Mandatory Credit: Rob Foldy-USA TODAY Sports
In my recent offseason prediction article, I tabbed E.J. Biggers to return to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at a pretty sizable price tag. (Check the article out by clicking here, in case you missed it.) While the money on the deal might be a bit more than is required to bring back the Western Michigan product, I stand by my decision to support E.J. Biggers and believe he could be a key piece of the Buccaneer defense for years to come. But most Buccaneer fans on Twitter seemed to take issue with the idea of Biggers being a Buccaneer in 2013, so here’s my take as to why E.J. should play CB in TB in 2013.
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When E.J was drafted in the 7th round in 2009, it was mostly a throwaway pick. Biggers wasn’t even invited to the NFL Combine, and despite a decent career at Western Michigan, he wasn’t being strongly considered for the NFL. Tampa Bay had already selected Josh Freeman and Roy Miller, and used their 5th of 6 selections on a cornerback in hopes of striking lucky with the late round project out of WMU. Biggers struggled with injury early in his career, but he finally started to make a name for himself in 2010. Rick Stroud wrote shortly after Biggers emerged as a potential contributor to the Tampa Bay defense in the 2010 preseason “A seventh-round pick out of Western Michigan in 2009, Biggers spent Saturday night at Sun Life Stadium making a personal highlight reel.” and went on to give E.J. props for his defense on Brandon Marshall, and his active play in nickel situations. And while E.J. certainly never stood out as an elite corner, he produced well for a seventh-round selection, filling in as needed and providing depth at corner.
In 2012, E.J. got his chance to step forward and prove he’s a starting calibre NFL defensive back. The constant drama and injuries surrounding Eric Wright and Aqib Talib meant that by the time Biggers returned from an offseason injury in week 4, he was needed in the lineup on a regular basis. He played over 800 snaps for the first time in his career, and lined up anywhere a cornerback could line up, playing nickel and dime corner on occasion, but also finding himself on the outside once the cornerback depth chart was depleted. One week he might line up against third and fourth receivers, and the next against Julio Jones. So did the young man prove himself in such turbulent circumstances?
I believe he did. In 2012, Biggers was targeted by opponents 80 times, which is right around league average for full time cornerbacks. On those 80 targets, he allowed 49 receptions. For reference, Morris Claiborne and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie had very similar numbers in regards to targets and catches allowed. And when compared to the two previously mentioned highly-rated corners, Biggers allowed fewer yards per catch than DRC, and had a much better passer rating allowed than Claiborne. Biggers also avoided penalties, being flagged for only 2 infractions in 2012, one of which was not enforced. Overall, Biggers’ numbers most closely resembled those of Joe Haden, star corner for the Cleveland Browns. Compare the numbers and see for yourself:
Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports
Biggers allowed a catch on 61.3% of targets, Haden allowed a catch on 58.6%. E.J. allowed 12.8 yards per catch, Joe allowed 12.9. The Bucs’ corner gave up 3 scores, logged 1 interception, and broke up 8 passes. The Browns’ defender gave up 6 touchdowns, had 3 picks, and defended 10 other passes. The passer rating allowed was within a tenth of a point between the two rival corners. The scouting department at Pro Football Focus graded out both corners similarly, giving Biggers a slight edge on pass coverage grades. It was run defense where Biggers was found lacking compared to Haden, because the young Buccaneer defender missed more than a dozen tackles in 2012.
Watching film, I noticed that Biggers is a very versatile defender. He played pretty well when lined up in man-to-man coverage, although he wasn’t great at getting a good bump at the line of scrimmage. He was able to keep up with most receivers and showed good recovery speed as well. He had excellent positioning in man-to-man situations that I watched, even on plays that would wind up being negatives for the Buccaneers. His main drawback was his ability to make plays on the football, which is why he had fewer passes defended than many of his fellow corners, and only has 3 career interceptions. He showed flashes of being able to play the ball well, but would often defend by keeping pace and good position and using his decent size to block the receiver from making a play. Either way, it worked for Biggers and the numbers are there to back it up.
Now, let me get one thing on the record: E.J. Biggers is not Champ Bailey, nor is he Richard Sherman, and he’s not even Joe Haden, who I compared him to favorably. What he is is a solid, versatile corner who does a good amount of things fairly well, but does nothing spectacularly. He’s a solid contributor at the corner position who can play multiple positions as a CB and add to a defense in man or zone coverage. He’s also shown steady improvement over his career, and with his contract expiring at the start of next week, it would be wise for a team that not only needs corners, but for a team that often loses corners for frustrating reasons, to keep around a steady, versatile cornerback who’s still coming to terms with his role and his ability in the NFL. Because while Revis and Smith might be sexy picks for Tampa Bay, E.J. Biggers is a smart pick for Mark Dominik and the Bucs’ front office.