Three Players that will Improve in the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ Secondary

TAMPA, FL - DECEMBER 11: Vernon Hargreaves III (28) of the Buccaneers waves to the fans during the NFL Game between the New Orleans Saints and Tampa Bay Buccaneers on December 11, 2016, at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, FL. (Photo by Cliff Welch/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ secondary had been porous under the direction of Mike Smith.  As a result of the poor performance, Smith was relieved of his duties. This leaves many fans clamoring for a corner in the draft to help fix the secondary. However, there are three players that could greatly improve and stand out in the secondary under Todd Bowles’ scheme.

Strong in the Slot

Vernon Hargreaves could benefit from the new coaching changes and new scheme the most. After being selected 11th overall in the 2016 draft, Hargreaves has not lived up to expectations. His play and availability have been inconsistent due to injuries. Playing on the outside made him seem outmatched, so he moved inside to be the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ slot corner. In his new position, he flashed some of the traits that made him a first round selection. Now, it may have set him up for a comeback in Bowles’ defense.

In what we believe to be a 3-4, 4-3 hybrid multi-front defense, the slot corner becomes a key piece to the secondary. Tasked with covering the third receiver, running back out the backfield or possibly a tight end will require a quick and twitchy corner. Hargreaves is just that. He is quick and has instincts that are well suited for the slot position. Expect him to play off-man, zone and press-man coverage against opponents who present a better matchup for Hargreaves. The only trouble he may have is when facing large tight ends. This could be an opportunity for Hargreaves to live up to his draft position and prove himself worthy of staying with the Buccaneers. If he fails, the Buccaneers will again be searching for corners next year via free agency, trade or the draft.

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Second Year Corner

Carlton Davis is ready to play in the manner that got him drafted in the second round of last year’s draft: physical at the line! His height, weight and length will be utilized by Bowles in much the same manner as Auburn. He is going to get the opportunity to jam receivers at the line, force them off routes and harass them down the field. These are the abilities that made professional scouts notice him in the first place. His misuse in the “bend but don’t break” defense is over. Davis is an aggressive player who is now under the tutelage of an aggressive defensive coordinator. Davis will take a long stride in the right direction with his development this year.

Move to Safety

Reports have indicated that M.J. Stewart will be play safety to begin the 2019 season. Drafted to originally play the position as indicated by Jason Licht and reported by Greg Auman, he will finally get a shot. His toughness and instincts should make the transition smooth. Playing safety will alleviate the issues with his height and average speed. He is a physical player with the versatility that this new look defense requires. He may still see some time at corner but either way he should improve over last year.

The Way Ahead

Ryan Smith and De’Vante Harris will need to step up. As it stands right now, they will benefit from the departure of Brent Grimes, who is still seeking money to cover number one receivers. With additional snaps, they could improve because they are both still young.

Subsequently, we should see the Tampa Bay Buccaneers address cornerback at some point in this year’s draft. Although corner is not the highest priority, they may target one between the third and fifth round. If a highly touted player falls from the first round into the second they may even pull the trigger earlier.

Lastly, I would also expect the Buccaneers to look into free agent Morris Claiborne if he is available after the draft. There is some interest in him from other teams. A veteran player in the secondary could aide the development of young players already on the roster. He has also previously played for Bowles. Of course, there will be cuts during preseason and some experienced players may end up becoming free agents.


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