The Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ No. 1 priority this offseason isn’t to acquire a pass rusher or an offensive tackle. And it most definitely isn’t to acquire a running back.
Upgrades in those areas would be nice, of course, but above all else, the Bucs need something else.
They need a cornerback.
Actually, considering how porous last season’s pass defense was, bring in a busload.
In 2018, the Bucs:
• ranked 30th against the pass in Football Outsiders’ opponent-adjusted defensive metrics.
• allowed a passer rating of 110.9, the second-highest rating of all time (the Saints allowed a 116.2 rating in 2015).
• allowed a 72.5 completion percentage, the second-highest percentage of all time (the Lions allowed a 72.7 percentage in 2016).
• allowed 7.8 yards per pass, second to only the Raiders (8.0).
• allowed 34 passing touchdowns, third most, and if it weren’t for safety Andrew Adams picking off three passes in one game, they would have finished with six interceptions, second fewest.
• allowed 24 pass gains of at least 30 yards, sixth most.
• allowed 212 passes to result in a first down or touchdown, seventh most.
Y I K E S !
You could point the finger at Mike Smith, but he was the defensive coordinator for only five games. Seven defensive backs allowed a passer rating of 100 or higher. Among them were several players in which Tampa Bay has invested significant draft capital:
• M.J. Stewart, the No. 53 pick in last year’s draft, allowed a 148.6 rating on passes into his coverage.
• Carlton Davis, whom the Bucs took 10 picks later, allowed a 113.3 rating.
• Justin Evans, the No. 50 pick in the 2017 draft, allowed a 121.0 rating.
And then there’s Brent Grimes. He won’t be back. After the season, he said on his wife’s podcast that the Bucs “disrespected" him when they asked him to shadow Antonio Brown in the team’s Week 3 game against the Steelers. He was disrespected all right — by opposing quarterbacks.
Quarterbacks challenged Grimes, an NFL starter for 12 years, as often as they challenged as Davis, an NFL starter for 12 games, and had similar success. Quarterbacks completed 69 percent of their passes into Grimes’ coverage and averaged 8.9 yards per pass; they completed 62 percent of their passes into Davis’ coverage and averaged 8.2 yards per pass.
But that was last season. What about this season? Expect defensive coordinator Todd Bowles to run a blitz-heavy scheme, which will ask a lot of the Bucs’ cornerbacks, who often will be in man coverage. The Jets, whom Bowles coached last season, blitzed on 32.3 percent of pass plays, the sixth-highest rate.
The most sensible path then is for Tampa Bay to add a veteran cornerback when the league year opens Wednesday. Kareem Jackson, who has spent the past nine seasons with the Texans, figures to be one of the more sought-after free agents. The 30-year-old defender is versatile — he can play outside cornerback, inside cornerback or safety — and didn’t allow a receiving touchdown last season.
Patrick Peterson, 28, is another name to watch, though the Bucs would have to pry the former All-Pro from the Cardinals. Peterson, who played for new Bucs coach Bruce Arians in Arizona from 2013 to 2017, requested a trade during the middle of last season but has since apologized, assuring fans that “I’m here to stay, baby.”
If the Bucs don’t land a cornerback in free agency or trade, they’ll most certainly have to draft one in April. Who would be in play? There’s no clear-cut favorite.
In his most recent mock draft, Will Brinson of CBS Sports projects that Tampa Bay will take Greedy Williams. The LSU product picked off eight passes in two seasons, but his tackling skills have come under fire. “I think that what Greedy needs to do is prove that he’s physical enough to be able to support and tackle because that’s obviously important now in the bubble screen, short pass league,” ESPN’s Mel Kiper says.
Steve Palazzolo of Pro Football Focus has the Bucs taking Georgia’s Deandre Baker. “Baker may be the best fit for multiple schemes,” Palazzolo says. “He has strong ball skills and allowed a passer rating of just 40.2 into his coverage last season.”
Here’s a roundup of other analysts’ predictions on what the Bucs will do in the first round of the draft:
Walter Cherepinsky, walterfootball.com: Josh Allen, defensive end/linebacker, Kentucky
“I'm sure the Buccaneers would love to trade down, but they may have trouble passing on an elite talent like Josh Allen. The Kentucky product is the best player available, and he also fills a huge need to provide a boost to a lacking pass rush. With the Buccaneers transitioning to a hybrid defense, Allen would be a great fit. He can play in coverage and also rush the quarterback effectively on the edge.”
Nate Davis, USA Today: Ed Oliver, defensive tackle, Houston
“If Oliver can truly gallop into his next locker room as something close to the second coming of two-time defensive player of the year Aaron Donald, the Bucs shouldn't pass on the 6-2, 287-pounder — often miscast as a nose tackle in college — despite the resources GM Jason Licht has already poured into his D-line.”
