The Tampa Bay Buccaneers had quite the haul during the 2018 NFL Draft, selecting eight players after general manager Jason Licht traded down twice – once in the first round and again in the second round. Now it’s time for PewterReport.com’s Scott Reynolds to review the 2018 Bucs draft class and assign some initial grades based on the players’ attributes and value based on the round they were selected.

Cornerback M.J. Stewart is the team’s second of three second-round picks, is up next, followed by cornerback Carlton Davis, who was the third of Tampa Bay’s three second-round picks.

Round 2: North Carolina CB M.J. Stewart – 5-11, 200 – Senior

Stewart is a versatile cornerback that can play inside or outside, and perhaps even safety at the next level. He wasn’t as heralded as some of the other cornerbacks that went in the second round, but Stewart is physical and talented, and was named the Senior Bowl defensive back of the practice week in Mobile, Ala. for a reason.

UNC CB M.J. Stewart - Photo courtesy of UNC
UNC CB M.J. Stewart – Photo courtesy of UNC

He’s a very good overall player that plays with toughness, instincts and physicality. Stewart didn’t have an interception over the last two years, but had six in his first two seasons. Yet he did have 41 pass breakups, including 23 over the last two years, which shows that he can make plays on the ball.

Stewart is fluent in both off coverage and press coverage, and when he played in the slot last year he recorded two sacks, which shows that he can also impact the passing game as a blitzer. Stewart is a patient defensive back that reads routes well and does a good job of breaking on the ball and timing his pass break-ups.

The Question Marks

Where is Stewart’s best fit in the NFL? Is it as an outside cornerback or a nickel cornerback? And if it’s inside at nickel where Vernon Hargreaves III is expected to start, what does that mean for either Stewart, a second-round pick, or Hargreaves, a former first-rounder? One of those two seems destined for the bench in 2018 unless the 5-foot-11, 200-pound Stewart winds up competing for the strong safety role with fourth-round pick Jordan Whitehead.

The Rookie Season Expectations

Stewart is a good enough player to challenge for playing time somewhere in the secondary. He saw plenty of action during his freshman year at North Carolina, which shows that he is mature and can process information quickly. The guess here is that Stewart forces his way onto the field as a rookie given his draft status as a second-round pick, but exactly where won’t be known until training camp. The guess here right now is nickel cornerback.

The Grade: B

Stewart is a very good player with a solid, all-around game, but is he a playmaker? This pick feels more like the Bucs drafting a Brian Kelly-type cornerback rather than a Ronde Barber or Aqib Talib-type corner. That’s not necessarily a bad thing as Kelly was quite good, but I’m not sure Stewart is a Pro Bowl-caliber player that Davis might be.

Up Next: CB Carlton Davis

Scott Reynolds is in his 25th year of covering the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as the vice president, publisher and senior Bucs beat writer for PewterReport.com. Author of the popular SR's Fab 5 column on Fridays, Reynolds oversees web development and forges marketing partnerships for PewterReport.com in addition to his editorial duties. A graduate of Kansas State University in 1995, Reynolds spent six years giving back to the community as the defensive line coach for his sons' Pop Warner team, the South Pasco Predators. Reynolds can be reached at: sr@pewterreport.com
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Jonathan Goodfellow

My guess is that the staff believes Carlton Davis will start on the outside in 2018, and believes that either Hargreaves or Stewart will be able to win the outside role in 2019 when Grimes is gone, and the other can go back to playing in the slot.

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EastEndBoy

If the idea is for him to become a Safety – then I understand the pick (whether I think he’s good or not, I understand the pick). If the idea is anything else….this becomes a head scratcher. Mid-2nd round picks (like Davis too) need to be starters….as do 1st rounders from two years ago (like VHIII).

I feel like Licht has made too many 2nd round errors – ASJ, D Smith, Aguayo, [Spence?]…this needs to be a hit.

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Jonathan Goodfellow

Calling D Smith an error when he is almost guaranteed to get a 2nd contract and remain as our Starting LT, is very silly

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EastEndBoy

D. Smith’s pff grades….53rd best OT in the league last year….and that was his best grade so far in his career. Winston has been near the top of the league in passes under pressure, and Qb hits each year….

