Previewing The Buccaneers Cornerbacks For 2016
On Saturday the Buccaneers finalized their initial 53 man roster and decided to keep six cornerbacks; three leftovers from last season, and three newcomers.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ biggest weakness in 2015 was without a doubt their cornerbacks. The defense allowed quarterbacks to complete a record 70% of passes last season, something that still seems unbelievable to type. This left an irreparable scar on not only Buccaneer fans, but the organization as well. This was reflected in their off-season when they added Brent Grimes, Josh Robinson and rookie Vernon Hargreaves.
It was confirmed on Saturday that not only did all three of the newcomers make the team, but so too did three incumbents from 2015. We’ll take a look at the six man core of cornerbacks and try to determine their prospects individually and as a group for 2016.
Heading into week one, Brent Grimes is the defacto number one cornerback. He’ll be getting a significant amount of snaps lined up against Julio Jones and the myriad other go-to receivers that the Bucs face this year. The 33 year old and three time pro-bowler comes to Tampa off of a down year with the Dolphins, but has displayed throughout training camp and preseason the breath-taking athleticism that he can still tap into, despite his age.
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Grimes is no longer the shut-down ball-hawk that he was in Atlanta, but he’s still capable of being a satisfactory starting cornerback in the NFL. Grimes is very much going to be a boom-or-bust type of player in 2016, with lots of eye-popping breakups and interceptions but also a couple of deep plays given up. Nobody should expect him to shut down the likes of Julio Jones, but it is reasonable to think he can reel in five or more interceptions.
Coming into training camp I’d have expected to list Alterraun Verner as the Buccaneers second cornerback, but alas, here we are, and it’s a rookie in his place. Vernon Hargreaves has had as good an off-season as you could possibly expect from a rookie. The 11th pick from the University of Florida has two interceptions in the preseason and dropped what would have been a pick-six in his first game against Philadelphia.
Hargreaves was initially expected to exclusively play as the Buccaneers nickel cornerback position, but his high level of play has forced their hand and he’s now lining up opposite Brent Grimes in two wide-receiver sets, as well as the nickel in three wide-receiver sets. The rookie is sure to get targeted plenty this season but has the ball skills to rack up interceptions similar to how the Chiefs rookie Marcus Peters did last year.
With Hargreaves moving up the proverbial latter that leaves Alterraun Verner a rung below, but still sure to play a big role in 2016. This will be Verner’s seventh season in the NFL, and third with the Buccaneers (time really flies, it feels like last year they added Verner).
Along with Verner, both Johnthan Banks and Jude Adjei-Barimah managed to survive the 70% calamity that 2015 was. This will be Jude’s second season in the NFL and figures to be the back-up nickle cornerback. Johnthan Banks entered training camp as one of the bigger under-dogs on the entire Bucs roster. Based on their off-season moves it seemed pretty clear that the Bucs were looking to move on from Banks, but the fourth year pro turned in an impressive preseason and forced the Bucs to give him a roster spot. Banks will remain a primarily boundary cornerback, but it’s unclear what type of production Buccaneer fans should expect from him.
The final cornerback spot belongs to Josh Robinson, the third cornerback acquisition the Bucs made in the off-season. Despite being ordinary in coverage, Robinson is a heralded special teams player which goes a long way towards getting a roster spot (ask Russell Shepard). Robinson won’t make a ton of plays, but there are far less reliable backups in the league than him.
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As a group, the Buccaneers cornerbacks are still a work in progress. They don’t yet have the glue cornerback that can be stuck on elite receivers, and it seems as if we can expect them to give up some big plays through the air. With that said, Grimes and Hargreaves both have the ball-skills to create turnovers and both are significant upgrades compared to last season. If the pass rush is as good as everyone believes it can be then the cornerbacks will be plenty good enough to hold up until next off-season.