Make-Or-Break: CB Carlton Davis III

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Welcome to Bucs Report’s “Make-Or-Break” series!

We are going to highlight the players heading into their final contract year and discuss what they need to do on the field in 2021 in order to obtain another contract with the Bucs. One prerequisite that must be checked off in order to qualify: The profiled player(s) have to be in the final year of a multi-year deal. Players who signed one-year deals in 2021 will not be considered.


Carlton Davis III and the Buccaneers so far…

CDIII has essentially been everything he was drafted to be. I’m not saying he’s played at an All-Pro level for the first three years of his career or anything like that, but he’s been a very, very good player for the Bucs ever since they drafted him out of Auburn back in 2018.

He made 13 starts and played 69% of defensive snaps during his rookie year. The former Tiger went through the occasional ups-and-downs, but the flashes were there. Per Pro Football Focus, Davis held opposing quarterbacks to a quarterback rating of 50.0 or less in four games. Quarterbacks also averaged a 51.2 rating over the final three games of the season when targeting CDIII. It was clear that he would eventually become a full-time starter on the outside.

That didn’t take long. A terrible 2018 season prompted Brent Grimes’ exit and Vernon Hargreaves III was cut midway through the 2019 season. That left Davis as the most experienced corner back on the roster – and the team’s No. 1 guy. One could argue that his trajectory really started to take off in Week 11 of 2019. Not only did Davis record his first career interception, but he held Julio Jones to just five receptions for 58 yards.

He didn’t stop there. Kenny Golladay, DeAndre Hopkins, and Jones (during the second matchup) were held to a combined 15 receptions for 145 yards. Per Sports Info Solutions, Davis led the NFL with 17 PBUs over the course of the year.

It was starting to come together. And people were noticing.

Bruce Arians dubbed Davis a top-10 corner in the league heading into 2020. A second straight year in Todd Bowles’ system meant that he would have every opportunity to continue the growth that had been on display over the last two years.

And that’s exactly what he did.

Davis had a solid season, but his first eight games certainly backed up the top-10 talk. Per Pro Football Focus, he tied for the league lead with four interceptions and quarterbacks averaged the second-worst quarterback rating (47.1) when throwing in his direction. Only Xavien Howard and Bryce Callahan matched or bettered Davis and all other corners with at least 188 coverage snaps.

Per SIS, his 12 PBUs were fourth-best and quarterbacks averaged a 73.1 rating when throwing his way. In terms of total numbers, Davis allowed 51 receptions on 69 catchable passes (87 total targets) for 662 yards and five touchdowns while forcing four interceptions during the regular season. The touchdown mark is tied for the ninth-fewest allowed in the league.

What does he need to do to get that second contract?

It’s undeniable that Davis has improved each year. The only question he faces in 2021 is: How much better can he get?

Davis needs to show that he hasn’t reached his ceiling and that he can put together another consistent year. His age is going to play a big factor in helping him receive a new deal, as well. He’ll be 25-years-old at the start of the 2022 and won’t turn 26 until the end of the regular season. Teams will be foaming at the mouth for the chance to sign a talented player with a solid body of work entering their prime.

All of the cards are set up for him to have a big year in 2021. It’s just a matter of him going out and making it happen.

How are his prospects shaping up for 2022?

Davis will get paid if all goes well in 2021. Don’t be surprised if it’s top-10 corner money, either.

Spotrac and Over The Cap are currently without projections, but you don’t have to dig too deep in order to get an idea of what Davis’ post-2021 contract could look like.

Per Spotrac, a top-10 corner averages slightly over $16 million per year heading into 2021. That’s obviously pretty damn expensive. But, good corners aren’t easy to find and Davis is a homegrown product.

The price could go up even more if he has a great year. If CDIII plays all 16 games in 2021 like he did the first eight in 2020, then you may be looking at a deal that sits in the $18-$19 million per year range. Especially with the expectation that next year’s cap increase will persuade teams to spend more money than usual.

Final Prediction

Unless something drastic happens in 2021, it’s almost a guarantee that CDIII will earn a second contract with the Buccaneers. The salary cap could ultimately affect the situation, but that’s not the point of this series.

If the Bucs can afford Davis, they will certainly bring him back. It’s hard to find quality starters at his position. It’s even harder to find corners who have what it takes to succeed in Bowles’ defense.

What won’t be hard, however, is making sure that he spends the next 4-5 years with the Bucs. That should be an easy decision.

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