With Vernon Hargreaves healthy again and back in a system that will allow him to do what he does best and play pressman, he and Carlton Davis should be the starting outside CBs for the Bucs. While Justin Evans has had some injuries and inconsistency, and Jordan Whitehead had an up and down rookie year, Tampa is likely happy with their two young starting safety’s. Depth at both spots is in good shape with Ryan Smith, Devante Harris, MJ Stewart, and Isiah Johnson still around, but the Bucs have a huge hole at Nickel CB with noone currently on the roster looking capable of playing that spot. Clearly the team would have liked to have brought in Tyrann Mathieu to be the playmaker he was for Bowles in Arizona, but cap restrictions prevented that luxury. With that said, the Bucs are likely prepared to use a Day 2 or early Day 3 pick to add some talent to a secondary that got picked on an awful lot the last few years, and someone who can plug in and play the nickel will be the priority.
JUAN THORNHILL (6′, 205 lbs, 4.42sec 40dash) is a DB who has experience at both CB and S at the collegiate level. One of the best athletes in the draft, Thornhill showed off tremendous speed and quickness, while jumping out of the gym with a 44″ vertical and a 141″ broad jump. Thornhill also possesses the ability to take the ball away, leading his team in interceptions each of the last 3 years, where he showed off the hands and ball skills you usually don’t find in defensive players. Thornhill seems custom built to be that playmaking CB/S hybrid who operates out of the slot, the question is mostly how early does he go in the draft and is that position worth that much of an investment for the Bucs.
CHAUNCEY GARDNER-JOHNSON (5’11”, 210 lbs, 4.48sec 40dash) is another excellent athlete who appears to be custom built for that hybrid CB/S/Nickel role. The Bucs even brought him in for a private visit, so he certainly could be a target. While CGJ also does possess the skills to take the ball away, just as impressively he makes himself impactful against the run from the slot position where he plays like another LB. His versatility could make him a desirable fit, but like with Thornhill the question is how early are you willing to take the guy.
DARNELL SAVAGE (5’11”, 198 lbs, 4.36sec 40dash) might be a little smaller, but he’s another playmaking slot hybrid player with tremendous athleticism. He also met with the Bucs privately which shows that this is a position Tampa is looking to address during this draft. But not only does Savage bring quick twitch athleticism, he also brings a high IQ which is something the team could value as his instincts remind of Tyrann Mathieu. Like with Mathieu though, Savage is undersized, and might have put on empty weight for the combine to make himself look bigger than he actually is. Still, Savage plays the game with the attitude and smarts coaches love, while also possessing the skills and athleticism to make plays in the NFL.
NASIR ADDERLEY (6′, 206 lbs, 4.54sec 40dash) The main thing that separates Adderley from the guys above him on this list, is that he wasn’t able to show off his elite athleticism during workouts. Adderley didn’t workout at the combine due to a ankle injury, and then pulled up lame during his pro day 40 where he still managed to jog out an impressive 4.54 second run. On tape Adderley is another player with ballskills and experience all over the defensive backfield. But not only has Adderley shown an ability to take the ball away, but he’s also shown a willingness to inflict pain on whoever gets in his way. There are going to be coaches who see a rare player and are going to fall in love with Adderley’s tape due to his ability to be impactful against both the run and the pass, and I wouldn’t be surprised if Todd Bowles was one of those coaches.
JAQUAN JOHNSON (5’10” 191lbs, 4.69sec 40dash) went from being regarded to one of the top DBs in this class to a Day 3 pick after a disastrous combine. His small stature was evident on tape, but he might have removed himself from some draft boards completely with his near 4.7 40 yard dash. Some teams might view that lack of speed as a fatal flaw of sorts, so don’t be surprised if Johnson falls far on draft day. However, on tape, Johnson appears to have the quickness, toughness, ball skills, and smarts to excel in a nickel back role. If the Bucs aren’t able to address this specific need earlier in the draft, Johnson would be a great consolation prize. He has all the making of an over achiever and is someone who could outplay his talent and eventually emerge as a steal from this draft. He may not have the deep speed to play FS or CB, and he might be undersized, but he could excel as a playmaking nickel, as Johnson just has rare instincts and seems to know where the ball is going even before the QB does.