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).