Those are just the stats….you can disagree with them (calling them “silly”, if you like), but they are the facts.

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Jonathan Goodfellow

“those are just the stats”

Please dont quote PFF grades as “stats”. PFF has no knowledge of blocking assignments on a play-by-play basis and is a horrible assessor of OL talent.

While I love Jameis, he absolutely holds onto the ball too long, and Koetter calls for too many long developing plays.

Smith is at worst an average starter in this league and provided he stays healthy, will not be going anywhere, sorry to burst your bubble.

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EastEndBoy

Nobody said the guy was going anywhere – that’s the problem.

As for pff – you may not like them but they are professional analysts that examine every single snap of every single player. They get paid to do so, including by NFL teams. What are your qualifications?

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nitey

Just watching the video above, you can see that he is slow to get his head turned which is why he breaks up passes that he might have a chance to pick off if he was a bit quicker. Shows good diagnosis ability but he strikes me more as a really good nickel corner more than an outside defender at the next level. Might be a better safety prospect than a corner IMO.

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Schwifty9

Barf. C minus only because it does address a need. But it should have been Isiah Oliver all day. The fact that Oliver ended up being drafted by the damn Falcons only makes it worse.

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jlhaynes

Those of you doubting Stewart abilities…His former coach says he should be a 1st round pick, as good as his 3 former Thorpe winners. He say’s you should do your homework…maybe the Buc’s did!
http://chapelboro.com/sports/unc-sports/carolina-tar-heels-mj-stewart-senior-bowl-nfl-draft-gene-chizik

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nitey

I’ve no doubt that the Bucs did their homework but the sad result is even when the FO does, players fail. What does give me a bit of hope is that Licht has made the admission that when he misses on draft picks, it’s mostly because he misjudged the mental aspect of the player not the physical aspects. So I believe Stewart can be a good player for us, but is he a starter or just depth? We really needed a starter with this pick and I’m not sure we got that. Good depth? 4th corner, I can see that.… Read more »

Schwifty9

LOL! Because a coach has never been overly zealous about a player before that went on to do nothing of merit in the NFL, right?

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jlhay

Just the same, an armchair coach and gm like us have never been wrong about a player either…right?….it works both ways.. I will bet my money on a coach staking his name and reputation on his evaluation of his own player. He has more to lose.

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FLBoy84

Like the toughness at DB they’ve added to the roster, which seems to have been a focus for Litch. Not sure what the nickel or dime percentages were for the Bucs last year, but assume they were fairly high. Trevor, any of you guys have that info (or anybody else for that matter)? If your’re running out 3-4 DB’s consistently, you’ve got to have at least 5 ready to play at any given time. Don’t care who the starters are necessarily, more interested on who’s ready and able to step up and make plays when their number is called. Rate… Read more »

tnew

I understand and like the Davis pick but Scott hits the nail on the head. This is a bit redundant for a nickel/slot guy, unless the Bucs feel VHIII is a lost cause. VHIII looked really good as the nickel/slot corner when played there. Picking Isiah Oliver and Reid (i think Davis could have been gone if the Bucs took Oliver) would have been an amazing second round. I think that Stewart can be a good player but I don’t get the redundancy at that position. (I like the Davis pick too.). Rate this item:Thumb UpThumb DownSubmit Rating00 No votes… Read more »

Freeman Strickland

Scott, Any idea why they did not go with S Justin Reid with one of these second round picks? I guess they just thought that CB was the bigger need, which is hard to argue as Grimes could retire or miss some games like last year. I think that we could be fine with the safeties we have. But, from a best player available perspective, it seems like Reid deserved some consideration here. With this revamped DL and these new DBs, will we see some press-man? This guy seems made for it, and it seems to be the best way… Read more »

Horse

I see no problem with this pick.

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Wausa

Would not surprise me at all if the Bucs starting corners in nickel end up being MJ Stewart, Carlton Davis and Brent Grimes with VHIII coming in when they are in a dime package.

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Alldaway 2.0

MJ Stewart is going to surprise people with his physical play and technique.

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