One way or another, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers will need to address their cornerback position in the upcoming 2021 NFL Draft.
Tampa has four cornerbacks on its roster currently, three of which align outside and one primarily in the slot. The starters appear set with Carlton Davis III and Jamel Dean playing the boundaries while Sean Murphy-Bunting mans the slot, but depth and perhaps some competition remains a must. Herb Miller, a second-year, former undrafted free agent, is the only backup at the position.
The question is: Going by the "best player available" strategy that Tampa Bay intends to follow in the upcoming draft, could the Bucs take a cornerback in the first round?
They could have the option to do so, and they might benefit from such a selection.
Tampa Bay's coverage schemes favor lengthy, fast outside cornerbacks who handle man coverage well. As the Bucs' defense plays more aggressively, coordinator Todd Bowles likes to infuse press concepts. This will tend to favor a certain breed of cornerback prospects over others, at least when it comes to playing the boundary.
Acknowledging the Bucs' type at corner, Virginia Tech's Caleb Farley, Northwestern's Greg Newsome II, and Georgia's Eric Stokes, among others, are considered first-to-early-second-round prospects that would make sense for Tampa Bay at No. 32.
Barring a massive slip, it's unlikely that Alabama's Patrick Surtain and South Carolina's Jaycee Horn won't be available when the Bucs are on the clock. Farley is generally considered a mid-to-high first-round pick but could fall after opting out of the 2020 college football season and a recent back surgery.
We've written at length about Tampa's ability to address their long-term needs on the defensive and offensive lines before, but the cornerback position provides a similar argument. Davis enjoyed a breakout, four-interceptions season in 2020 and could look to cash in next year as an imminent free agent. Dean and Murphy-Bunting's contracts are set to expire next offseason as well.
Not to mention, Tampa Bay's secondary was far from perfect throughout the Super Bowl run of a 2020 season. The unit gained momentum near the end of the season and performed lights-out throughout the playoffs, but it has to be hard for the Bucs to feel totally comfortable on the backend after some down individual performances throughout the year.
At times, Dean struggled against more agile receivers and was exposed on shorter, in-breaking routes. He thrives in deeper coverage as one of the NFL's fastest corners, but isn't as strong in press coverage nor as fluid as necessary to mirror routes that break off of the vertical stem. Dean is a solid starter and far from a legitimate issue for Tampa Bay's secondary, but it wouldn't hurt to add some competition at CB No. 2 while targeting depth in general.
As Arians indicated in March, the Buccaneers feel as though they do not have a drastic need. The team can draft solely based on their board of prospects and make strong positions even stronger.
"This year, going into this draft is probably going to be the best player available, I mean every round, you know?" Arians said. "So it's going to be fun because there's going to be so many guys available. So it's just, you know, the beauty pageant part of it, throwing, who, we like this corner better than that back or this defensive end ... and how much can they help us on special teams right away?"
If the best player available at No. 32 is a cornerback, the Bucs might benefit from selecting that player. No matter what, the room needs bodies in case of an injury or if one or more of the starters is to depart in free agency next year. Competition is also always a plus, even at positions of strength, and the cornerback could use competition arguably more than most positions on the roster.