Bucs GM Jason Licht, CB Vernon Hargreaves & HC Dirk Koetter - Photo by Cliff Welch/PR
Cover 3 is a weekly feature column written by PewterReport.com’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers beat writer Trevor Sikkema published every Tuesday. The column, as its name suggests, comes in three phases: a statistical observation, an in-depth film breakdown, and a “this or that” segment where the writer asks the reader to chose between two options.
SIKKEMA’S STAT OF THE WEEK
There’s a song by the band Saint Motel that goes,
Take a look around the room,
Love comes wearing disguises.
How to go about and choose.
Break it down by shapes and sizes.
I’m a man who’s got very specific taste.
You’re, You’re, You’re just my type.
Take a look around the room,
Love comes wearing disguises.
How to go about and choose.
Break it down by shapes and sizes.
I’m a man who’s got very specific taste.
You’re, You’re, You’re just my type.
Today we’re going to be keeping some of the lyrics of that song in mind when talking about the cornerback position, and more specifically get down to the bottom of things and figure out if there really is such thing as a “Buccaneer corner.”
Certain general managers in the NFL have thresholds for the players they acquire, and more importantly acquire through the draft. For example, Green Bay’s general manager, Ted Thompson, is notable for having players that follow a certain guideline of height and weight for his defense (he’s never going to take small corners or small defensive linemen). There are certain threshold numbers that exists for those positions that, if a player of that position doesn’t hit, they odds of them getting drafted by Green Bay are very small, perhaps even impossible no matter how good they are.
Ex-Bucs CB Ronde Barber – Photo by: Getty Images
The thought process behind that isn’t one of ignorance, but instead, one of schematic nuances. Green Bay likes to play a man coverage Cover 3. Such as scheme involves a single-high safety first and foremost on the back end, a strong safety who can come up and help at the second level with the linebackers, and finally, cornerbacks who have the size to lock down a receiver one-on-one. Since Green Bay’s defensive strategy involves a lot more one-on-one than it does receiving help from other players, you could see why the Packers would try to find a certain type of player to guard receivers on an island. Even if they gave up some speed and quickness, they for sure want their corners to at least have the length to defend passes against tall, prototypical receivers.
The Buccaneers seem to be the opposite. For a while now, the Bucs have been known for having those small, quick, intelligent cornerbacks who made their money off keeping things in front of them, playing damage control, then being able to outsmart a quarterback into making plays rather than being physically imposing on their wide receivers. Not that those things never happen, but picking your battles is a real thing for defensive back work.
But is that reality, or are we just letting ourselves think that they only draft small corners since Vernon Hargreaves III was their featured guy last year and smaller guys like Brian Kelly and Ronde Barber are the feature players at cornerback from the glory days? Let’s look at their draft history.
Probably not as “small” as you thought. In picks outside of the Top 50, the Buccaneers have stayed on par with the league’s average for a cornerback, which is about 5-foot-10 and right around 190 pounds. However, when using premium picks on cornerbacks, they actually have gone for the bigger players. Aqib Talib, Johnthan Banks and Vernon Hargreaves are the three early cornerbacks selected, and the first two are over 6-feet tall. In fact, if you also count the Darrelle Revis acquistion, you’d remember that this team hasn’t been afraid to add or tryout more lockdown cornerbacks.
However, we also have to take into account the longevity of those players. Talib, Banks and Revis are no longer on the team. Talib had his own set of problems that ran him out of town, so he’s a bit of an exception. But Banks and Revis, who were more of that lockdown style, had short careers in Tampa Bay.
But, long history isn’t the best indicator of what the Buccaneers’ identity at the position is now since they’ve been through three general managers and six head coaches over that period of time in the table above. Instead, let’s look at the here and now. Let’s see if Bucs general manager Jason Licht has a preference in defensive backs.
When working for the Eagles, Licht’s five draft classes in Philadelphia included five defensive backs. All but one was actually over 6-foot, and none of which were picked in the first two rounds. In 2008, when Licht was the personnel executive of the Arizona Cardinals, the team selected Dominque Rodgers-Cromartie in the first round, he was 6-2, 193 pounds.
