This offseason in Tampa Bay was mostly spent assuming that Eric Wright was on his way out of town. The corner who faced legal troubles and NFL league office troubles in the past year was given a second chance despite the Buccaneers having an easy out to release him and start over at cornerback. The Bucs re-signed Wright to a team-friendly contract and gave him a chance to prove himself on the field, and was then considered the favorite to start across from Darrelle Revis (once that trade finally came to its drawn out conclusion). The Buccaneers would then select Johnthan Banks in the second round of the NFL Draft, and the discussion started again as to who would start at corner.
Aren’t we forgetting about someone?
Leonard Johnson is, by all accounts, the incumbent starter at cornerback for the Buccaneers, having taken over halfway through the season and playing a heavy amount of snaps in almost every game after week eight. He started off his season by snatching an interception in three straight games against the Vikings, Raiders, and Chargers during the Bucs’ strong run in the middle of the 2012 season. He would have some struggles as the season wore on, giving up four touchdowns according to the charting staff at Pro Football Focus, but would then finish strong, allowing only 5 catches on 11 targets for 31 yards over the final two weeks of the season against the Rams and Falcons, and defending two passes during those two weeks.
And to be fair to Johnson, one of his “touchdowns allowed” was the 80 yard pass and catch the Chargers got “past” him when Danario Alexander miraculously avoided being tackled after a 10 yard gain and sprinted away for a long score. Another of his scores allowed was an 80 yard bomb to Julio Jones, on a play where he was left without safety help (for no apparent reason) and was in solid position until stumbling and failing to recover. Johnson is not perfect, but is he a fit for what the Buccaneers need at cornerback?
With Darrelle Revis on his island on one side of the field, Johnson would be able to start on the offense’s second best option, and his ability to play press-man and off-man coverage mean he can adapt to different schemes and playcalls. According to his scouting reports coming out of college (as compiled last year by BucsNation), his lack of elite speed and struggles with tackling were two of his biggest concerns. But according to Pro Football Focus, Johnson would steadily improve his tackling over the season, finishing the year with no missed tackles after week 12 (the week of the above mentioned Julio Jones play), while tallying seven “stops” in that time (a stop is a tackle which results in the offense not gaining a “successful” amount of yards on that particular play). Compare that to Eric Wright, who had more missed tackles and fewer stops over that same period.
If Leonard were to win the job as the starting corner, he would have the help of All-Pro safety Dashon Goldson should he be lined up on the opposing team’s second best receiver. That means he can use his ability in press coverage to jam receivers at the line, and take some chances with “The Hawk” ready to help out should he get beaten at the line, or drop into off-man coverage and break on passes for potential turnovers.
Leonard played about 80 more snaps than Wright did last season, and obviously played many more NFL snaps than Johnthan Banks. With Banks likely best suited for a nickel back role as a rookie, giving him a chance to develop into a number two corner and allowing him the opportunity to line up in a Ronde Barber-like role and attack the backfield from time to time, Johnson has the Schiano experience edge and a ton of momentum from the end of last season on his side to earn the starting job over Eric Wright. Wright proved he’s prone to injury, and prone to mistakes, and with the UNLV product on a one-year deal, it doesn’t benefit the Buccaneers to try to develop Wright for the future when they have such a young player at the position who has a similar build and has skills needed to flourish in the Buccaneers’ system.
I’m not entirely sure he’s the second best corner on the team, but he may be best suited for the role as the second starter. What do you think, Bucs fans? Who is your pick to start at corner across from Revis? Let us know in the comments below.