With all the recent issues surrounding the Buccaneers and their secondary, it’s looking more and more like the Bucs will spend one of their top picks on a defensive back, and odds are they will be doing the same again next year as well. In the first round this year, consensus pretty much has the Bucs selecting a defensive end or possibly an outside linebacker to help with the pass-rush. This is a deep class for pass-rushers and the Bucs should have their pick of several at 20th overall.
They could take another tact though, whereas there are a good group of pass-rushing ends and linebackers to pick from, after the first two or three corners the quality of the prospects drops off quite a bit. If the Bucs are really serious about improving their secondary at corner, they may need to do it in round one. Chances are they can still find a solid pass-rusher in round two.
The Bucs will not have a chance at Patrick Peterson, that’s a foregone conclusion. Barring something unforeseen, Prince Amukamara will not be available either, though if he is there at 20 the Bucs should take him without question. The player whose name keeps coming up with regard to Tampa is Jimmy Smith of Colorado. Smith is a big, athletic corner that comes with plenty of upside but a few recurring questions about his character as well. On paper, he would actually fit into the Buccaneers defensive scheme extremely well but after the off-the-field issues with the last corner the Bucs took out of the Big 12, you can understand the hesitation.
What’s not to like about 6’2, 210 pound corner with 4.4 speed? Smith has talent in droves, while he could work on his consistency tackling in the opening field and on a few small fundamental issues, the ability and potential are clear as day. Smith is long, lean, runs extremely well and can tackle. Everything about Smith screams alpha-corner, from his confident (oftentimes brash) demeanor, to his physical gifts to his ability to rise to the level of his competition.
AJ Green put up excellent numbers when Georgia played against Colorado, but if you go back and look at the film those receptions didn’t come against Jimmy Smith. Watch the game-tape from that game and you’ll see the “consensus top receiver” looking regularly frustrated and finding very little space to separate against the talented corner from Colorado. It wasn’t until they started moving Green around to find the mismatches that he came open, and that wasn’t on Smith.
Smith has all the tools to be successful in Tampa, he has the ability to lock up with a receiver in man-to-man and take them almost entirely out of the play. Though at times Smith can be overly aggressive he has the quickness and instincts to recover and get back into position. Once the ball is in the air Smith has length and agility to knock most balls away without interfering in addition to the ball skills to intercept any pass within his range. He could improve some technical issues with his back-pedal and his transition out of it, but all things considered, Smith is more than capable of playing NFL man coverage.
Where he really would fit into Tampa’s plans is with his zone instincts and run-support ability though. Smith’s awareness in zone coverage is amongst the best in the draft, he will occasionally get caught in no-man’s land if he has a mis-communication with his safety, but what corner doesn’t end up there when he thinks he has help that doesn’t exist? For the most part, Smith is right at home in a zone. He does a good job with spacing, is able to come off receivers leaving his zone and jump the under-neath routes, he knows where to stay between two receivers to be effective and his height and leaping ability make it almost impossible to throw it over him and fit it in front of the safeties.
Couple that with the fact that, as a bigger corner that doesn’t shy away from the physical side of the game he is a very good run-supporter and you have a very enticing prospect. Smith isn’t always the guy knifing in to make the play against the run (though he does do that well and will learn from one of the best if he makes it to Tampa), but he understands his responsibilities and regularly funnels the play back in to the linebackers when it heads outside.
While Smith does have plenty of places to improve, he’s definitely a first-round talent and would be a great addition to the secondary. He would also be a lot higher if he didn’t come with more than a few concerns in regard to his personal character. In 2007 Smith was twice arrested for minor possession charges and also failed a drug test. However, since that point he has not had any issues off the field, save skipping the Senior Bowl and switching agents.
While no team can be too careful, I have a tough time linking four year-old marijuana use with a player’s decision to switch agents and forego the Senior Bowl. One seems like immaturity from a college kid while the other comes off as a business decision. Still, the lingering questions about whether Smith really is on the straight and narrow will plague many teams.
Personally, I wouldn’t lose sleep over Smith’s “character issues.” I don’t know him, but if it hasn’t been an issue since 2007, it seems like he got the message (two arrests and a failed drug test in a year are a pretty clear signal). Since 2007 Smith has grown up, recommitted himself to football and started watching game-film extensively. I also don’t think past drug-use is an indictment on a person’s character. While it doesn’t speak highly of their maturity or their decision-making, it doesn’t necessarily mean the individual is of a poor moral fiber or something like that either. What’s more of a concern to me is Smith’s brashness, if you had to pick something. But for an NFL corner, a little cockiness can go a long way.
The Bucs certainly need to address their secondary, and with the depth at defensive end and outside linebacker, it may behoove them to do that early in the draft (as in first round) and then address the pass-rush in rounds 2-4. There isn’t nearly as much depth at corner this year and even less at safety, after Jimmy Smith the Bucs won’t find a starting-caliber corner in this year’s class.
Chances are the Bucs go with a pass-rusher at 20, but if they want to address their secondary effectively they should have a nice long look at Jimmy Smith.