But, when Licht was with the Patriots as the director of player personnel from 2009-2011, we saw a change. Licht had a hand in drafting five defensive backs during his time there, all but one were under 6-foot and the one that who was, Ras-I Dowling, was only on the team for one season. This seemed to be a philosophical turning point.
The following two years he returned to the Cardinals, and in 2013 drafted a player named Tyrann Mathieu, the first player under 5-10 he has ever had a hand in drafting.
Bucs GM Jason Licht & CB Vernon Hargreaves III – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
Since his time in New England, Licht has not drafted a cornerback over 6-0, something he did regularly early on with the staffs he was a part of. But, it’s not just the general manager’s preference that determines these picks. They also have to marry it with the head coach or defensive coordinator to make it work. Since Dirk Koetter is more of the offensive guy, Licht probably turns to defensive coordinator, Mike Smith, to get his take on what kind of players he want playing cornerback in his system.
So, what about Mike Smith’s draft history?
During Smith’s time as the defensive coordinator in Jacksonville from 2003-2007, there wasn’t much consistency in terms of height and weight with the cornerbacks he drafts. In fact, there was actually more consistency in the fact that the two starting defensive backs he drafted both had dreadlocks (Rashaen Mathis and Reggie Nelson).
However, when he became the head coach of the Falcons in 2008, things started to shift in a certain direction. In his early drafts, there wasn’t much emphasis on cornerbacks, but the picks I believe revealed and solidified a trend in his defensive preferences was when he selected Desmond Trufant and Robert Alford in 2012 and Ricardo Allen in 2013. Trufant was 6-0 where the others were under, but all three of those players molded their game around two traits: recognition and recovery – traits that often shine in shorter, quicker players.
Trufant, Alford and Allen are all still starters for the Falcons four years later on a defensive that is still similar schematically to what Smith established in Atlanta. I think the reason for that is because he got his hands on two corners (and a nickel corner/safety combo in Allen) who could run his system well playing Cover 2 man or Cover 4 (Quarters) – the scheme he still runs as a base in Tampa. In both of those schemes, it’s not about locking down a receiver and mirroring his every move. Most of the time it’s about reading a quarterback’s eyes and having good instincts and recovery speed, not physicality in blanketing coverage. It’s about choosing your battles as a cornerback, not getting into one every snap.
This, to me, is what we should mean when we talk about a “Buccaneer corner”.
Bucs DC Mike Smith – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
So, is there a threshold to be had when drafting corners to this Buccaneers team? I wouldn’t say a threshold. But, there certainly is a preference – or a type, if you will. More often than not, the Buccaneers are going to play their cornerbacks in some form of off coverage while banking on intelligence, chemistry as a unit, good communication, play recognition, backpedaling ability and recovery speed while reading and reacting.
If you’ll notice, turnovers for this Bucs secondary unit rarely come in the form of them out muscling a receiver down the line, or besting them in man coverage. Instead, if you’ll remember, Brent Grimes’ pick-six in the final game of the season, Chris Conte’s pick-six in the Chicago game, Keith Tandy’s interception against San Diego and even Hargreaves’ first interception off the tip form Kwon Alexander all came from being at the right place and reading the eyes rather than being bigger and stronger.
The Bucs have their type, and with not a single cornerback on the roster that’s over 5-11, don’t expect them to break that trend this draft season, especially with the success they had last year when it all started to click.
Trevor Sikkema is the Tampa Bay Buccaneers beat reporter and NFL Draft analyst for PewterReport.com. Sikkema, an alumnus of the University of Florida, has covered both college and professional football for much of his career. As a native of the Sunshine State, when he's not buried in social media, Sikkema can be found out and active, attempting to be the best athlete he never was. Sikkema can be reached at: [email protected]
I would not mind Jackson in late round 1 if we trade back and Budda is gone. What do you think about Sidney Jones to the Bucs if he somehow falls to round 3?
