We’re going to take a look at the free agents the Bucs have signed so far this off-season, starting with former Bears and Cowboys DT Henry Melton:
Melton is a former Texas Longhorn and 4th round pick of the Bears in 2009. A college DT, his functional strength, quickness and thick frame led the Bears to move him inside—much like former Sooner and current Buc Gerald McCoy. Melton played very well in Chicago and was an impact player and rising star until he tore his ACL in 2013. He ended up in Dallas last season and many wondered how well he’d recover from his injury. He played well, racking 5 sacks, 15 or so tackles and considerably more havoc than those numbers might imply.
What are the Bucs getting? Melton is a prototypical 3-tech defensive tackle, a special athlete with a surprisingly quick first step and good pursuit ability. He’s also a player steeped in the venerable Tampa2 scheme as a pro, meaning he should contribute instantly. He’s also a convicted bartender biter, but we’ve all been there, right? When healthy he is a penetrator, a legit disruptor. Now, last year he did not look quite like the same kid who whipped ass in Chicago, but he did improve over the course of 2014 and concerns about his knee seem to be behind him. He’s also only 28 years old, so the Bucs clearly believe that his youth and a year under his belt post-injury make him a smart gamble. I agree with them completely. My top free agent DT was the Lions’ Nick Fairley, but Melton is no weak consolation prize and, in truth, Fairley has some significant character issues that Melton does not.
What does he bring to the equation? Simple: excellent depth and, most important, a credible option if Gerald McCoy gets hurt. And that’s absolutely huge. The 3-tech DT in the Dungy-inspired Tampa 2 defense is the engine that makes the car go. Lose any other defender and you can survive and even thrive as a defense, but lose your star DT and you’re up poop creek in a paper canoe. When McCoy was lost to injury in 2010 and 2011, the Bucs’ pass rush essentially took a dump. He has been relatively healthy since, but the team has asked too much of him in terms of reps of late, often leaving him gassed when it matters most. Melton fixes both of those concerns.
Worth a mention: last offseason thee Bucs added DT Clinton McDonald, a player some believed could spell McCoy at the 3-tech and fill his shoes if he was injured. I was not among them. Though I am a McDonald fan and have been since he was a draft prospect, he is not a special athlete and is also clearly a better fit as a grind-it-out NT. Melton is a different animal. He rounds out the DT rotation nicely giving the Bucs excellent depth and a credible rotation at both DT spots—Melton spelling McCoy and underrated former draft pick Akeem Spence spelling McDonald. He gives the Bucs a versatile player capable of inside reps and even DE reps on passing downs. And if (heaven forbid) McCoy gets dinged Melton’s athleticism and pass-rush ability ensures that the defense will continue to roll. His presence also means the Bucs don’t need to address DT high in the draft come April, a fact that will allow them to focus on other needs (DE, QB, OT, OG, LB). And lastly, if the Bucs have problems with a mouthy bartender at any point, Melton will quickly masticate their ass into submission. Don’t dismiss the importance of that last point.
Reminds me of: St. Louis DT Nick Fairley
The verdict: Melton is a perfect fit for the defensive scheme and a wise free agent addition on a number of levels—a nice change from the molten dung we saw added last off-season. Considering age, skill set and fit, I give this one an 8 out of 10 on the Scrappy Scale.