The Buccaneers are 5-2 in the second half of the 2019 season and have an excellent shot at making it 6-2 this Sunday. A win would also give them an 8-8 record on the year after back-to-back 5-11 finishes in 2017 and 2018.
There have been plenty of reasons for Tampa Bay’s second-half resurgence, but one of the top factors has been the play of the secondary. Yes, the same secondary that was the league’s worst early on in 2019 has blossomed into a pretty impressive group. With so much youth back there, perhaps a little time to develop was all that was needed.
Carlton Davis is a prime example of needing some time to come into his own. The second-year cornerback had his good and bad moments as a rookie in 2018, but the first half of his second season didn’t feature the leap that everyone might have hoped for. Penalties were an issue, mostly, but he had some frequent lapses in coverage as well. But if you look at the second half of the season in a vacuum, Davis has been outstanding. And with the offseason looming, Sunday’s season finale is a big opportunity to show the front office what it has in him.
Can he be a long-term No. 1 corner for the Buccaneer defense? He has looked like one in recent weeks. Just last week, he held DeAndre Hopkins — one of the top receivers in the game — to his worst game of the last three years. The fact that the coaching staff trusted Davis to be the primary guy covering Hopkins says a lot about the young corner’s growth over the last couple of months.
The gameplan for DeAndre Hopkins last Saturday was “basically just Carlton Davis” per Coach Arians. Bucs limited Hopkins to just 23 receiving yards - his lowest of the season.— Carmen Vitali (@CarmieV) December 24, 2019
The coaches had faith in him, and he paid it off by holding Hopkins to just five catches on nine targets for 23 yards. Those types of shutdown performances have become more and more frequent as of late. Detroit’s Kenny Golladay was quiet in Week 15, D.J. Chark was a non-factor in Week 13 and even Julio Jones was held in check in Week 12 (though he was hampered by an injury).
And speaking of Jones, that brings us to this Week 17 game. The seven-time Pro Bowl selection and two-time All-Pro will be yet another test for Davis this Sunday at Raymond James Stadium. If Davis passes that test and plays Jones well, it could help him cement his status as the team’s No. 1 corner in 2020.
Of course, the Bucs could — and probably should — still go out and sign a veteran in free agency to help the group. But Davis, who turns just 23 next week, seems to be developing into a long-term No. 1 option for this team. He is tied for second in the league with 18 passes defended and has picked up Todd Bowles’ defense well. Plus, he seems to be meshing with the other young corners and safeties. Whether it’s a coincidence or not, communication has been better in the secondary since the release of Vernon Hargreaves III. Davis has been one of the guys benefiting most from that improvement.
In a division that requires you to face Jones, Michael Thomas and D.J. Moore twice each year, you need a shutdown No. 1 corner. Can Davis be that? Sunday’s game against the Falcons could help answer that question.
If the answer is yes, it may very well impact the team’s offseason plans regarding free agency and the draft. If the front office and coaching staff can feel confident that Davis is their No. 1 corner, priorities can shift more toward retaining some of those key front seven pieces as well as adding some new offensive line talent.
Whatever happens, Carlton Davis vs. Julio Jones is a key matchup to keep an eye on this Sunday as the season gets wrapped up on Sunday. Kickoff between the 7-8 Buccaneers and the 6-9 Falcons is set for 1:00 p.m.