The Tampa Bay Buccaneers will bank on Justin Evans to take a take a major leap in hopes that he can carry the safety unit.
The reputation of the Tampa Bay defense is not strong. The Buccaneers allowed a league-worst 6,049 yards last season. There is plenty of blame to go around but the safety unit struggled mightily throughout the disappointing 2017 campaign.
After a busy offseason solidifying the defensive side of the ball, the safety position didn’t appear to be a high priority for general manager Jason Licht. Aside from drafting Jordan Whitehead in the fourth round, the Buccaneers will run it back with the same safety group.
The unit will be led by Justin Evans. The second-year player will look to build off of an impressive rookie season. In 14 games, he racked up 50 total tackles and three interceptions.
Although Evans is a promising talent, the rest of the safeties on the Tampa Bay roster won’t excite anyone.
Chris Conte will likely land a starting role and has been the definition of mediocre throughout his time with the organization. Prone to major lapses in coverage, Conte frequently allows big plays and receives plenty of flak from the Buccaneers faithful.
The final key safety is Keith Tandy. He has spent his seven-year career with Tampa Bay and appeared to have a breakout season in 2016. Unfortunately, he saw a major drop in snaps the following season.
Entering 2018, Tandy should be nothing more than a depth piece.
Again, the Buccaneers safeties won’t be a strength for the defense this season. However, they shouldn’t be their downfall. The improved front seven will take pressure off of the back end of the defense. Plus, an improved cornerback unit will make life easier.
On the roster:
Justin Evans, Chris Conte, Keith Tandy, Isaiah Johnson, Jordan Whitehead, Godwin Igwebuike, Josh Liddell
On the bubble:
Isaiah Johnson, Godwin Igwebuike, Josh Liddell
There is a good chance Tampa only decides to keep four safeties on the roster. Unless Jordan Whitehead has a terrible camp, he is safe. If the Buccaneers opt to keep five safeties all three of the bubble guys will be in a tight battle. The slight edge will go to Isaiah Johnson as he has spent a year in the NFL already.
Justin Evans will make or break the safety group. He showed plenty of promise last season and needs to trend upwards if the Buccaneers lackluster safety group will have success in 2018.
Evans needs to cut down on missed tackles and learn how to wrap up consistently. It’s nice to see a safety who wants to crush the ballcarrier, but not when it leads to big plays for the offense.
He did show promise in coverage last season but he will be tasked with the toughest cover week in and week out. Whether it be a running back like Alvin Kamara or a tight end like Greg Olsen, Evans needs to be able to handle himself well in passing situations.
Frankly, the Tampa Bay safeties have a tough task on their hands. In a division with dynamic receiving threats all over the field, they need to keep plays in front of them. The Buccaneers cannot be beaten over the top like they were so often last season.
On paper, there isn’t much talent among this unit. Whitehead fits the mold as a versatile linebacker-safety hybrid but he is so raw it will likely take him time before he finds himself on the field.
Unless Evans can develop into a Pro Bowl level player, Buccaneers fans should temper their expectations about the safeties.