The Tampa Bay Buccaneers may have the best cornerback in the NFL, but they don't have a single solid, utterly reliable corner on the roster. Not even Darrelle Revis, the $96 million man worth two high draft picks, can be seen as a sure thing. That knee injury may be healing quickly, but it's impossible to say if and when he'll be back to his old form. Will the reconstructed knee sap some of his ability? Will he mentally be able to fully trust it early on? Those questions are unanswerable at the moment.
With the release of Eric Wright, the position hasn't exactly become more secure. Who will be the second starting cornerback? Will it be second-round draft pick Johnthan Banks, who wasn't universally hailed as a great player, or will diminutive second-year undrafted free agent Leonard Johnson take the job? Johnson may be a nice story, but his play as a rookie was uneven at best.
Beyond those three players, we get to a quagmire of questionable players. Michael Adams may be the best of the bunch, but he has started just seven games in six years and was available to be signed off the street in June. So, y'know, he may not be much of a lock. Behind him? Undrafted rookies and players who didn't look like they were worth much last year.
The starters and nickel cornerbacks
Assuming that Darrelle Revis returns to form, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at least have some quality at cornerback. Johnthan Banks was a really good college players, but he may be more limited as an NFL player. He doesn't move super fluidly and can struggle down the field. On the other side, he has outstanding size, he's physical, has great ball skills and is very good at jump ball battles.
Unfortunately, rookies cornerbacks tend to struggle. A lot. Even the ones who turn out to be great. Don't expect great play out of Banks, and the Bucs would do well to protect him with some extra safety help.
Leonard Johnson might beat out Banks, though that seems a little unlikely. We'll see whether that happens, but Johnson has his own limitations, too. He's small, and that will limit him against bigger receivers. He was very up-and-down last season, with three interceptions being alternated with long touchdowns, blown tackles and a complete screw-up on the final play of the game against the Philadelphia Eagles. Ronde Barber was a little upset over that one.
Can Johnson grow in his second season, or will he get stuck in a sophomore slump? It's impossible to say, but the fact that we're acting that question of a likely starter or nickel cornerback doesn't bode well.
The great morass of competition
Everyone else will have to earn their roster spot, really. So let's go through each and every one of them and see what they're made off, quickly.
The former Arizona Cardinal at least has some experience: 7 games started over six years and three interceptions. He's mostly functioned as a nickel and dime cornerback, and doesn't exactly have the size to be much more than a slot defender at 5'8", 180 lbs.
But he does have better credentials than anyone else. He was the Cardinal's slot cornerback for three seasons, from 2009 to 2011, and those defenses were quite decent. He probably has the best chance of making the roster out of everyone on it right now.
Fourth-year player who got a chance to start last season with the Bucs after being picked up off the street by midseason. He was...the least bad of a bad bunch? The dropped interception against the Philadelphia Eagles stands out the most but isn't particularly relevant.
Gorrer just didn't look all that good in six games last season, but he does have more experience than most and there have been rumblings that he's actually looking pretty good now. He's not bad as depth.
Feisty, physical and oh-so-tiny. See him on the field and you love his intensity, but he struggled to get on the field or even on the game day roster last year (played just 4 games). His size severely limits his special teams value, and he doesn't play big either. He'll struggle to make the roster unless he can take a few big steps in coverage this offseason.
Very big, long arms, physical -- he certainly has the physical attributes to make the roster. Perfectly built to be a press-man cornerback on the outside in the mold of Brandon Browner of the Seattle Seahawks, but he was also an undrafted rookie for a reason. Can he make the roster?
The Bucs gave him a very big signing bonus (for an undrafted rookie), but we haven't heard much out of him in offseason workouts. That could change in a hurry, though. He has decent size but isn't overly big. Has the physical tools to be a pretty good cornerback and he moves well, but he'll have to show up in training camp to make the roster.
Another undrafted free agent. He's a little smaller than the others, but he got a lot of attention from draftniks. He may be similar to Leonard Johnson, who made the roster last year. He just knows how to play football -- but is that good enough to beat out everyone else for a roster spot?
A few Buccaneers fans just gagged a little. There's a reason why we had an article called "Why is Myron Lewis still with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers" Lewis has been awful on the field so far in his career, but he does have the physical tools to be very, very good. If he can play with more confidence and develop his technique he has a chance to stick, but he really has to blow the coaches and front office out of the water to do so.
The safety option
Instead of carrying all those cornerbacks, the Buccaneers may actually opt for another safety instead. They have two outstanding starters in Dashon Goldson and Mark Barron, but the backups are no slouches either. Ahmad Black is pretty decent, though his size hurts him at times, while Keith Tandy looked pretty good in very limited time last year. Let's not forget about Cody Grimm, either, who had one good season but saw injuries limit him in recent seasons.
Last year, the Bucs opted for Big Dime and later in the season even Big Nickel looks, where the sixth and sometimes fifth defensive backs on the field are safeties rather than cornerbacks. If the cornerbacks disappoint you may see some Ahmad Black or Keith Tandy where you expected Rashaan Melvin or Michael Adams.
Given the fact that the Bucs just traded a cornerback, they may be looking to add another one to the training camp competition. If so, they have a few quality options. Most of them are old and declining, but they may do for a season. Sheldon Brown had a pretty good season for the Cleveland Browns last year, starting 14 games, while Nate Clements was versatile if not overly good for the Bengals last year.
Shawntae Spencer is another decent option, while Drew Coleman used to be a very good slot cornerback but has declined rapidly in recent years. Rashean Mathis has struggled with injuries, but he could have some good play left in him. And for those who like reliving disasters of the past, Brandon McDonald, leQuan Lewis and Elbert Mack are all out there, too. Just so you know.
Plus, there are always the inevitable training camp/salary cap casualties across the league. Carlos Rogers is frequently brought up as one possibility, but it may be smart to just keep an eye on the waiver wire in general.
Projected roster: Darrelle Revis, Johnthan Banks, Leonard Johnson, Michael Adams, Rashaan Melvin, Branden Smith
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