The Tampa Bay Buccaneers selected eight players in the 2018 NFL Draft, and six of them were still on the roster in 2021. Four of those six started in the Buccaneers' last game of the season, a narrow Divisional Round playoff loss to the eventual-champion Los Angeles Rams.
That's a good draft: four starters on a 2021 roster that tied for the best regular-season record in the NFL, all of whom were also key players on the 2020 Tampa Bay squad that won Super Bowl LV. That's also an issue for 2022. One of those four, Pro Bowl defensive lineman Vita Vea, signed a four-year contract extension about a month ago. The other three, however, have contracts that expire next month.
Cornerback Carlton Davis, guard Alex Cappa and safety Jordan Whitehead are all Class-of-2018 Buccaneers who are key figures on a long list of potential unrestricted free agents the Bucs are facing this offseason. That list is 23 players long and includes both older veterans like Ndamukong Suh and Will Gholston and younger players getting their first crack at a non-rookie deal. As the Bucs try for a second year in a row to keep a playoff-caliber core intact, they'll have some tough decisions to make regarding both groups.
The Bucs won't be able to keep all 23 of those potential free agents, but they'll try. And so, in the weeks leading up to the start of the new league year, we are going to look at 10 key players who are currently poised to become unrestricted free agents in mid-March. This is the full schedule of our 2022 Free Agent Focus rundown:
February 15: TE Rob Gronkowski
February 17: G Alex Cappa
February 22: CB Carlton Davis
February 24: QB Blaine Gabbert
March 1: DL Ndamukong Suh
March 3: RB Leonard Fournette
March 8: DL Will Gholston
March 10: WR Chris Godwin
March 14: S Jordan Whitehead
March 15: C Ryan Jensen
This list is subject to change based on potential roster moves in the coming weeks. However, today we will focus on one of those three starters from the 2018 draft who are in line for a second contract, quite possibly in Tampa.
Player: Carlton Davis
Age at the Start of the 2022 Season: 25
Experience: Entering fifth NFL season
How Acquired: Selected in the second round (63rd overall) of the 2018 NFL Draft
Previous Contract(s): Davis played his first four seasons under the standard four-year contract given to draft picks outside of the first round.
Rank in Pro Football Focus Top 100 NFL Free Agents for 2021**:** 16th. PFF comment: "Carlton Davis is a talented No. 1 corner in pretty much any scheme. He has the profile of a corner that should excel in man coverage, but he has actually been better in zone shells throughout his NFL career. He would be a fit for most cornerback needy teams."
2021 Performance: Davis played in and started 10 regular season games in 2021, which was a career low for him, but he still led the team with 11 passes defensed. He spent eight weeks, including the bye, on injured reserve in the middle of the season due to a quad injury he sustained in the Bucs' Week Four win at New England.
Davis finished the 2021 regular season with one interception and one fumble recovery to go with those 11 passes defensed, in addition to 38 tackles, two of them for losses. He added seven tackles and a pass defensed in the playoffs. According to NFL Next Gen Stats, Davis allowed a -8.6 EPA (expected points added) when targeted, which ranked 15th among NFL cornerbacks with at least 50 targets in 2021. He also allowed a 53.4% completion percentage as the nearest defender, which was 3.9% better than the expected completion percentage. Overall, opposing quarterbacks had a passer rating of 75.9 when throwing to players with Davis as the nearest defender.
Career Accomplishments: Davis has been a starter for his full four years in Tampa, though he has missed two or more games due to injury in each of those campaigns. Overall, he has played in 51 games with 50 starts and has developed into the team's top cornerback, occasionally used as a shadow on the opponent's best receiver.
After adjusting to the NFL during a rookie season spent on the NFL's 27th-ranked defense, Davis thrived under the more aggressive schemes of Defensive Coordinator Todd Bowles, who arrived along with Bruce Arians in 2019. Over the next three seasons, he led all NFL players with 48 passes defensed, including 19 in 2019 and 18 in 2020. He set a career high and led the Buccaneers with four interceptions on the 2020 Super Bowl-winning team. During the Bucs' four-game postseason run to the title in 2020, he contributed another 22 tackles and three passes defensed.
In total, Davis has recorded 207 tackles, nine tackles for loss, six interceptions, 52 passes defensed and three fumble recoveries.
Other Potential Free Agent Cornerbacks: Stephon Gilmore (Carolina), Darious Williams (L.A. Rams), Casey Hayward (Las Vegas), Steven Nelson (Philadelphia), Bryce Callahan (Denver), Donte Jackson (Carolina), Charvarius Ward (Kansas City), D.J. Reed (Seattle), Robert Alford (Arizona), Patrick Peterson (Minnesota), Joe Haden (Pittsburgh), Rasul Douglas (Green Bay), K'Waun Williams (San Francisco), Ahkello Witherspoon (Pittsburgh), Levi Wallace (Buffalo), Sidney Jones (Seattle), Chris Harris (L.A. Chargers), CB Jason Verrett (San Francisco), Kyle Fuller (Denver), Mike Hughes (Kansas City), Desmond King (Houston)
Top Cornerback Prospects in 2022 NFL Draft: Ahmad Gardner (Cincinnati), Derek Stingley, Jr. (LSU), Kaiir Elam (Florida), Trent McDuffie (Washington), Andrew Booth (Clemson), Roger McCreary (Auburn), Martin Emerson (Mississippi State), Kyler Gordon (Washington), Derrion Kendrick (Georgia), Marcus Jones (Houston), Daxton Hill (Michigan), Akayleb Evans (Missouri), Alontae Taylor (Tennessee), Jalyn Armour-Davis (Alabama)