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Draft breakdown: Bucs need influx of DB talent

TAMPA — As much as the Bucs finished one interception short of the NFL lead last season, and as much as they return their secondary nearly intact for next season, defensive back might be the position most likely to be addressed with multiple picks in next week's draft, which begins Thursday in Philadelphia.

In the past three years, the Bucs have drafted only two defensive backs — cornerbacks Vernon Hargreaves and Ryan Smith last year — and that matches San Diego for the lowest total in the NFL in that time. The league average is 4.6, with a high of eight, by the 49ers.

So though Hargreaves and veteran Brent Grimes look entrenched at cornerback, and though the Bucs have competition for the starting safety jobs, they need an influx of young talent, especially from a draft considered deep in defensive backs.

"(Safety) is one position that we'll continually look for depth or for starters," general manager Jason Licht said. "We've got a good group right now. … If we can add to that competition, that would be even better."

There's little depth behind the starters at cornerback, and the Bucs could find an upgrade at nickel, where they used two undrafted players last year. Jude Adjei-Barimah and Javien Elliott played well, but neither had an interception. In theory, a rookie cornerback could break in at nickel this year and eventually take over at outside corner for Grimes, who turns 34 in July and is in the last year of his contract.

There's an opening for a fourth safety, with Chris Conte, Keith Tandy and newcomer J.J. Wilcox competing for the two starting positions now, with Wilcox essentially displacing Bradley McDougald, who wasn't re-signed.

This draft could have a big safety presence in the first round. Ohio State's Malik Hooker and LSU's Jamal Adams are likely top-10 picks. Michigan's Jabrill Peppers, Washington's Budda Baker and Connecticut's Obi Melifonwu would likely be available when the Bucs are scheduled to be on the clock at No. 19.

The Bucs brought in USC corner Adoree' Jackson for a visit, spent significant time with Melifonwu and have looked at a pair of locals projected for the later rounds, Miami's Rayshawn Jenkins (Admiral Farragut) and USC's Leon McQuay (Armwood).

First-round options

Jabrill Peppers, S, Michigan: Has played linebacker and even running back but should be safety in NFL. Could be dangerous on returns as well.

Obi Melifonwu, S, Connecticut: Freakish athlete who is legit 6 feet 4 but ran 4.40 seconds in 40-yard dash at draft combine. Some teams have looked at him as a cornerback.

Gareon Conley, CB, Ohio State: Three Buckeyes defensive backs could be off the board before Bucs scheduled pick at No. 19. Had four interceptions as junior in 2016.

Mid-round options

Budda Baker, S, Washington: Smaller frame at 5-10, 195, but ran 4.45 40 at combine and played well in pass-happy Pac-12.

Adoree' Jackson, CB, USC: Won Jim Thorpe Award as nation's top DB, and also returned four kicks for touchdowns — two kickoffs and two punts.

Jalen Tabor, CB, Florida: Slow 40 times at combine and pro day have hurt prospect once projected as first-rounder. His college tape hasn't changed, though.

Late-round options

Rasul Douglas, CB, West Virginia: Had breakout season with eight interceptions in 2016. Good size. Mountaineers have had DB pipeline to NFL in recent years.

Rayshawn Jenkins, S, Miami: Admiral Farragut graduate had five interceptions over past two seasons. Former high school QB has shown he's a hitter who can also cover.

Jalen Myrick, CB, Minnesota: Ridiculous speed with 4.28 40 at combine. Likely a nickel corner inside in NFL. Can help on kickoff returns.

Draft breakdown: Bucs need influx of DB talent 04/19/17 [Last modified: Wednesday, April 19, 2017 9:04pm]
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