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NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Hardly is anything as sure a thing as was Devin White walking across the stage, embracing the NFL commissioner Roger Goodell as the highest-drafted linebacker in LSU history.

Not even the rain that fell on the thousands of fans huddled on Broadway in Nashville could stop it.

White is a Tampa Bay Buccaneer, selected with the No. 5 overall pick Thursday night, and when White raised the red No. 1 jersey in front of his charcoal suit, he became the first linebacker the franchise picked in the first round since 1995.

You may know that linebacker's name: Hall of Famer Derrick Brooks.

Sitting behind the podium at his post-draft news conference, his well-polished cowboy boots tucked beneath the table, White said that LSU head trainer Jack Marucci always told White that he reminded him of Brooks, a friend of Marucci, and said that he'd connect the two if he was eventually drafted by the Buccaneers.

"Now, it's a real good time for (Marucci) to connect us, so I can pick his brain about how to become such a great pro," White said. "At the end of the day, I just want to help my team. I'm ready to do my own thing, but try and get a little bit better."

White joins a Tampa Bay franchise that hasn't won a playoff game since its Super Bowl XXXVII victory in 2002. The Buccaneers have been shrouded in mediocrity in the NFC South, recording just four winning seasons since 2007, when the franchise last made the playoffs.

Defense has been Tampa Bay's core issue, something that drafting LSU's first Butkus Award winner is meant to alleviate. The Buccaneers have ranked among the 10 worst teams in the NFL in scoring defense in seven of the last 10 seasons.

That stretch started upon the 2008 retirement of Brooks, who was the face of the team's tough, brutal defense for over a decade.

"Well they need (White), first of all," ESPN analyst Mel Kiper Jr. said Tuesday. "That's a big need for them, linebacker... He fits what they need. Be a real leader of that defense. He can be the leader, the cornerstone of the defense. Got great character. He's perfect for today's NFL."


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White is also the highest pick that the Buccaneers have spent on a linebacker, and at No. 5, White's projected total contract is estimated by Spotrac.com to be valued just over $29 million.

White said he thought he'd be in play to be selected by the Oakland Raiders at the No. 4 pick, but he said Buccaners coach Bruce Arians had told him that if he were available at No. 5, the team would take him.

There was also more metaphysical reassurance.

In the months leading up to the draft, White had a scheduled team visit with the Buccaneers, and afterward, he was flying to New York to do some media and visit with the New York Giants.

"My flight got delayed like all night," White said. "I was in the airport for over eight, nine hours. That was a sign from God. That's where I knew I would be."

White leaves behind one of the greatest legacies in LSU history.

White becomes the fifth Tigers player to be drafted in the first round since 2014 and the first since 2017, when three LSU players were drafted in the first round (Leonard Fournette, No. 4 overall Jacksonville Jaguars; Jamal Adams, No. 6 New York Jets; Tre'Davious White No. 27 Buffalo Bills).

Only one LSU linebacker has ever been drafted within the top 10 since the NFL merger in 1966: Eric Hill, who was selected No. 10 overall by the Phoenix Cardinals in 1989.

"I see him starting off making an immediate impact," LSU coach Ed Orgeron said. "He's going to be a great leader."

White skyrocketed up draft boards in the months leading up to Thursday. The 6-foot-1, 240-pound Cotton Valley native ran a 4.42 40-yard dash to lead all linebackers at the NFL combine.

White established himself as one of the greatest linebackers in LSU history, joining former players from Mike Anderson to Michael Brooks to Bradie James in the pantheon of top-level defenders. 

Comparisons have linked the horse-riding, fumble-forcing White to previous NFL greats long before White announced he was giving up his senior year for the draft: Hall of Famer Ray Lewis; Roquan Smith, the Chicago Bears' No. 8 overall pick in 2018.

"He's going to be a Rookie of the Year candidate who's going to record a ridiculous number of tackles and explosive plays," NFL Network draft analyst Daniel Jeremiah said.

White's speed is unusual at inside linebacker. The 200 players at that position who were drafted since 2005 ran the 40-yard dash in an average of 4.75 seconds, according to data from Pro-Football-Reference.com.

Only three inside linebackers — Martez Wilson (4.42, 2011), Mychal Kendricks (4.44, 2012) and Gerald McRath (4.49, 2009) — ran faster than a 4.5.

White was one of two LSU players to travel to the draft. The other, cornerback Greedy Williams, was left in the green room with his family, undrafted after the first round.

Williams slipped in mock drafts in the pre-draft process. For example, Kiper's first mock draft in January pegged Williams to be drafted No. 4 overall by the Oakland Raiders. In his next latest mock draft, Kiper said the buzz surrounding Williams questionable tackling and inconsistent coverage — despite his 4.37-second 40-yard dash at the NFL combine — dropped him to late first round.

"I'm not afraid to tackle," Williams said at LSU pro day. "I just never have really been in a position to make a big tackle. I'm always in man-to-man. They understood where I was coming from. ... Like I told the scout, 'Put me in a Cover 2 and let that tight end run in that zone, and I'll show you what I can do.'"

Williams, a Shreveport native who started all 23 games he played at LSU, was projected by many to be selected No. 29 by the Kansas City Chiefs, which traded the pick to the Seattle Seahawks on Tuesday.

The Seahawks selected Texas Christian defensive lineman L.J. Collier.

Only one cornerback was selected in the first round. The New York Giants selected Georgia's Deandre Baker at No. 30, the cornerback who beat out Williams for the Jim Thorpe Award in 2018.

It was the fewest cornerbacks drafted in the first round since at least 2000.

"Oh yes definitely, I was surprised," said Baker, who said there are four or five cornerbacks remaining he thinks should be selected in the second round. "I thought more corners would come out in the first round. But I was the only one, so I'm just blessed it was me."

According to ESPN, Williams is the No. 5 best available player remaining in the draft.

The NFL draft continues with the second and third rounds on Friday, starting at 7 p.m.

This article originally ran on theadvocate.com.

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