff Semifinal, even getting some wins against Evan Neal, one of the top prospects in this year’s draft.
There’s no doubt that Sanders has some work to do, though, as he sometimes plays too tall and his pad level allows offensive linemen to steer him outside and away from the play. Bigger, stronger linemen are also able to take advantage of his slender build at times and knock him off balance, taking him out of the play just long enough to create some room for the ball carrier. He does have the athleticism and hips to reestablish his footing and work his way back into plays, but there are some aspects of his game that will need fixing before he can be a three-down player at the NFL level, especially on a defense as seemingly stacked as Tampa Bay’s.
There’s plenty to like about Sanders’ speed and ability to disrupt the pocket. He made plays for Cincinnati in some big games, namely getting after the Notre Dame quarterback Tyler Buchner to force him into an errant throw that was intercepted. He was impressive in spurts during the aforementioned semifinal game against Alabama as well. How his game translates to the NFL remains to be seen, as he’ll likely need to develop a little more power behind his hands to become a well-rounded pass rusher that can play consistent snaps.
NFL.com analyst Lance Zierlein projects Sanders to be an average backup or special teamer in the league, which feels about right as of now. But that’s more than OK given his expected draft position. He’s likely to be a day three pick whose speed will get him on the field in passing situations. If he proves to offer more as a rusher and against the run, he might just turn out to be a a day three steal down the line. But for the Bucs, Sanders likely fills more of a rotational role even a few years down the line.
What Sanders has in his favor regarding a potential fit in Tampa Bay is the fact that he was used in a variety of ways in Luke Fickell’s defense at Cincinnati. He can play with his hand in the dirt as a 4-3 defensive end just as much as he can stand up as an outside linebacker in a 3-4. Fickell likes to throw different looks at opposing offenses, as does Todd Bowles. So in terms of scheme, Sanders feels like he would be a player that Bowles would love deploying in different ways. He also dealt with a lot of double teams in 2021, which might not be a common occurrence in the NFL. And in a Buccaneer system that includes Vita Vea eating up multiple blockers in the middle, Sanders very well could take advantage and use his speed to be disruptive off the edge. In the right situation, the Cincinnati alum could thrive. Is Tampa Bay the right situation?
The Draft Network’s analysts gave Sanders a consensus grade of 74.30 out of 100, which translates to a fourth-round value. His NFL Mock Draft Database profile has him projected for the third round. It feels like there’s a decent chance that Sanders is taken late on day two, but he’s more likely to be an early day three pick. If a team can get him in the fourth—and especially the fifth—there would be some good value there. If Tampa Bay wants him, it would have to hope he falls to the 28th pick of the fourth round (133rd) overall, barring a trade-up. Otherwise, it might be something of a reach if the team took him with its third-round pick (91st overall).
ON THE CLOCK…
OK, it’s your turn to make the decision, Bucs Nation. Does Myjai Sanders fit a need for Tampa Bay and would he be a good fit both in the short and longer term? Let us know how you feel about the possibility by voting in our poll and discussing what you think in the comments down below.