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.
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.