The PewterReport.com Roundtable features the opinions of the PR staff as it tackles a topic related to the Tampa Bay Bucs each week.
This week’s topic: Favorite Bucs’ Day 2 or Day 3 pick
Scott Reynolds: Kentucky SS Mike Edwards
The more research I do on Edwards the more I like him, and I think his versatility has Bucs defensive coordinator Todd Bowles awfully excited. Edwards was a box safety at Kentucky, in addition to playing nickel cornerback in the slot. He’s solid in press-man coverage and is aggressive in coverage.
Edwards, who ran a 4.50 in the 40-yard dash at his pro day, supports the run in a hurry and has done everything from setting the edge as an overhang defender, to blitzing from the slot. He had one of his best games as a sophomore against Louisville’s Heisman Trophy winning quarterback Lamar Jackson, recording six tackles, half a sack and two interceptions, including the game-clincher.
Edwards recorded 317 tackles, 23 passes defensed, 21 tackles for loss, 10 interceptions, two forced fumbles, 1.5 sacks and one fumble recovery as a four-year starter for the Wildcats. Edwards is a fearless tackler and is willing to take on blockers to free up other defenders to make the tackle, too. He has tremendous heart and leadership ability, and along with outside linebacker Josh Allen, played a big role in Kentucky’s 10-3 season that was capped off with a bowl win over Penn State.
Edwards never missed a start at Kentucky once he became a starter as a freshman with 44 consecutive starts. The Bucs need a vocal leader in the secondary, and the guess here is that Edwards has the maturity and football I.Q. to start as a rookie opposite free safety Justin Evans. In a Tampa Bay defensive backfield that lacks playmakers, Bucs general manager Jason Licht found a ball-hawking safety in the third round that should help create more takeaways.
Mark Cook: Iowa DE/OLB Anthony Nelson
Most of the Bucs’ picks seem to fill a need and have the potential to help this football team – particularly on defense – get better. Cornerbacks Sean Bunting and Jamel Dean, and safety Mike Edwards were all drafted to compete for starting spots in Todd Bowles’ defense, and of course, Tampa Bay’s first-round pick, Devin White, will be handed the keys to the defense right out of the gate.
Nelson is a little different, as he isn’t expected to line up as a start right away or carry high expectations. But don’t sleep on the former Hawkeyes standout. Despite not having the quickest burst, and not being the most flexible pass rusher on the roster, his motor is wide open 100 percent of the time and his intelligence and football awareness can help overcome the few deficiencies he has from a pure athletic standpoint.
Nelson can play with his hand in the dirt, but the Bucs also think he can stand up as an edge linebacker in a 3-4 look a well. As Scott Reynolds and I said during the draft, he isn’t as fast or loose as Carl Nassib, or as big as Will Gholston, but is kind of a mix of the two. Nelson could probably add some weight to his frame to be more of an edge-setting run-stuffer, or could drop a few pounds and thrive as a linebacker. Either way, pre-draft, many scouts believe he still had some untapped potential as a pass rusher after getting a career-high 9.5 sacks last year.
The one thing that hasn’t been debated is his character. Nelson will also work as hard as anyone who Tampa Bay selected this season, and as mentioned, will have his motor revved from the first snap to the last snap in a game. It will be interesting to see how the coaches decide to utilize Nelson in their new defense, but regardless where he settles in at, he is a solid bet to make the team and contribute this year, and looks to have been a great value in the fourth round. And Tampa Bay might have found their replacement for Nassib in 2020 if the former Penn State pass rusher, who is on the last year of his contract, isn’t re-signed for some reason next offseason.
Taylor Jenkins: Auburn CB Jamel Dean
It’s been a long road for Jamel Dean. From three major knee surgeries and being deemed medically ineligible to play at Ohio State to two healthy years at Auburn before being drafted in the third round of the NFL draft by Tampa Bay.
The pick comes with obvious risk, but Dean had begun to sneak up some cornerback rankings before the draft and landed in a scheme with Tampa Bay where he will be at his best. Dean will likely need some time to adjust at the NFL level but he’s shown some solid play on tape, and his size, athleticism and speed fit the bill for what Todd Bowles wants in his defensive backs. At 6-foot-1 and over 200 pounds, Dean plays huge for a cornerback, and with all the physicality in the world while excelling in man coverage at the college level, still runs a legit sub-4.4 40-yard dash. At the NFL Scouting Combine, Dean clocked in with an unofficial 4.30.
It’s going to be fun to see what happens with the competition at cornerback in Tampa Bay’s training camp where two separate practices will allow Dean to get plenty of reps without the added pressure that his former teammate at Auburn, Carlton Davis, dealt with as he was thrown into the fire as a nearly immediate starter across from Brent Grimes last year as a second-round pick. Obviously that’s accounting for a healthy secondary by the time the season rolls around.
Dean’s biggest adjustments will lie in the things that you can teach, which is huge for his impact moving forward as a pro. He needs to improve his ball skills as he has just two career interceptions and both of them came last year while breaking up 17 passes over the last two seasons. Speed and athleticism can’t be taught, but Dean can continue to develop his play in press coverage. And he can learn how to use his hands more effectively at the line of scrimmage and can learn how to put his nose in the play, get off of downfield blocks and use his plus-tackling ability to be a consistent factor in taking down the ball-carrier.
Matt Matera: Central Michigan CB Sean Bunting
The Bucs secondary struggled mightily last year and was the weakest part of the defensive unit. This defense has been starving for turnovers, particularly for interceptions from their defensive backs, and that’s where Bunting fits in, he’s a ball-hawking corner. As he has described himself, Bunting is a “receiving” defensive back.
Even after selecting two corners in the second round of the 2018 draft, the Bucs felt they still needed to address this area in 2019, especially with M.J. Stewart really struggling last year. The lack of turnovers needs to change, as their top two corners, Vernon Hargreaves and Carlton Davis has a combined one career interception. Bunting had nine interceptions, 15 pass breakups, and four forced fumbles in three years at Central Michigan, showing that one way or another, he’s always around the football.
The Bucs had only nine interceptions last season, and almost half of them came from one bad Cam Newton game where Andrew Adams had three and Javien Elliott added another. Bunting can help Tampa Bay increase those numbers right away.
While many were clamoring for the Bucs to select LSU cornerback Greedy Williams with their second-round pick, Bunting is a proper fit for Todd Bowles’ scheme. Outside of his turnover-making ability, he’s got good size as a 6-foot, lanky corner, along with very good speed. Bunting ran a 4.42 at the Combine, and had a 41.5-inch vertical jump, which was fourth best among all defensive backs. He excels at finding the ball in the air, using his vertical leaping ability and size to take the ball before his opponent can.
He may not have played against best of competition at Central Michigan, but Bunting did playing against current NFL talents Corey Davis and Kenny Golladay, holding his own against each player. That should prepare him well for going against the Julio Joneses of the world. Bunting has a chance to have an important role as the slot corner for the Bucs. His size, speed, and physicality makes him a good fit at that position in this defense.