Yeah, considering we don’t need a day 1 corner, why not look at Sidney Jones in the 2nd?
I think we can get Jones in the 3rd because of that Achilles injury.
Sidney Jones would also be a “Buccaneer corner” – and a good one. If he’s there in the third and they haven’t taken a CB yet, he should be a Buc.
This is the corner the Bucs should take…a 3rd round pick is great value, let him recover fully, let him learn the system and by year end he’s a starter for us for a decade.
I would not use a 1st or second round pick on a CB. The team is deep at the position, and says they “like their current group of players”. (sounds like what they say about the OL doesn’t it). They drafted one last year, Smith, to develop, so draft another developmental CB.
S, TE, WR please in rounds 1-2
So you reject BPA, which is the actual draft philosophy of our GM, who clearly believes in BPA?
Thinking in terms of positions instead of actual flesh and blood football players and how they would fit into the Buccaneers system and coaching and personnel is not how the Bucs actually run the draft today.
SO you actually think Robert Agyuo was the BPA when the bucs pickled last year? No he wasn’t. Our GM, that you clearly know so well, picked, and traded up mind you, for NEED. Not BPA.
Aguayo served as a “lessons learned” for Jason Licht, I believe. He got stung badly by that pick. His remarks to the media last week at beginning of OTAs clearly shows that he’s morphed into a BPA guy. At least for now.
Any GM, no matter his philosophy, is capable of going off the reservation and going against his own philosophy, even falling in love with a defined positional need. As Chief Dan George said in “Little Big Man”, sometimes the the magic works, and sometimes it doesn’t.
I can see Jackson happening, if I had to flip a coin. No clue who we will be picking. This year I am totally stumped.
I wouldn’t mind seeing Jackson getting picked…love his competitiveness.
I like Jackson and Corn Elder the most. If we do not get a CB early, I like Myrick and S. Griffin. Maybe like Griffin more than Myrick.
I’m a huge fan of corn elder. Once a real defensive coordinator came in to Miami, he had a much better year. Would love to pick him up in the third. Can’t freakin wait for this draft
I would feel better a day two CB. If we can get either Cook, Howard or Davis day 1.
Nice article, very informative.
I dont think Adoree fits the bucs mold.
Tre White does but his foot work isnt very impressive. Yet he has the ability to play the nickel while waiting to take his place as Brent’s successor which is a plus.
Corn Elder is a Buccaneer prototype. I dont know about him in the slot though. Good value pick though.
Consider: Chidobe Awuzie & “Hargreaves clone,” Teez Tabor in the 2nd or 3rd.
Jalen Myrick does fit the mold, I just don’t like his open field tackling and he’s a little too thick He’s built like a undersized linebacker. He’d be fun on special teams.
I enjoy this kind of article. Have you done one for safeties? I’ve been studying them as well. And would love hear your thoughts.
Know What’d be cool?
Next off-season do cover 3s that build off each other so like the first couple weeks we identify needs, Evaluation process, Then go through them all like you did with this one and at the end of each one do a vote so come draft time done you can do a article of what are draft class would look like based off the votes.
(I.e. this a need, this what we look for, this who they are and how they compare, what round to select. At the end you’d have Round 1- such and such based on the votes)
That’d be fun. Then you could build yearly off fails and successes.
I did safeties last week, but only for guys who the Bucs would consider in the first round because I also tied it into money and value of rookie contracts.
Not sure how you don’t think Jackson isn’t a Buccaneer corner. Perhaps because he still raw as a prospect?
I actually think Tre’ White’s footwork is one of his better traits. It’s recovery speed that I question.
That’s an interesting idea. By this time next year I’ll have a full year under my belt with a full year of cover 3’s and film reviews from during the season, so something like that could happen. Or even if I make it its own series.
Thank for the input and the appreciation, though! Glad you liked it.
Trevor, you’re doing a great job!
I think Adoree is soft. I would be super nervous watching him try to make an open field tackle. And I think he’s more athlete than technician. Recognition skills don’t seem to be there, I don’t know though I’ve been wrong before.
