TAMPA, Fla — When the Tampa Bay Buccaneers added Auburn Tigers linebacker K.J. Britt in the fifth round of the 2021 NFL Draft, they got more than a depth piece. They got a leader.
Coming back for his senior season couldn’t have been an easy decision for Britt, who likely would have been drafted in 2020 had he left school after having his best season at Auburn. He returned though and graduated with a business degree this past December. The downside being he was only able to play in two games his final season, due to injury.
“This guy loves football and we talk about the leadership thing, I mean you could tell it hurt him that he could not go out there and be, you know, the leader on the field for his teammates,” Blackerby said of Britt’s presence within the program while unable to contribute on the field. “So, he did the second-best thing. He was a leader off the field for his teammates and he was on the sideline and, you know, once he got a little more healthy with his recovery he was jumping up and celebrating with those guys as soon as they were making plays. He did everything he possibly could to travel with the team and things like that, so yeah I mean if this guy doesn't love football, he is hiding it extremely well.”
Love of the game− that’s the kind of motivation a young player needs to grind his way to a roster spot, likely having to do so on special teams before he even thinks of contributing to the defense.
The sentiment rings true for every day-three pick, and the later you get selected, the higher the hill you have to climb. For Britt and his fellow rookies though, there’s a bit of a special type of obstacle standing between this class of new Bucs and playing time.
For the first time since free agency began, a Super Bowl-winning team is bringing back all of their starters from the big game. Even deeper for Tampa Bay, they’re bringing back every significant contributor to their championship run, all the way down to backup guard Aaron Stinnie who started in the postseason after the team lost Alex Cappa.
Britt comes into the organization firmly behind Devin White and Lavonte David and lined up behind Kevin Minter as well. From there he’ll compete with other linebackers like fellow rookie Grant Stuard, taken with the final pick of this year’s NFL Draft.
The challenge won’t be anything new to Britt though. As Blackerby pointed out, he’s been overcoming odds his entire football career and has been doing so with a work ethic matched by none.
Britt may have landed in the perfect spot, with a coaching staff led by Bruce Arians who rewards invested players with matched contributions in the form of lessons and opportunities.
For more on this story, and all things Tampa Bay Buccaneers, check out the Locked On Bucs Podcast.