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When will Tampa Bay turn its attention to the secondary?

The Buccaneers would be wise to focus on defensive backs early in the draft

NFL: Atlanta Falcons at Tampa Bay Buccaneers Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have addressed needs along both the offensive and defensive lines so far this offseason, but have yet to address the secondary. Last season the Buccaneers ranked dead last in pass defense giving up 260.6 yards per game. Part of the problem was the pass rush, or lack thereof, but the Buccaneers just didn’t have much talent in the secondary. Outside of Brent Grimes, who battled injuries all year, and rookie safety Justin Evans, who had three interceptions in only 11 starts, the secondary as a whole was very disappointing.

Going into the 2017 season the Buccaneers had high expectations for Vernon Hargreaves who the team selected with the 11th overall pick in the 2016 NFL draft. Hargreaves started 8 games last season before a hamstring injury forced the team to place him on injured reserve. It’s hard to rely on Hargreaves going into the 2018 season, as he only has one interception in 24 career games and has been picked on a lot by opposing quarterbacks. General Manager Jason Licht has said this offseason that he has had positive conversations with Hargreaves and the team is not giving up hope on their former first-round pick.

When the free agency period began people thought one of Tampa’s signings would be for a free agent cornerback to help compliment Brent Grimes. That hasn’t happened up to this point, and with the names left on the free agent market, Tampa Bay would be better of selecting a defensive back or two early in the 2018 NFL draft. The team has brought back safety’s Keith Tandy and Chris Conte, but shouldn’t rely on those two to be big contributors.

While many mock drafts still have Tampa Bay selecting either Bradley Chubb or Quenton Nelson in the first round, it wouldn’t shock me at all to see the team spend their first-round pick on a player in the secondary. The team needs young talent to pair with its much improved defensive line and it’s hard to rely on anyone after the 2018 season besides Justin Evans.

There are three defensive back prospects worthy of a top 10 pick in this year’s draft class. The first is Denzel Ward who is a cornerback from Ohio State. Ward put on an absolute show at the NFL combine, running a 4.32 40-yard dash and having a broad jump of 136.0 inches. Both were good for first out of the entire position group. Leading up to the draft, Ward has drawn comparisons to Chris Harris Jr. of the Denver Broncos, who is a pro bowl corner and one of the very best in the NFL. Ohio State produced a similar prospect last year in Marshon Lattimore, who was drafted by the New Orleans Saints, and was a big reason their defense saw such a turnaround. Drafting Ward would also allow Vernon Hargreaves to move to the nickel corner spot which better suits him.

Another option for Tampa Bay at seven would be Florida State safety Derwin James. James is a freakish athlete who also put up very impressive numbers at the NFL Combine. When you watch Florida State it is hard not to notice James flying all over the field. He checks all the boxes when it comes to athletic ability, which is very important for a safety who plays closer to the line of scrimmage at this point in his career. James has been compared to Eric Berry because of how physically gifted he is and how well he matches up with big receivers or tight ends. Pairing Derwin James with Justin Evans would give Tampa Bay a safety tandem that has a chance to be one of the best in the league.

The final defensive back that Tampa Bay should consider at 7 if he is available is Minkah Fitzpatrick from Alabama. The kid is all world and some argue is the safest pick in the entire draft class. Fitzpatrick can play any position in the secondary and would give Tampa Bay flexibility with how they choose to use him. He didn’t blow people away at the combine, but the tape speaks for itself. The Cleveland Browns have been linked to Fitzpatrick a lot and they currently hold the first and fourth overall picks in this year’s draft. He has been compared to Budda Baker and would be a nice building piece alongside Justin Evans.

The Buccaneers can go many different directions with the seventh overall pick, but it wouldn’t be a bad thing to start building their own Legion of Boom.