(For example, I wanted Aaron Donald over Mike Evans- I thought he’d be a bust due to his temperment.)
And with Tre White- I just remember him getting tripped up a couple times.
If tackling is your main gripe, sure, he’s not as built as other corners and would struggle from time to time with tackles (not that effort isn’t there). But, I do think he’s more of a football players and less of just an athlete than you give him credit for.
This corner class is just sooooo deep, like historically deep…I like Adoree but I’d rather see us go another direction in the first.
Picking BPA is admirable…but there’s more to it than that…what if you’ve got 15 corners in your Top 50 and a handful of guys at other positions of need? And your grades are close…you’re not gonna take corners in the first three rounds and that could easily be what the board looks like in this draft.
I enjoyed your breakdown of what the team is looking for in their corners….because I think a lot of us have been wondering…just assuming they’re looking for the shortest guys possible lol.
I said this after Scotts latest mock. Last game of the season Grimes scored 6 points, Bucs offense 6 points, one field goal. Don’t see how using a first round pick on a corner helps. We need some play makers on offense. Want to improve the secondary? Better pass rush, the games Scott mentioned, Oakland, Carr had all day to throw. With the rules in todays NFL favoring receivers, you’re better off trying to get to the Q.B.. If you want to win more games, you better try scoring more points. I think it’s getting harder judging corners coming out of college, they’re allowed to mug receivers compared to the NFL. I’m also not a fan of picking west coast players. A kid from L.A. will have a harder time adjusting to the pros coming to Florida then a kid from LSU. Pick a corner after round 3 to develope, not round one.
While I think defense was our team strength last year, I don’t see much sense in picking out one game where the defense matched our offense in points scored and basically hanging your argument on that. It was one game.
And really, that specific example pretty perfectly highlights why we might consider a CB as early as the first round – our biggest playmaker at CB last year was Brent Grimes, who’s 34 years old and in the last year of his contract. That doesn’t mean he can’t be a good player for a couple more years, but banking on that is a very risky proposition, I think. The team has to view him as a short term solution at this point.
Behind him, you have young VH3, and a bunch of lesser talents that the team likes as role players, but nobody that I’d feel good about stepping in to start on the outside right now or at any time in the future. And with the prevalence of three WR sets in the modern NFL, your nickel corner gets on the field for something like 60% of snaps per game, so even if Grimes signs here for longer and holds up for another couple of years, you can get good value out of being 3 strong at CB.
I’m not saying I’d want to draft Adoree or another CB in the first round, by the way. Just trying to properly frame the argument for being open to it, which I think we should be.
I really like Adoree Jackson, he not only fits what I think a Bucs corner looks like, but he can fill a need at nickel and completely solve the KR/PR positions.
But I agree with surferdudes above, the team lacks playmakers and just adding DeSean isn’t going to solve the offensive weapons issue. Now, you can make a point that playmakers can be on offense or defense, but I really hope we can add another offensive playmaker in the 1st. I also agree, that if we really want to help out the defense, we need a better pass rush. Last year showed us that you can’t ever have enough playmakers on the defensive line. So if I was going to go defense in round 1, I would rather put that pick on the defensive line.
Javier Elliot as an undrafted did fine last year, Jude is coming back. you really want Adoree on run support? 1st rounder for a nickelback?
With the way the NFL is more pass happy IMO teams are looking for taller and faster CB. Just look at what New England is doing,I know some people don’t like Bill B. but the man always seems to be conscious of how things change in the NFL. They just paid big $$ for a taller CB and are trying to move Bulter. As far as the Bucs go I am tiring of watching WR catch the ball in front of are CB s. Just my opinion.
What Trevor describes as a “Buccaneers corner” is perfectly capable of dealing with bigger and faster receivers, because these corners are playing the quarterback, not the receiver. It’s a different philosophy than many teams use today or in the past. It seemed to be working pretty well by the second half of last season, after VHIII had caught on to the defense and what is expected of him, and after our defensive line returned to health and finally started pressuring opposing quarterbacks. If that trend continues, we should be just fine the “Buccaneers corners”.
