The Bucs knew they needed to get bigger at cornerback in 2018, and they drafted Auburn’s Carlton Davis in the 2nd Round of the draft. Bucs defensive coordinator Mike Smith recently stated Hargreaves would get another chance on the outside this year. Rick Stroud wrote:
”We told everybody that we want everybody to come in with the mindset that they’re going to be the starter at their position,’’ defensive coordinator Mike Smith. “Vernon’s position is corner and nickel. Corner in base coverage and nickel in our sub package. And we want these guys to go out and compete. We don’t care where they were drafted, how much they get paid. We’re going to put the best 11 guys out there on every snap.
”But in terms of Vernon specifically, Vernon is competing to be the starting corner in base and probably would be the guy we move in because I think he’s got a better skill set in the nickel position in our sub package.’’
I believe if the Bucs are to go where they want to go this year they need Davis to step up and quickly win the starting job outside opposite Brent Grimes. But in what ways specifically can Davis be an upgrade over Vernon Hargreaves III?
The Buccaneers had the worst defense in the NFL in 2017, and the 2nd-worst pass defense by the slimmest of margins behind the Indianapolis Colts. The reasons why are numerous: soft zone scheme, poor pass rush, and yes, tiny corners on the outside. Before the 2018 Draft the Bucs had just one cornerback on the roster who could measure at 6’0” or more in Ryan Smith.
Brent Grimes is still a good player, but age is beginning to wear on him and 2018 is likely his last year in the NFL. He gives a bit more cushion than he used to in order to avoid getting beat deep and while Grimes has been an exception his whole career, in principle shorter corners are more of a liability in the red zone than taller corners. A short corner can still play in the NFL, especially if they have really good length; the spread has made the nickel cornerback a starting spot, and many shorter cornerbacks are drafted and thrive there. But there’s a reason why most NFL teams covet taller, longer cornerbacks outside:
This is a clip of Kelvin Benjamin vs Hargreaves from Week 17 of the 2016 season; the Panthers traded Benjamin during the 2017 season.
BucsNation contributor Evan Winter wrote an incredible profile of Davis here, in which he says:
The top three receivers in the NFC South - Julio Jones, Michael Thomas, and Devin Funchess- are all at least 6-foot-3, 212 pounds. Tampa’s biggest cornerback since Talib has been Johnathon Banks. It’s pretty evident that Tampa has lacked the size and athleticism to guard the perimeter over the past years. The Bucs haven’t finished higher than 16th in the league in passing yards allowed over the past five seasons before sinking to dead last in 2017.
Davis’s presence will change all of that.
Davis isn’t a giant, but his height (6’1”), weight (206 lbs) and arm length (32 3/4”) are in the 82nd, 92nd, and 89th percentiles respectively of all cornerbacks. Davis’ whopping 79 3/8” wingspan is in the 95th percentile, thanks to long arms and a wide frame. The frame and length will help him bring a physicality to the secondary that outside of Justin Evans is in short supply and he’ll be better able to cover the large receivers in the NFC South and the rest of the NFL.
As Evan also shows, Davis uses that size well on the perimeter in run support:
Run support on the boundary is important and should help Mike Smith sleep at night. He’ll also be better able to match up to the run blocking bigger wide receivers can dish out as teams look to attack the edge.
Grimes is also better in off coverage, and I believe Hargreaves is better in press, though he has almost exclusively played in off coverage and looked mostly below average doing it. Davis should be a press corner in the NFL, and I think that can bring versatility to the secondary at a level Hargreaves hasn’t been able to provide.
So there you have it - I think Davis’ size and physicality could help upgrade the secondary in 2018, specifically in run support, coverage, and especially in the red zone.