The Tampa Bay Buccaneers' cornerback room has been one of if not the most injured position group in the NFL this year.
Despite a total of five starters (three from the Week 1 lineup and two fill-ins) missing at least one game, however, the unit has held up well as the Bucs are allowing 257.8 passing yards per game, slightly below league average as that ranks 20th in the NFL.
Thanks, in large part, to the play of third-year corner Jamel Dean.
Dean has been injured along the way himself but has only missed one game and an occasional few snaps before returning to the field. And when he's been on the field, he's been as solid as a rock.
The box score stats through eight games are impressive enough, as Dean has tallied 29 tackles, a tackle for loss, tied his single-season career-high with two interceptions, and broken up seven passes.
However, when you look deeper than the stat sheet, you realize that Dean has been more than productive: He's been one of the best cornerbacks in the NFL.
Dean has allowed only 13 receptions on 30 targets this year, giving up a completion percentage in coverage of 43.3% according to Pro Football Focus. Dean is allowing receivers to tally just 18.6 yards per game when they line up against him. Receivers have also gained only nine yards after the catch against Dean since Week 2.
Quarterbacks own a passer rating of 39.6 when targeting Dean, per PFF, which is equivalent to a quarterback's rating when they throw an incomplete pass (but not an interception) on a given play.
Of course, it's worth mentioning that Dean has not faced all too many distinguished quarterbacks and wide receivers in the league, taking on dynamic offenses twice this year, owned by the Dallas Cowboys and Los Angeles Rams. Dean's worst performance of the year came against the Dak Prescott-led Cowboys in Week 1 and he left the Rams game against Matthew Stafford and Co. after 12 snaps due to injury.
Still, even Dean's showing against the Cowboys was satisfactory, allowing five receptions on nine targets for 58 yards and a touchdown, those numbers coming against stud receivers in Amari Cooper and CeeDee Lamb (plus two incomplete targets to Michael Gallup). He was far from Tampa Bay's worst coverage defender in Dallas' 29-point outing.
The Buccaneers are optimistic that their cornerback room will be closer to full health if not completely healthy next week when Tampa Bay returns from its bye.
The re-additions of Carlton Davis III and Sean Murphy-Bunting should certainly help the Buccaneers improve upon their pass defense ranking, but so long as Dean keeps up his stellar play while Davis and Murphy-Bunting return to form, the Bucs' cornerback room has the potential to be one of the NFL's best in the second half of the 2021 season.
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