The Tampa Bay Buccaneers defensive backs saw a lot of highs and lows this season. For a while, it looked as if this was going to be yet another season where the team would have the leagues worst pass defense. As the season went on though, we began to see the emergence of some players that provide us with hope for the future. In this article, we will review the season the Bucs defensive backs had and you can determine if the future is bright with this group or if changes are necessary in order to improve upon the league’s 30th ranked pass defense in 2019.
Sean Murphy-Bunting got off to a slow start this season. When the Bucs kicked off the season against the 49ers he wasn’t in the starting line up and only took one snap on defense that day. After that game, it was apparent that the team’s strategy was going to be to ease in Murphy-Bunting gradually over time. In the first month of the season, he never saw more than 10% of the defensive snaps, but that changed in week five versus the Saints.
Early game injuries thrust him into a bigger role and he made the most of it, picking up his first career interception. From that point on the Bucs gave him more significant playing time, and he made the most of it, finishing the season as a starter and accumulating 3 interceptions. Which tied for first amongst rookies. He also made the PFWA all-rookie team.
Fellow rookie Jamel Dean‘s road to significant playing time was longer than Murphy-Bunting’s but he arguably ended up being the team’s best corner in 2019. The first time Dean saw a large amount of playing time was weeks 9 and 10 when the Bucs played Seattle and then Arizona. Carlton Davis was out for those games. The Seattle game was a nightmare for Dean. Russel Wilson knew that Dean was seeing his first real playing time and picked on him all game. In total, he gave up 9 receptions for 155 yards.
He bounced back the next week against Arizona, tallying 4 pass breakups and a crucial interception that set up the game-winning touchdown drive. He played so well that Pro Football Focus graded him as the best defender in the NFL that week. A few days after that game the Bucs released Vernon Hargreaves and with the increased playing time he picked up from that, Dean went on to finish the season with 2 interceptions and 17 pass breakups. That pass breakup total tied for 4th most in the NFL and he made PFF’s all-rookie team.
The Emergence Of Jordan Whitehead
In his second NFL season, Saftey Jordan Whitehead really thrived in Todd Bowles defense. He was a playmaker all year for the defense. Bowles put him all over the field. Sometimes you would see him lined up with the Linebackers, other times over with the Cornerbacks and we regularly saw him blitzing. He led the team in total tackles in 5 of his 14 games this season and he finished the year as the teams 3rd leading tackler with 68.
Anyone who watched the Bucs games could see the explosiveness and confidence Whitehead played with all year and he is only going to get better as he spends more time in Bowles system. One area I would like to see him a step forward in next year is intercepting the ball a little more often. He had 1 this season, the first of his career. If he can get up to 3 or so each year, I think he could become a regular face at the Pro-Bowl.
One person I didn’t talk about that deserves a quick shout out is Carlton Davis. In his second season, he was listed as the team’s number one corner and did a very solid job. He only had 1 interception but was 2nd in the NFL with 19 pass breakups. I do think the secondary needs one or two more pieces though in order to rise from 30th against the pass to being a top 15 pass defense. I think they need to add another safety to pair with Whitehead. I’m not confident Justin Evans will be the right guy. They need someone that is more of a ballhawk. If the Bucs can add that, I think this group is capable of taking a big leap forward next year.
Photo credit: Tampa Bay Times