This position, considered a strength until recently, is now seen as an area of need. Things changed dramatically with the onset of Aqib Talib's most recent legal troubles. The top-flight cornerback stands accused of assault with a deadly weapon in Garland, Texas.
That has left the Bucs in a precarious position.
While they are high on young backups E.J. Biggers (age 24 in June) and Myron Lewis (24 in November), Tampa Bay's coaches didn't plan on leaning heavily on them yet. Meanwhile, veteran Ronde Barber, who turned 36 on April 7, is possibly entering his last season. Expect the Bucs to operate under the assumption they will be without Talib for the foreseeable future, perhaps even permanently if they decide to release him.
Even with Talib, cornerback depth is, arguably, an issue. Either way, the Bucs are looking closely at the position.
What they're looking for
While the Bucs once were seen as employing cornerbacks skilled in playing the traditional Tampa 2 zone, coach Raheem Morris — also the defensive coordinator — has deviated a bit and added dimensions. They now use a blend of man and zone coverage, in some cases one-on-one coverage.
This requires a different brand of athlete. Talib and Lewis, both more than 6 feet and 200 pounds, are emblematic of the type of cornerbacks the team is gravitating toward. Both are long, physical and able to match up with today's larger, more-powerful receivers.
Fitting the bill
Because the Bucs, who pick 20th in the first round, almost certainly won't have a shot at LSU's Patrick Peterson — a physical specimen who is among the top prospects, regardless of position — they will have to look further down the board.
Nebraska's Prince Amukamara, left, also is expected to be gone by No. 20, but his combination of size (6-0, 206) and speed make him tempting to the Bucs and Morris, a former secondary coach. Jimmy Smith of Colorado is another intriguing option. But he might not be seen as a good fit because of past off-the-field issues (two minor drug arrests three years ago). Remember, it's Talib's issues that have made cornerback a need to begin with.
Aaron Williams of Texas, Ras-I Dowling of Virginia, DeMarcus Van Dyke of Miami and Cortez Allen of the Citadel are options in the second round and beyond who possess qualities attractive to the Bucs.
Top 10 prospects
|. Patrick Peterson
LSU, 6-0, 219
|Complete player; among fastest prospects overall; won 2010 Thorpe (top defensive back).|
Nebraska, 6-0, 206
|Considered a top-flight one-on-one cover man; 2010 Big 12 defensive player of the year.|
Colorado, 6-2, 210
|Excellent size and athleticism; character concerns will affect stock.|
Texas, 6-0, 205
|Among most physical defensive backs in this class; has knack for corner blitz.|
Miami, 5-10, 191
|A bit inconsistent, but All-ACC second-teamer is a natural athlete.|
Virginia, 6-1, 200
|Limited by injury to five games as a senior; had big junior season, including 58 tackles.|
Utah, 5-11, 191
|Early entrant coming off unspectacular season; 2009 season will help his stock.|
Texas, 5-11, 183
|Considered a superior athlete; has faced top-tier Big 12 receivers and fared well.|
New Mexico State, 6-0, 197
|Four-year starter with superb ball skills; could excel in man-to-man.|
Ohio State, 5-11, 190
|Standout track sprinter had six interceptions as a senior.|
Because the expectation is no cornerback worthy of a first-round pick will be available when the No. 20 selection arrives, the Bucs don't seem likely to choose one in the first round without trading up.
The more likely scenario is the selection of a cornerback in the second, third or fourth round, an area of the draft where the team has had success in the past. Barber was a third-round choice, and former Buc Brian Kelly was as good a second-round pick as you will find.
In that area of the draft, good options are plentiful.
Stephen F. Holder, Times staff writer
|Round 1||Rounds 2-3||Rounds 4-7||where|
|Thursday, 8 p.m., ESPN, NFL Network||April 29, 6 p.m, ESPN, NFL Network||April 30, noon, ESPN, NFL Network||Radio City Music Hall, New York|
Bucs picks — Round 1: 20; Round 2: 19 (51st overall); Round 3: 20 (84); Round 4: 19 (116); Round 5: 20 (151); Round 6: 22 (187); Round 7: 19 (222), 35 (238)