When Bruce Arians was hired by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers this January he was hired because of his track record as being successful just about everywhere he’s ever coached, and because he was fully committed to getting the best out of quarterback, Jameis Winston.
While this may be a simplistic view of why he was hired, it is not a reflection of the task waiting for Arians and his staff now that the 2019 NFL League year is officially underway.
The first free-agent signing under this new regime was running back Andre Ellington, a former player in Arizona under Arians.
One of the next ones, was hybrid defender Deone Bucannon, pronounced “Day-own”. Another Arizona re-tread looking to help Arians recapture the success they had with the Cardinals.
Some groaned about it. Some celebrated it. None should have been surprised by it. Since joining the league, Bucannon has been lauded for his versatility as a defender.
Even before he entered the league he was known as a tweener who had the potential to serve in a multitude of roles for an NFL franchise. His NFL draft profile written by Nolan Nawrocki in 2014 comments on how his play style and body type don’t necessarily match-up.
A true wildcard in the defense, Bucannon is looking to make a big impact with the Bucs in 2019, so let’s look back on how he got here.
WASHINGTON STATE COUGARS (2012-2014)
In his four seasons as a Washington State Cougars defensive back, Bucannon never finished outside of the Top-10 in the Pac-12 in interceptions and stands thirteenth in conference history with fifteen of them.
Those takeaways helped in part to land him on all-conference teams in his final two seasons as a three-year captain of the Cougars defense.
Bucannon wasn’t a one-trick pony though, and he never tallied fewer than 60 solo tackles and 80 total. His highest tackle season came in 2012 when he broke the century mark with 106 total tackles helping him climb to fifth all-time in tackles in the Pac-12.
Because of his accomplishments as a student-athlete Bucannon was invited to the 2014 Senior Bowl after being named the recipient of the 2013 College Football Performance Awards Elite Defensive Backs Trophy.
So, while Jason Licht was getting his feet on ground as the new general manager of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Bucannon was competing in Mobile, Alabama with guys like Jimmy Garoppolo, Dee Ford, Aaron Donald and even Charles Sims.
He was also impressing according to Matt Bowen who wrote about Bucannon’s performance,
“The strong safety flashed early in the week because of his ability to close on the ball and set his pads to contact...This guy can hit.”
Bucannon wasn’t done impressing with the Senior Bowl. Instead, he took the momentum into the 2014 NFL Scouting Combine and came away as a top performer among defensive backs in the 40-yard dash (4.49 sec), bench (19 reps), vertical (36.5 inches), broad jump (125 inches), and three-cone drill (6.96).
NFL.com started their draft projection for Bucannon as a fourth or fifth round prospect. By the time he was done having his say in the matter he was being projected as a first or second-round guy. Ultimately, the Arizona Cardinals made him the 27th selection in the 2014 NFL Draft.
After selecting him, Cardinals general manager Steve Keim had this to say about Bucannon,
“He’s got the length and the speed, so he can match up on slot receivers and also tight ends, and he’s a great blitzer and great tackler.”
ARIZONA CARDINALS (2014-2018)
Elliott Harrison praised the selection of Bucannon by the Arizona Cardinals saying his addition,
“..strengthens an already impressive defense.”
And he wasn’t wrong. Arizona’s defense ranked seventh in the league in points allowed and surrendered 233 passing yards per game in 2013. In 2014, the Cardinals gave up close to 20-yards passing per game more, but improved to fifth in the NFL in opponent scoring and averaged fewer than 20 points per game allowed.
Of course, this wasn’t solely because of Bucannon, but his 86 tackles as a rookie landed him third on the team while his eight tackles for losses ranked fourth. All while starting just nine games and earning a spot on the 2014 All-Rookie Team.
In his next season, he started all sixteen games, broke out for over 100 tackles to lead the team and finished second with eleven tackles for loss in his best season thus far as a pro.
If there’s one thing which hasn’t really translated from his college game to his pro career, it’s the interceptions. In five seasons since leaving Washington State with fifteen career picks, he’s had just two in the NFL.
What Bucannon Can Bring The Bucs In 2019
The term ‘moneybacker’ may have been created by Bruce Arians and the Arizona Cardinals, but according to Bucannon himself, he’s doing things guys have been doing for a while.
In a 2018 article, Bucannon credited predecessors like Troy Polamalu and Kam Chancellor for doing what he’s known for doing now, full time.
The idea is almost as simple as running two practices at one time (read: so easy you’re surprised nobody thought of it before). Essentially, you place a guy in your defense who can step up and stop the run, but also step out into the slot and cover receivers and tight ends when the offense tries to exploit the defensive formation.
If the offense lines up in a pass look and runs the ball, your defense has a guy who can be effective. If they line up with a run look and throw, same thing. It’s genius!
The problem with Bucannon is the same potential problem Polamalu and Chancellor faced as well. That is, they’re smaller than the punishment they’re giving and taking usually allows.
Similar to running quarterbacks, some of them can withstand their uniqueness and some can’t. Polamalu played for twelve seasons and missed twenty-one games in his first eight seasons.
Chancellor played eight seasons with the Seattle Seahawks and missed nineteen games before walking away completely in 2018.
In five seasons, Bucannon has missed ten up to this point, putting him on track to miss fewer games than both in his first eight years. Time will tell if he gets to enjoy a long career or have it cut short the way Chancellor did.
As of now, the Buccaneers just need him to provide as many as he can in 2019. They’ll worry about the rest later. And if the ‘moneybacker’ came to Tampa for a career revival trying to recapture the success he had between 2014-2016, he’s in familiar territory even if the geography is different.