Bucs’ Best Draft Fits By Position: Cornerback

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Next up in our Bucs best draft fits by position series is cornerback.

General Manager Jason Licht has devoted draft resources to the secondary in each of his last five drafts. Those picks have all been in the first four rounds, netting impact players such as Carlton Davis III, Jamel Dean, Sean Murphy-Bunting, Jordan Whitehead, and Mike Edwards. Not all of Licht’s picks have worked in the defensive backfield. But overall the Bucs have had success attacking a position group that can never have too much talent. The NFL is a passing league, if you cannot cover four-wide sets then you are vulnerable to a tail-whooping against the top teams. 

So who are the Bucs’ best draft fits in terms of cornerbacks? Let’s dive in and find out.

1. CB Eric Stokes, Georgia Bulldogs
Projected Selection: Rounds 1-2

I recently wrote that if cornerbacks Caleb Farley or Greg Newsome II fell to 32 they would be home run picks for the Buccaneers. If Farley and Newsome II are both unavailable for the Bucs’ first pick, Eric Stokes would also be a good fit in Tampa Bay.

Stokes has the length (6’1”) and athletic profile (4.34 40 yard dash) that Defensive Coordinator Todd Bowles looks for in his outside corners. He and Tyson Campbell created one of the better cornerback duos this past year at Georgia, both showing good physicality at the line of scrimmage in press coverage. Stokes and Campbell could find their way into the first round of this week’s NFL Draft. But my pick in Round 1 for the Bucs is Stokes. 

Buccaneers fans will be reminded of current outside cornerback Jamel Dean when watching Stokes’ play in college. Still a bit raw despite plenty of playing time at Georgia, Stokes will need some time to develop into a trusted outside corner similar to Dean. If the Buccaneers grab Stokes with the 32nd pick overall they can feel comfortable with their 2021 depth and the future of their cornerback room. 

2. CB Benjamin St-Juste, Minnesota Golden Gophers
Projected Selection: Rounds 2-3

Benjamin St-Juste fits the tall, lanky mold of corners that are taking over the NFL currently. At 6’3” 205 lbs and boasting a ridiculous 80+ inch wingspan, the former Minnesota cornerback has the length to match up against the Julio Jones’ of the NFL. His 4.51 40 yard dash doesn’t wow compared to other corners in the class, but taking his size into account he has plenty of makeup speed if beaten on a route. St-Juste was also one of the better performers at his position in this year’s Senior Bowl. 

The Buccaneers could go back to the well in the Minnesota program, where they had success drafting safety Antoine Winfield Jr and Tyler Johnson last year. St-Juste would give the Buccaneers three physically imposing outside corners to rotate on game days. Consistent tackling throughout his college career shows promise in special teams for St-Juste early in his career.

Our own Ken Barrett has the Bucs taking St-Juste in his final mock draft, so it’s easy to see why he is a candidate for the best draft fits among corners.

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3. CB Ambry Thomas, Michigan Wolverines
Projected Selection: Rounds 3-4

Ambry Thomas opted out of the 2020 college football season and is one of the bigger unknowns in this class at his position. The majority of his playing time at Michigan came in 2019, where he played plenty of snaps but was not targeted much. Despite his relative lack of playing time compared to other corners in the class, Thomas is worth taking a swing in late day two or early day three of the draft. 

Unlike Benjamin St-Juste, Thomas is a longer corner who can play outside corner or inside as a slot corner in nickel. He also showed in 2019 that he could play effectively in both man and zone concepts. That versatility will appeal to teams looking for a solid depth piece in the middle rounds of this year’s draft.   

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Does Ambry Thomas fit with the Bucs are looking for in a corner? Photo Credit: Mike Mulholland, MLive.com, Mike Mulholland

4. CB Tre Brown, Oklahoma Sooners
Projected Selection: Rounds 5-6

Tre Brown is the smallest cornerback on this list of top fits for the Buccaneers. He’s the only prospect under 6-foot tall. You wouldn’t know it from his tape in college though. Brown was consistently beating up guys at the line of scrimmage who were much bigger than him. He plays with a chip on his shoulder similar to former Bucs corner Brent Grimes. 

During his three years at Oklahoma, Brown played almost exclusively outside cornerback. His size profile and ability to press at the line of scrimmage projects him to slot at the next level, but don’t be surprised if he finds his way to outside corner as an outlier for the position. Whether it’s inside, outside, or on special teams, you want a guy with Brown’s competitive toughness on your football team.

5. CB Tay Gowan, UCF Golden Knights
Projected Selection: Rounds 5-7

Tay Gowan doesn’t have much significant playing time at the DI level. He started as a JUCO prospect, then opted out of the 2020 season. 2019 is the only FBS tape we have on Gowan which could cause him to last until Day 3 of the draft. What Gowan does have is special athletic traits that NFL defensive coordinators love.

Gowan is a smooth mover in coverage who has great burst and change of direction. He also uses his 6-foot-1 frame to alter the catch point when lined up against bigger wide receivers. UCF played Gowan in press coverage during the 2019 season and he more than held his own. Even if his level of competition was not elite. Playing the 2020 season would likely have led to a Senior Bowl invite and boosted Gowan’s stock among NFL teams. As a late round flyer, Gowan could be a steal for the Buccaneers. 

Honorable Mentions:

Trill Williams, Syracuse Orange
Projected Selection: Rounds 4-5

Olaijah Griffin, USC Trojans
Projected Selection: Rounds 5-6

D.J. Daniel, Georgia Bulldogs
Projected Selection: Rounds 6-7

 

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