Buccaneers NFL Draft Target: EDGE Marshawn Kneeland, Western Michigan

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: FEB 03 Reese’s Senior Bowl
Photo by Michael Wade/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The Bucs could use some pass-rushing reinforcements early in the 2024 NFL Draft.

The Buccaneers found a Day 2 gem last year in YaYa Diaby, who went from a third-round project out of Louisville to Tampa Bay’s sack leader in his rookie season. After releasing veteran Shaq Barrett, the team is still in need of pass-rush, so could they go to the Day 2 well once more for someone like Kneeland? Let’s analyze:

MARSHAWN KNEELAND’S COLLEGIATE CAREER

A 2-star recruit coming out of high school, per 247Sports, Kneeland was originally a tight end before transitioning to the defensive side of the ball. He played sparingly his freshman season, seeing action in just 5 games, before becoming a full-time starter the following year.

Kneeland didn’t produce particularly gaudy stats against MAC competition, but a cumulative 4-year total of 149 total tackles (28 for loss), 12.5 sacks, nearly 100 pressures, and 3 forced fumbles is still noteworthy. He was named second-team All-MAC in his final season.

A largely mum college stat sheet didn’t draw much attention prior to the pre-draft process, but that changed quickly with dominating performances in Senior Bowl week practices. His teammates voted him as defensive player of the week, and he then produced some excellent testing at the NFL Combine.

PRO DAY AND SCOUTING COMBINE

Kneeland, who met formally with the Bucs at the combine, produced some excellent overall results. He stands 6-foot-3 and weighs 267 pounds with 34 1/2” arms. He’s well-built with an NFL-ready frame.

Per Next Gen Stats, he was the most athletic EDGE prospect at the combine. He ran the 40 in 4.75 seconds with a 1.66-second 10-yard split. A vertical of 35 1/2” and a broad jump of 9-foot-11 were very strong, and he showcased his excellent open-field agility with a blistering 7.02-second 3-cone and 4.18 short shuttle. He tallied a solid 21 reps on the bench press.

His overall NGS score ranked him 6th overall among edges at the combine, while his Relative Athletic Score (RAS) graded out as elite, which the Bucs have historically favored for earlier draft picks.


Kneeland stood on his combine athletic testing results but did participate in positional drills at Western Michigan’s Pro Day on March 12. He also planned a top 30 visit with the Buccaneers, which may indicate some serious interest.

WHAT KNEELAND CAN DO FOR THE BUCS IN 2024

The Bucs will likely rely heavily on a rotation to fill Barrett’s shoes in 2024, so you’d expect Kneeeland to start like Diaby did last year and gradually earn snaps off the bench.

Joe Tryon-Shoyinka will likely a command a majority share, especially early on, but Kneeland’s measurables and sheer athleticism should earn him some looks to flash his distinctive power rush ability.

Kneeland is a fluid open-field mover, which will also appeal to Todd Bowles due to the latter’s affinity for dropping his edges out into coverage and having them executive various games and stunts. He’s got a revved-up motor that runs from whistle to whistle, and heavy hands and an ability to sift through blocks should allow him to create disruption in the run game — another heavy emphasis in Tampa’s defense.

THREE-YEAR OUTLOOK

If Tampa invests a top 100 selection in Kneeland, the expectation should be that he will take over as a starter within the next two years. The team will undoubtedly be searching for a long-term partner with Diaby, so Kneeland will be given every opportunity to prove himself as that guy.

That said, it’s worth noting that Kneeland is an older prospect (23 years old) and doesn’t have the polish you’d like to see from players that age. His power rush is developed and effective, but you’d like to see an expansion of his repertoire to combat the savvier blockers of the NFL.

Between his spurts of rushing prowess and high floor as a run defender, Kneeland will get rotation snaps but he’ll need to really take off developmentally if he wants to seize majority snaps like Diaby did from JTS last year.

A full year in a professional program could do wonders and prep him for that starting role n 2025, but all depends on how the rookie season goes. It’s possible he ends up as someone more like Anthony Nelson, who has remained a steady, if unremarkable, backup and rotational presence for the last 6 years.

STOCK REPORT

Kneeland, like most other limited-production, high-athletic potential athletes, is a polarizing prospect.

The Athletic’s Dane Brugler gave Kneeland a Round 2 film grade and ranked him just outside his top 50 prospects (No. 51). He wrote: “If you only watched his Eastern Michigan tape from last season, you would think Kneeland was the next Khalil Mack — ready to leap from the MAC to being a top 10 pick.”

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: JAN 31 Reese’s Senior Bowl
Photo by Michael Wade/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Others feel a little more tempered.

NFL.com’s Lance Zierlein gave Kneeland a 6.16 grade, which classifies him as a good backup with a chance to become a good starter. Zierlein is primarily concerned with Kneeland’s lacking pass rush plan but praised his fluidity, motor, and bull rush.

Bleacher Report’s Matt Holder was easily the most pessimistic, giving Kneeland a 4th round grade (ranking him 114th overall). He wasn’t impressed with Kneeland’s inconsistent bend / first-step, nor his moveset — further galvanizing that observation amongst multiple evaluators.

With that in mind, high-level athletes at premium positions tend to get boosts in their draft stocks from that alone, so I’d peg Kneeland as much closer to Brugler’s expectations (top 50) than Holder’s.

ON THE CLOCK…

There you have it, Bucs Nation. Would you like to see Kneeland selected as Tampa’s solution to their edge-rushing needs? Vote in the poll and comment below!

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Title: Buccaneers NFL Draft Target: EDGE Marshawn Kneeland, Western Michigan
Author: Mike Kiwak

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