Luke Easterling, USA Today’s Draft Wire: Jonah Williams, offensive tackle/guard, Alabama
(Easterling projects that Tampa Bay will trade back twice, first with Denver and then Washington.) “After moving back twice and stockpiling picks to reload the roster for a new coaching staff, the Bucs finally make their first pick, and it’s to help protect Jameis Winston. Williams may lack the elite length and athleticism of other tackles in this class, but on film, he’s the most complete and consistent blocker in the class.”
Doug Farrar, USA Today’s Touchdown Wire: Devin White, linebacker, LSU
“The Buccaneers defense was subpar in most categories in 2018, and while the secondary was the primary issue, the linebacker rotation could be facing a big hit if Kwon Alexander ends up somewhere else in free agency. Even if Alexander comes back at a reduced price after his torn ACL, this is a team in need of players who can define a defense. White blew up the combine with a 4.42-second 40-yard dash and good showings in all the drills, and his tape shows the very definition of a modern linebacker.”
Daniel Jeremiah, NFL.com: Montez Sweat, defensive end, Mississippi State
“No prospect has helped himself more since the season ended than Sweat. He followed up a great Senior Bowl showing with a huge combine.”
Danny Kelly, The Ringer: Montez Sweat
“High-cut defensive end who knows how to use his Mister Fantastic wingspan and extraordinary explosiveness to beat blocks.”
Todd McShay, ESPN: Montez Sweat
“If you set a combine record for the fastest 40-yard dash for a defensive lineman (4.41 seconds at 260 pounds), you're going to make some money. Sweat has a ton of upside, and Tampa Bay badly needs difference-makers on defense. But there’s also a very real possibility that the Bucs trade back with a team looking for a quarterback, and taking the best available offensive lineman — perhaps Jawaan Taylor — makes sense in that scenario.”
Matt Miller, Bleacher Report: Rashan Gary, defensive end, Michigan
“If (the Bucs) take the best player regardless of position, look no further than Michigan edge-rusher Rashan Gary, who shined at the combine. At 277 pounds, he rocked a 4.58-second 40-yard dash and impressed in field work. As a versatile piece along the defensive line, Gary can play outside at defensive end or come inside and rush from the interior in sub-packages.”
Chris Trapasso, CBS Sports: Quinnen Williams, defensive tackle, Alabama
“The Buccaneers can't pass on Williams' talent here and are happy to pair him with 2018 first-round pick Vita Vea in the middle with Gerald McCoy likely to play elsewhere in 2019.”
Ryan Wilson, CBS Sports: Jawaan Taylor, offensive tackle, Florida
“Bruce Arians would love to give Jameis Winston another downfield threat but he'll need to protect his quarterback first. Taylor could be the first offensive linemen taken and it would make perfect sense; he's a monster in the run game and was rarely fooled in pass protection last season.”
Mock draft tracker
Will Brinson, CBS Sports: Greedy Williams, defensive back, LSU (last update: March 11)
Bucky Brooks, NFL.com: Devin White, linebacker, LSU (March 3)
Charley Casserly, NFL.com: Clelin Ferrell, defensive end, Clemson (Feb. 25)
Walter Cherepinsky, walterfootball.com: Josh Allen, defensive end/linebacker, Kentucky (March 11)
Nate Davis, USA Today: Ed Oliver, defensive tackle, Houston (March 11)
Luke Easterling, USA Today’s Draft Wire: Jonah Williams, offensive tackle/guard, Alabama (March 11)
Doug Farrar, USA Today’s Touchdown Wire: Devin White (March 11)
Daniel Jeremiah, NFL.com: Montez Sweat, defensive end, Mississippi State (March 11)
Kalyn Kahler, Sports Illustrated: Jonah Williams (Feb. 25)
Danny Kelly, The Ringer: Montez Sweat (March 11)
Mel Kiper, ESPN: Montez Sweat (Feb. 18)
Todd McShay, ESPN: Montez Sweat (March 11)
Matt Miller, Bleacher Report: Rashan Gary, defensive end, Michigan (March 11)
Steve Palazzolo, Pro Football Focus: Deandre Baker, cornerback, Georgia (March 11)
Pete Prisco, CBS Sports: Greedy Williams, cornerback, LSU (Feb. 25)
Rob Rang, NFL Draft Scout: Deionte Thompson, safety, Alabama (Feb. 25)
Chad Reuter, NFL.com: Josh Jacobs, running back, Alabama (March 3)
Peter Schrager, Good Morning Football host: Jawaan Taylor, offensive tackle, Florida (March 3)
Mike Tanier, Bleacher Report: Devin White (March 3)
Chris Trapasso, CBS Sports: Quinnen Williams, defensive tackle, Alabama (March 11)
Ryan Wilson, CBS Sports: Jawaan Taylor (March 11)
Lance Zierlein, NFL.com: Quinnen Williams (Feb. 11)
Past Mock Draft Mondays
Statistics in this report are from Football Outsiders, Pro Football Focus and Pro Football Reference. Contact Thomas Bassinger at [email protected]. Follow @tometrics.