There are plenty of successful defenses that highly value smaller DBs, too. The Broncos have Aqib Talib at 6’1″, but Chris Harris is 5’10”, and Bradley Roby is 5’11”. Those guys are crucial parts of an excellent defense, and they even play a ton of man coverage and still consistently win. Whether the Pats especially value Butler or not, he’s a great an valuable player at a short height. Tyrann Mathieu destroys offenses while playing plenty of snaps as a slot corner. The Texans have a great defense with Johnathan Joseph and Kareem Jackson both 5’11” or shorter on the outside. There are PLENTY of examples out there that disprove the narrative that the NFL as a whole is exclusively looking for bigger corners.
If Jackson is the BPA when our number comes up, in Jason Licht’s judgment … then by all means, Jason, take him. He clearly looks like our kind of corner, and Grimes is not going to be around much longer, most likely.
If another player is BPA, then Jason, take him instead.
Trevor, do you feel that the Bucs are seeing value in Jackson as an additional Offensive weapon immediately , in addition to his return skills, as he is being groomed behind Grimes?
Always appreciate your video breakdown!
Idk. Stuff like that doesn’t happen very often in the NFL. i would think if they’re drafting him, they want him to focus on being the best CB he can be. But, in terms of a return specialist, yes, of course.
Trevor, do you think the Bucs liked Eli Apple better than Hargreaves, who was taken at 10 in last years draft. Or did they want Vernon all along? I like Jackson if the Bucs trade down in round one, but not at 19. If they stay at 19 I like DE Harris from Missouri. Corn Elder looks good in 2nd. Guy nobody is talking about is Kid bucs draft in 4th last year, and wanted him to play safety.
I think they liked Hargreaves more overall. If Hargreaves would’ve been picked where Apple was, I’ve been told they would’ve taken Sheldon Rankins at No. 11.
We need a corner to develop behind Grimes…but not at #19. If we trade back, Jackson is a good option as he covers 2 needs, corner and return specialist. Like Reddman said though, we have Smith who was drafted as a S but have read that he’ll be moving to corner. That would make S a bigger need for us but also another deep position in this draft. I’m excited to see where we go this year. This is the draft that puts us over the hump
Thank you for the article Trevor! Love the thought provoking way you deliver.
No on Jackson in the first. Not that I don’t think he’s worth a late first round selection just more intriguing options at other positions for this team. Elder has been my guy all along. Love the way the kid plays and can see him being a Licht guy too.
Corn in the 3rd would be outstanding for me.
Can’t wait to do this thing guys!! Speculation is over!!! Go Bucs!
Man, Adoree in the first….I dunno, man. I turned his film on this offseason and liked him a lot more than I expected to. The leaps he made between last year and this year were pretty shocking. Still, though, it’s tough for me to get onboard with a corner that early the year after taking a CB in the first round, with Grimes still under contract, and maybe most importantly, with a guy who’s widely seen as a second round pick. If Jackson really is who we hope to take in the first, I really, really hope we move back before doing so.
It’s definitely a super deep draft at the position. If we don’t take Jackson in the first or second (where he still might be available for us, by the way), another guy that fits the prototypical mold for a modern Bucs corner that I like a lot is Jourdan Lewis. I think he’s pretty severely underrated by draftniks. Opinions on him seem to be pretty varied, but I haven’t seen him projected as anything higher than a 3rd round pick. I’d be happy to have him there, or maybe even later in the 4th, depending on who else is on the board when we pick in the 3rd.
If we don’t take a corner early and Sidney Jones is there in the third, I don’t know how we could possibly pass him up. I really like his feet, which is maybe the most important thing to me in a corner. He’s not EXACTLY the prototypical Bucs corner, IMO, but he’s not far off, and he’s bring a little length we currently lack, for those who clamor for it all the time. I’d honestly be okay with taking him as early as the 2nd, if his recovery is in fact going as well as most reports have said it is.
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