Heading into the Buccaneers’ 2017 off-season, there has been little talk about the upcoming inevitable need at the cornerback position. Will it be answered through the draft or can the team rely on the returning talent?
At the end of the 2016 season, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ defense ranked towards the middle of the pack at 23rd overall in total. Much of the Bucs’ issues came towards the beginning of the year which was strictly due both injuries and scheme adaptation, but the team managed to rebound their campaign.
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For a team that just received a new defensive coordinator, their climb and push towards to the end the season after the week nine defeat at home versus the Atlanta Falcons was remarkable. The credit can be spread throughout the defense, but the outstanding cornerback play was one of the main reasons this team was able to recover.
New starters to the organization – Brent Grimes and Vernon Hargreaves III – proved General Manager Jason Licht had the right idea to revamp this defense, which also helped build upon the ever so bright future at the cornerback position.
First and foremost, the ageless wonder Brent Grimes continued his storybook career by grading out as the 15th overall best corner according to Pro Football Focus, not to mention also grading out as the BEST overall corner against the double move. Quite the accomplishments for the soon to be 34-year-old Buc who was signed after the Miami Dolphins decided to terminate his contract ahead of free agency in 2016.
Grimes amassed a total of 51 tackles throughout the season, one forced fumble and four interceptions to go along with impressive cover skills.
As for fellow starter Vernon Hargreaves III, Hargreaves was able to be named to the Pro Football Writers of America All-Rookie team for his play throughout the season. Hargreaves III entered his rookie training camp expecting to fight for a position and did exactly that. The Bucs’ defensive coaching staff originally had the rookie line up as a nickel corner to start the year, but it did not last long where he then transitioned to the outside to take over for the struggling Alterraun Verner.
Hargreaves III finished the season with a whopping 68 tackles (finished second in the NFL for most solo tackles by a corner), one forced fumble and one interception. The rookie was at the cause of many turnovers for the rebounding Bucs’ defense.
The nickel corner position for the Bucs was played by several members of the Bucs corner group including Verner, Jude Adjei-Barimah, and Javien Elliot. All three played well, but as for the upcoming season… the position will be up for grabs. Both Adjei-Barimah and Elliot will be returning to the team, and will be battling it out in training camp for the respected spot.
So why worry due to the fact all of the starters from the 2016 corner-back group are returning?
Well, it relies solely on the groups leader, Grimes.
Come season, Grimes will be lining up for the Bucs at 34 years of age and although his play has not begun to plummet, his replacement will need to inevitably be brought to the organization soon.
General Manager Jason Licht may have the inside scoop on if Grimes is beginning to feel his age… but it sure did not seem it in his last game of the season. Week 16 versus the Carolina Panthers, Grimes earned a near perfect 99.9 grade in his play by Pro Football Focus and was able to intercept Cam Newton for a pick six to top off his season.
Now although this is great to have, there was still a reason Verner was kept on the roster throughout the season with such an expensive contract. If either corner Hargreaves III or Grimes would happen to go down with an injury… Verner would enter the game.
As you saw throughout the year both nickel corners Adjei-Barimah and Elliot were strictly used as nickels, which could mean that Defensive Coordinator Mike Smith does not view them as components to work on the outsides of his defense.
Now with Verner out of the building, the team may begin to look for both his replacement and the eventual heir to Grimes. By no means does this mean that the team will rely on an early selection in this upcoming draft like some draft analysts may believe, but most certainly the position will need to be addressed.
So who will be the incoming corner? A rookie? A pre-season cut veteran? Will the team ride with the talent they have… or could the answer be from within?
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