Bucs draft Oregon running back Bucky Irving in 4th round

TAMPA — Bucky Irving is a hard running back to bring down. Even after some of the biggest hits, he’s found a way to get back on his feet.

The Oregon star, drafted in the fourth round by the Bucs on Saturday, grew up in Chicago and has been thrown for some big losses in his life. His father died when Irving was 2. The day he was offered a scholarship to play at the University of Minnesota, his grandmother passed away unexpectedly. A younger brother was later shot and killed.

Perhaps that’s why he rarely goes down after first contact, something that might say as much about who he is as a person as it does about his ability as a football player.

“I carry them with me every day, man,” Irving said Saturday. “It’s just a blessing. Where I come from, just thinking about the loved ones that I’ve lost, I carry them with a chip on my shoulder each and every day. I know they’re smiling down on me and they’re real excited for me and I’m just going to keep going hard for them each and every day with each opportunity that I get.”

The 5-foot-9, 195-pound Irving enjoyed back-to-back 1,000-yard rushing seasons for the Ducks. But he could provide a valuable pass-catching role for the Bucs, after recording 87 receptions for 712 yards and five touchdowns during his final two seasons at Oregon.

Irving also is expected to take some of the rushing load off do-it-all back Rachaad White, who fell 10 yards shy or his first 1,000-yard rushing season in 2023.

“I used to watch Rachaad White highlights,” Irving said. “Just being able to come in and learn from a guy like him, I think it’ll be great to just come in and pick his brain on how he translated from college to the NFL. I’m trying to win football games. We’re trying to be that dynamic 1-2 punch, so let’s get it rolling.”

The surprising thing is the Bucs chose Irving over Kentucky’s Ray Davis, who went three picks later to the Bills. Davis was coached by new Bucs offensive coordinator Liam Coen with the Wildcats.

Irving may have been drafted earlier except he didn’t test particularly well, running a 4.55 40-yard dash at the scouting combine.

The 21-year-old played his freshman season at Minnesota before transferring to Oregon and earning the starting job as a sophomore over Noah Whittington and Jordan James.

Last season, Irving rushed for 1,180 yards and 11 touchdowns. More importantly, he had 56 receptions to lead all Football Bowl Subdivision running backs.

“I always have people talking about my size so I pretty much always have a chip on my shoulder,” Irving said. “I don’t let the first man bring me down, that’s just the mindset that I’ve got when I’ve got the ball in my hand and I’m also trying to always make the crowd go crazy, so I’m trying to make somebody miss every time I have the ball in my hand.”

The Bucs re-signed veteran Chase Edmonds in the offseason and also have second-year running back Sean Tucker. But Irving could slip into the No. 2 running back role and keep White fresh for the fourth quarter.

Irving said he has always studied some of the smaller backs in the NFL such as Barry Sanders, Jahmyr Gibbs, Devin Singletary and even Warrick Dunn.

“I like all small backs because they motivate me when they do it at a high level from college to the National Football League,” Irving said. “I just see guys and their games translate to the NFL pretty much as long as you just be yourself.

“I’ve been doubted my whole life, saying I’ve too small. I pretty much have to put my head down, work and whoever wants to hit me from the start, they’re just going to have to find out.”

Bucs assistant general manager John Spytek said the best thing Irving does is produce yards and touchdowns.

“People focus on the size and the speed is 4.56 is what we have on him,” Spytek said. “It’s not elite but it’s not slow. But all he does is get yards, he scores touchdowns and he’s hard to get down in space. He’s just another player that defenses have to focus on and figure out, ‘How do we get this guy on the ground?’ ”

Bucs nab another O-lineman

Having filled one need at center by drafting Duke center Graham Barton in the first round Thursday, the Bucs added another interior offensive lineman by selecting UTEP guard Elijah Klein in the sixth round, No. 220 overall.

Klein started 55 games for the Miners and was named to the All-Conference USA first team last season.

According to the Pro Football Network, Klein plays with a nasty streak, which is something general manager Jason Licht looks for in his offensive linemen.

“They’re getting a gritty, nasty dude,” Klein said Saturday. “I don’t claim to be the lightest on my feet, I don’t claim to play with the most finesse, but what I do like to do is put my head down and hit people as hard as I can.”

Klein will have to compete for the starting left guard position with free-agent additions Ben Bredeson (Giants) and Sua Opeta (Eagles).

“I look at it from the standpoint that we’ve got great competition in that room,” Spytek said. “I think it always elevates the level of play of the players who matter the most. Who’s going to rise to the occasion? I mean, who knows how it’s going to shake out and the fact that we can move these different parts different places, we’ll just let the guys compete, and plug and play the guys who do the best. We’ve got two bookend tackles and the rest of the is who wants it the most?”

Klein also will be a good fit for the Bucs’ outside zone run scheme under Coen.

“Zone is my favorite scheme,” Klein said. “There’s nothing I love more than inside and wide zone, working within those combos and being able to scheme up formations to get the perfect looks into it. That’s my bread and butter.”

The Miners had only one winning season in the six seasons Klein played at UTEP, going 7-6 in 2021.

“I’m most proud of the brotherhood we were able to create,” Klein said. “I mean, our record didn’t always reflect what we had there, but if you were to step foot in the locker room and see the bonds we built together, you’d recognize it was something pretty special.”

Tight end rounds out the draft haul

The Bucs love the Huskies. With their seventh-round pick, the Bucs selected Washington tight end Devin Culp.

The 6-foot-3, 231-pounder turned 24 in February. He would be the second-oldest player in the Bucs’ tight end room.

Culp had 66 career receptions for 711 yards and four touchdowns in his career at Washington. The Bucs drafted Huskies receiver Jalen McMillan with one of two third round picks Friday. Defensive linemen Vita Vea and Greg Gaines, tight end Cade Otton and outside linebacker Joe Tryon-Shoyinka all played at Washington.

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