Now we move onto the defensive backfield, focusing on the team’s suddenly deep cornerback room. The Bucs return their top four cornerbacks from a year ago, but should have more significant competition for the No. 5 and possibly No. 6 spots in the room. Count on at least one of these corners getting placed on the practice squad after final cuts.
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Carlton Davis is a true lockdown corner in the NFL. He not only has the most pass breakups over the last two seasons with 33, but also holds the second-best forced incompletion rate at 17.3 percent. Often going toe-to-toe on an island, Davis has held some of the best receivers in the league in check. Julio Jones, Davante Adams, Michael Thomas and Deandre Hopkins have all been victims of his tight coverage. In a contract year, Davis will not only try to earn himself a big pay day, but also the respect he deserves as a top corner in the NFL.
Sean Murphy-Bunting had a breakout performance in the playoffs. In three consecutive games Murphy-Bunting produced interceptions to help seal huge wins on the road to a Super Bowl title. The most important area for his improvement will come in passer rating allowed, 126.1, which was the highest on the team. Out of 31 catchable balls, SMB had 29 completed on him while in coverage, according to Sports Info Solutions.
In the playoff things turned around for Murphy-Bunting. He turned in the highest coverage grade on the team and his targeted passer rating dropped to 57.3. Looking to build off a strong postseason, Murphy-Bunting could turn in a much-improved 2021 season.
With seven starts on the year, Dean has continued to develop into a solid corner for the Bucs. Though he battled through some inconsistencies and injuries at times, he started to turn things around during the latter half of the season. Dean had the least missed tackles and lowest yards per catch allowed of all cornerbacks on the team. The Auburn product also had the only defensive touchdown in the regular season. Dean was also the highest-graded cornerback in the league when going up against wide receivers graded 80 or higher, per Pro Football Focus’ rankings.
Ross Cockrell was re-signed on a two-year deal and will man the No. 4 cornerback spot. As the projected top reserve, he has the most career starts of any corner on the team. Cockrell filled in admirably last year for both Davis and Dean when they missed games due to injury.
Behind him, Herb Miller has the most experience with the current coaching staff, entering his third year with the Bucs. After spending most of the season on the practice squad, Miller was elevated to the active roster four times in the regular season and once in the playoffs against Washington. He recorded his first career interception in Week 16 against the Lions.
Joining the competition is five-year veteran Antonio Hamilton. Hamilton signed with the team after a try-out during rookie mini-camp. Outside of Cockrell, Hamilton has the most experience and excels on special teams. He’s played in 57 games in his career, including all 20 for the Chiefs last year.
Nate Brooks was brought in after spending part of the last two seasons bouncing around NFL rosters. After seeing action in four games and totaling 11 tackles he will compete for a spot primarily through special teams play. Dee Delaney hasn’t played since 2019 and was primarily a practice squad player back then, only playing in three career games.
Seventh round rookie Chris Wilcox comes in with a unique blend of size and speed. While raw, Wilcox still has room to grow as a cornerback. With his skills he could provide instant special teams value should he make the club.
After nearly not being allowed to play, Cameron Kinley will be given the chance to compete for a spot. After a stellar performance in rookie mini-camp, there is some buzz about the Navy product. While most likely destined to be a practice squad player as he continues to develop, Kinley could surprise.
The cornerback position is one of the most loaded on the roster, with 10 players vying for 5-6 spots. The Bucs could choose to keep six cornerbacks on the team for special teams purposes, but may decide depth is needed elsewhere. After Davis, Dean and Murphy-Bunting, Cockrell makes the most sense as a reliable backup. As we saw last year he won’t be too much of a liability should he need to start games due to injury.
After that it gets a bit tricky. Miller has been a consummate pro and has gotten better each year with the club. Much like the off-ball linebacker position, veterans might make the most sense to round out the roster. Therefore I think the final spot will end up being Hamilton’s to lose. Although, I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Bucs stash as many as three corners on the practice squad in Miller, Wilcox and Kinley.
Just two training camp battle breakdowns remain in the series before camp starts on Sunday. On Wednesday, we’ll turn the page to the safeties room.
J.C. Allen is one of PewterReport.com’s newest beat writers. As a New England transplant, he has closely followed Tom Brady’s entire career and first fell in love with the game during the Patriots 1996 Super Bowl run. J.C. is in his second year covering the team after spending a year with Bucs Report as a writer, producer and show host. Some of his other interests include barbecuing, being outdoors, and spending time with family and friends. His favorite Buccaneer of all time is Simeon Rice and believes he deserves a spot in Canton. Follow J.C. Allen on Twitter @JCAllenNFL.
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