The Tampa Bay Buccaneers boast a young secondary that has not even reached their potential. Their best ball is still ahead of them. This year, they dubbed themselves the “Grave Diggers”. The name truly caught fire as the secondary picked off the likes of Aaron Rodgers and Drew Brees, cementing their place in history. They kept the acclaimed Chiefs’ offense and spectacular quarterback Patrick Mahomed out of the end zone. Keeping them together is key for another run at the Super Bowl.
Returning On Contract: Corners
For the cornerbacks, the big three remain on contract. Carlton Davis III, Sean Murphy-Bunting, and Jamel Dean look to keep the “Grave Diggers” name going. Davis will be entering the final year of his rookie contract while Bunting and Dean still have two seasons left. With all three under the age of 25, they look to grow from this last season and become an even better unit.
Additionally, with those mentioned above, Herb Miller returns. Miller saw extremely limited action. The 2019 Florida Atlantic undrafted free agent was on the field 17 snaps total in 2020 but showed promise. Consequently, in those snaps, he had an interception, a pass deflection, and five tackles. Pro Football Focus (PFF, subscription required) graded him in his small performance as a 93.3 in coverage grade.
Prediction: Miller stays with the team and replaces free agent Ryan Smith.
Buccaneers Returning on Contract: Safeties
Much like the group of corners, the heavy hitters in the back of the defense return for Tampa Bay. Jordan Whitehead and Antoine Winfield Jr. will be back to further bolster the secondary. Both are under the age of 24. Also returning are key depth pieces. Mike Edwards and Javon Hagan allow for flexibility in the secondary and can alleviate Whitehead and Winfield Jr. from time to time. The unit essentially remains fully intact.
Prediction: None needed, key safeties return and the secondary remains intact.
Free Agent: Ryan Smith
Smith only played in three defensive snaps this season. Having been with the Buccaneers for four years, Smith has never been able to put together an impactful season on defense. Though he has shown flashes, he has also been a liability.
Prediction: Brought in for camp, Smith does not make the final roster and will only be brought back in case of injuries.
Free Agent: Ross Cockrell
Ross Cockrell, a journeyman corner, joined the Buccaneers last season after stints with four other teams. Primarily assigned to the practice squad, he was elevated to the active roster twice. Grading well by PFF with a 73.5 in coverage, 69.8 in rush defense, and a 71.2 overall he is a good depth player.
Prediction: Re-signed to a one-year contract.
Free Agent: Andrew Adams
Andrew Adams played sparingly in 2020. With only 61 snaps under his belt, he did not perform admirably. Much like Smith, Adams is a player you only put on the field if you must.
Prediction: Also like Smith, he may be in camp but will likely not make the final roster.
The Way Forward
Easily this group is the least of Jason Lichts’ worries. With most players returning, there is little work to be done. Now that does not mean it cannot get stronger without any additions. The front end of the draft will likely be used to add to units that have players that may not be able to return. Taking a flyer later in the draft on a developmental player for the secondary could be the route to take here. That player will have time to develop and become an eventual starter or rotational player to keep the “Grave Diggers” going.
With the Buccaneers’ secondary intact, it would be more important to address the defensive front and linebackers. If the defense can’t get pressure on the quarterback, it will not matter how strong the secondary is. One thing holds true, the longer one must cover an offensive player, the more likely the coverage can be maintained up front.
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