Buccaneers Off-Season Position Preview: Secondary

TAMPA, FL - OCTOBER 29: Justin Evans #21 of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers celebrates after defending a pass in the second quarter of a game against the Carolina Panthers at Raymond James Stadium on October 29, 2017 in Tampa, Florida. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
TAMPA, FL - OCTOBER 29: Justin Evans #21 of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers celebrates after defending a pass in the second quarter of a game against the Carolina Panthers at Raymond James Stadium on October 29, 2017 in Tampa, Florida. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images) /
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Finishing up our preview of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers roster, today we’re looking at the secondary.

The Buccaneers’ secondary was gashed in 2017. Only three teams surrendered more than 4,000 yards through the air. Of the three, only the Patriots made the playoffs. Meanwhile, Tampa is preparing for a Top-10 pick along with the New York Giants.

Further compounding their issues were the facts that Mike Smith’s secondary was among the ten pass defenses which gave up the most completions for 20 or 40+ yards.

So, once again, this leaves us with defensive backs being a focus of the off-season.

Before we get to adding more, we have to see what is left from the previous year. Here they are.

Defensive Backs under contract for 2018

Cornerbacks:

Vernon Hargreaves

Josh Robinson

Ryan Smith

Maurice Fleming

David Rivers III

Safeties:

Chris Conte

Justin Evans

Isaiah Johnson

Obviously, there’s a serious lack of depth at safety and talent at corner.

Hargreaves struggled early on during his sophomore season but came on strong once moved inside starting in Buffalo.

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Unfortunately, his improved play came just before an injury which would end up finishing his season just as it was getting started.

Ryan Smith continued to flash athleticism and still has room to grow. He hasn’t hit his ceiling just yet, but he still looks quite a bit away from reaching starting ability in the NFL.

Robinson continued to be a special teams stud while he was on the field. He did have some injury concerns and is subject to whether or not the Bucs want to pick up his 2018 contract option. At the end of the day, I don’t see a better special teams gunner and the team isn’t hard-up for cap room.

At safety, Conte and Evans played well at times with the younger safety really coming on strong to finish the season.

When Evans was drafted out of Texas A&M there was some confusion as to what need he filled. The Buccaneers’ 2016 secondary was weakest against the deep ball, and Evans was a box safety. He adapted well for a rookie and certainly improved in his coverage skills during the 2017 season though.

Look for him to continue his ascension while Conte and Buccaneers fans continue to wait and see if Jason Licht picks up his own 2018 option, or if the team will be down to just two safeties entering the official start of the off-season.

Potential Free-Agent Targets

The Buccaneers obviously need to add here. Let’s look at some options.

Trumaine Johnson

Previous Team: Los Angeles Rams

I’m not going to spend too much time here. Johnson is talented, he’s available and he’s young enough to warrant a long contract.

With Brent Grimes still not committed to returning yet, the team needs a true number-one corner, and Johnson is the only one on the market.

I did a full glimpse at Johnson as a potential target earlier, so check that out if you desire even more on this talented cornerback.

Must Read: Trumaine Johnson FA Spotlight

Tre Boston

Previous Team: Los Angeles Chargers

Boston is a guy the Bucs are familiar with and some Tampa Bay fans probably recognize as well. He’s a former Carolina Panther who just spent the 2017 season with the Chargers.

A guy I hoped Licht would target last year, he may once again become available, and I will once again hope he comes to Tampa.

He’s missed only one game in the last three years, is going to be 26-years old when the season begins and just led his team with five interceptions in 2017. He also contributed to 79 tackles and was credited with eight passes defended.

Boston and Evans would make a very good tandem with both men being fully capable tacklers yet equipped to defend in the passing game as well.

Potential Draft Targets

With the NFL Combine in full swing, plenty of prospects are showing their stuff in hopes of gaining attention from teams like the Buccaneers. Here are just a couple who might land on the Bucs’ draft board this April.

Donte Jackson – LSU

I’m convinced Jackson may be one of the more underrated players entering the draft this year.

He’s a talented corner with big-time playmaking potential. He needs some development in the mental aspect of the game, but what rookie doesn’t?

The real problem here, is the fact cornerback is the hardest position to transition from coming out of college and into the NFL. At least on defense.

Still, Jackson has the tape to show he’s a capable defender and provides some flexibility for Mike Smith to tinker with Hargreaves however he wants.

His combine performance will confirm his athleticism, and I’m really hoping Licht and his staff fall in love during his interviews.

Next: Why Can't TB Find Corners?

Armani Watts – Texas A&M

Tampa Bay needs coverage help more than anything at the safety position, so I’m not worried about Watts’ lack of run support ability.

With former collegiate teammate Justin Evans already finding success in the defensive backfield, there’s no reason to think Watts wouldn’t come in ready to learn and develop the way he witnessed his fellow Aggie do it in 2017.

His ability to play over the top and provide deep coverage is exactly what the Buccaneers need, and seeing him in the third round could be just the spot to take him.

"Join the Locked on Bucs podcast as they discuss some of the comments made at the NFL Combine by Jason Licht and Dirk Koetter."

What are your thoughts on the secondary for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers? Are there other free-agents or draft prospects you have your eye one? Let me know in the comments or on social media to discuss.

David Harrison is one of the Buccaneers Co-Experts for The Pewter Plank. You can reach him about this or any other NFL topic on Facebook, or on Twitter.