COMMENTARY | Possessing the NFL's worst pass defense in 2012, the task is clear that the Tampa Bay Bucs need to use the offseason to improve next year's fortunes against the dominant quarterbacks of a pass happy league. With four divisional games scheduled against Drew Brees and Matt Ryan, the team's shaky defensive backfield will certainly be tested. Additional match-ups with Tom Brady and Colin Kaepernick make the challenge even more daunting.
Much to the frustration of Tampa Bay fans, however, the club has not made substantial improvements to the undermanned unit. While the Bucs paid greatly to sign safety Dashon Goldson, the cornerback position has gone untouched. As management concentrates on adding backups and role players at other positions, top free agent corners, including Brent Grimes, Sean Smith, Greg Toler, and Nnamdi Asomugha, sadly found new homes away from Raymond James Stadium.
Indeed, with nearly $30 million of available salary cap space, many hope that Tampa Bay is waiting for a desperate New York Jets club to lower its asking price for Darrelle Revis. Yet, with the Bucs seemingly unwilling to part with their first round draft choice, the chances for such a deal are reducing almost as rapidly as the remaining free agent pool. Therefore, the team may be left solely to turn to the NFL Draft for improving a woeful defensive backfield. Here's a look at the top available cornerbacks and their prospects for finding their way into a Buccaneers' uniform.
Dee Milliner (Alabama) -- After three years of playing for Nick Saban's ferocious defensive, highlighted by a unanimous first team All-American selection in 2012, this junior is widely expected to be the first cornerback selected. Milliner came to Alabama as a top prospect and immediately lived up to that reputation by starting as a true freshman. The 6'1" player has good speed, a knack for the ball, and an unquestioned ability to tackle. Milliner will likely be off the board when the Bucs use their 13th overall selection. Nevertheless, tempted to reunite him with last year's top pick, and fellow Alabama product, safety Mark Barron, I would heartily support a trade to grab Milliner. If the cornerback is taken in the draft's top five picks, however, the asking price will likely be too high. The Bucs' best hope for landing MIlliner is that his stock falls near the tenth spot and a package of their 13th pick, combined with a second or third rounder, can enable moving up a few spots.
Xavier Rhodes (Florida State) -- Playing four years at Florida State University, the drafting of a local product with a first round pick is always popular. Since cornerback is a great need for the Bucs, followers should keep a close eye on this possible selection. With three interceptions and ten passes defended in 2012, Rhodes adequately demonstrated the ability to go for the ball. His efforts were rewarded with a first team All-ACC selection and the Miami native was a semi-finalist for the Jim Thorpe Award for the best defensive back in college football. At 6'2" and 217 pounds, Rhodes has great size to be a physical cornerback. However, the 23 year-old dealt with several injuries in college and lacks blazing speed. For Bucs' coach, Greg Schiano, this potential selection depends on what type of needed defensive back he believes will best fit into his system. Rhodes is a bit of a reach at the 13th spot, but given the club's deficiency at the position, the selection would not surprise.
Jamar Taylor (Boise State) -- Many draft analysts believe Taylor is the only other cornerback with first round potential this year. After playing as a reserve way back in 2008, the San Diego native red-shirted in 2009, before claiming a starting spot for the Broncos during the final three years of his college career. With plenty of experience, Taylor amassed 7 career interceptions, chased down 132 tackles, and earned a spot on the All-MWC team in 2012. Standing only 5'11" and 195 pounds, the undersized player does offer good speed and posted a 4.39 time in his 40 yard dash at the combine. Taylor often played in man coverage and his tackles display that he is not afraid to get dirty. The Bucs would be foolish to use the 13th overall selection on Taylor, but the prospect would be a steal with the 11th pick of the second round.
Desmond Trufant (Washington) -- Looking beyond the first round, this draft does contain some middle round value at cornerback and it is likely that several will go in the second round. Following placement on the All-Pac 12 team for 2012, Desmond Trufant leads the way and serves as a strong possibility for the Bucs' 43rd overall selection. With a background in track, Trufant possesses great athleticism and certainly has the right pedigree, as his older brothers Marcus and Isaiah play the same position for the Seattle Seahawks and New York Jets, respectively. The third Trufant brother was a four year starter for the Huskies and only missed one game due to injury in his career. Though Trufant snatched just one interception in 2012, he did exhibit diverse assets, including special teams play (highlighted by a blocked kick), which could help Tampa Bay immediately.
Johnthan Banks (Mississippi State) -- After playing safety during his freshman and sophomore campaigns, Banks made the switch to cornerback and thrived against SEC competition. In fact, the Mississippi native concluded a stellar run for the Bulldogs by earning the prestigious Jim Thorpe Award for 2012. Grabbing four interceptions last year increased his impressive career total to 16. Banks also accumulated over 200 total tackles, including an eye-popping 63 in his senior season. The 23 year-old is fairly physical, especially for a playing weight of only 185 pounds. Banks has great height at 6'2," but did post an underwhelming 4.61 second 40 yard dash time at the NFL combine. Ironically, NFL.com's draft analysis compares him to former Buc, Aqib Talib. While fans do not miss Talib's off-the-field problems, and lack of hustle on the field, Banks is a strong candidate for the team's second round pick.
Others to Watch: Robert Alford (SE Louisiana), Leon McFadden (San Diego State), David Amerson (N.C. State), Tyrann Mathieu (LSU), Sanders Commings (Georgia).
More by Jeff Briscoe from Yahoo! Contributor Network:
Jeff Briscoe is a writer who covers sports for the Yahoo! Contributor Network. A loyal Tampa Bay Bucs fan, he co-hosts the Florida-based radio show, The Sports Train.
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