The Buccaneers' 53-Man roster.
Before the final roster cut-down to 53 players, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers had six cornerbacks they felt could contribute this season, including their 2016 first-round draft pick and five veterans with extensive NFL experience. They decided to keep them all.
Cornerback and defensive end – the two positions on Tampa Bay's depth chart that appeared to need the most work heading into the 2016 offseason – are now two of the deepest spots on the team. That's true simply by the numbers, as the combined 16 players at those positions represents 30% of the roster, but it's also supported by the team's preseason performance. After allowing an NFL-high and team record 70% completion percentage to opponents last year, the Buccaneers finished their warm-up slate with the top-rated pass defense, a league-best 16 sacks and an opposing completion rate of 49.6%.
READ: Bucs Trim Roster to 53
First-round pick Vernon Hargreaves III joins a cornerback crew that also consists of 2016 unrestricted free agents Brent Grimes and Josh Robinson and 2015 holdovers Alterraun Verner, Johnthan Banks and Josh Robinson. All six had standout moments during the preseason, with Banks keeping his spot secure by breaking up a team-high five passes in four games.
The Buccaneers also used both free agency and a high draft pick to bolster their defensive line, adding former New York Giants defensive end Robert Ayers in March and investing a high second-round pick in Eastern Kentucky's Noah Spence. The surprise inclusions on a 10-deep line were a pair of undrafted free agents: Auburn tackle DaVonte Lambert and Ole Miss end Channing Ward.
The Buccaneers may choose to further tweak their roster over the weekend as the waiver wire reveals hundreds of players released on Saturday. For now, however, here are some additional observations about the team's initial 53-man roster following Saturday's cuts:
1. There is balance between offense and defense.
The Bucs' 53-player list includes 25 offensive players and 25 defensive players, with the final three spots going to specialists Robert Aguayo, Bryan Anger and Jacob Schum. The defensive line got one more spot than the offensive line, 10-9, but the offense made up for it with five tight ends and three quarterbacks. Below are the numbers Tampa Bay kept at each position.
That's a large number of tight ends (teams often keep three on their 53-man roster) but it's unsurprising given that the position occupies two spots on the depth chart. Cameron Brate, Austin Seferian-Jenkins and Brandon Myers are grouped at what is generally referred to as the "Y" position in "11" (three-WR) and "12" (two-TE sets) formations. Stocker and Cross are in the second tight end spot, which could be referred to as "F" in that "12" personnel grouping. Those roles can be interchangeable to some degree, and Stocker and Cross are considered strong blockers.
The Buccaneers used two-tight end formations frequently in 2015, Dirk Koetter's first season calling the plays, and may do so even more in 2016. That seems to be hinted at by the decision to also keep five receivers, rather than holding onto six at the expense of one of the five tight ends.
Similarly on defense, the team currently has just five linebackers, when six might be considered a more common number. That allowed the team to hang on to all six of those cornerbacks but also indicates that defensive backs such as Banks, Adjei-Barimah and Robinson are going to be counted on heavily on special teams. Reserve linebackers, of which the Bucs only have two, are often core players in the kicking game.
2. Two positions lacking in experienced depth could get a significant boost in that regard around midseason.
Not counting against the Buccaneers' 53-man roster are guard J.R. Sweezy and wide receiver Louis Murphy, both of whom were put on the reserve/PUP list earlier in the week. They will not be eligible to begin practicing with the team until the seventh week of the season, after which the team will have a 21-day window to evaluate the players and choose when and if to put them back on the 53-man roster. That means Sweezy and Murphy could return to game action anywhere between the October 23 game in San Francisco and the November 3 home game against Atlanta.
Their respective returns would add experienced depth – and possibly signal a lineup change – at two spots that could use it. The team actually has two reserve linemen with significant NFL experience in tackle Gosder Cherilus and the second man in the Joe Hawley/Evan Smith battle at center. Beyond that, however, the remainder of the O-Line is fifth-round pick Caleb Benenoch and undrafted rookie Leonard Wester. Sweezy, who was originally signed to fill the starting left guard spot vacated by a retiring Logan Mankins, would either add to that depth or push one of the starting five into a backup role.
The Bucs have a very productive duo of starting receivers in Mike Evans and Vincent Jackson and think they 've found their answer in the slot in second-year man Adam Humphries. The other two receivers on the depth chart are Russell Shepard, who has seven career receptions, and Evan Spencer, who has yet to play in a regular-season NFL game. Murphy has caught 162 passes over seven NFL seasons, including 41 for the Buccaneers over the past two years.
3. As Head Coach Dirk Koetter suggested was likely, the Buccaneers kept all three of their quarterbacks.
Koetter recently described the ideal regular-season quarterback arrangement as two players among the active 53 and a third, developmental passer on the practice squad. For 2016, however, the team will have to go a different route, just as it did last year, thanks to its continued belief in second-year quarterback Ryan Griffin.
Jameis Winston, of course, is entrenched as the starter after a superb rookie season, and Koetter has referred to Glennon as one of the best backup quarterbacks in the league. Griffin's presence is a nod to the unavoidable fact that Glennon will become an unrestricted free agent after the 2016 season. If Glennon departs for a better shot at starting elsewhere, the Buccaneers will need a new number-two man and they think it could be Griffin.
Griffin was one of two young quarterbacks on whom the team was ready to pounce a year ago if they were released by their original teams. New Orleans let Griffin go – it's possible they were hoping to add him to the practice squad – and the Bucs snapped him up. In order not to expose him to being signed away again, Tampa Bay had to keep him on the 53-man roster throughout the season, even though he never stepped on the field. It appears they are ready to do so again in 2016.
4. The D-Line looks deeper on the edge than in the middle, but that doesn't take in the versatility of several players.
The Bucs spent training camp looking over a defensive tackle group headed by the experienced trio of Gerald McCoy, Clinton McDonald and Akeem Spence and backed up by mostly young players with little or no NFL playing history. From that group they chose just one to keep: undrafted rookie DaVonte Lambert.
On the other hand, the end position is loaded with the likes of Ayers, Noah Spence, William Gholston, Jacquies Smith, Howard Jones and undrafted rookie Channing Ward. Smith led that group in the preseason with 4.0 sacks but Jones (2.0), Gholston (1.0), Noah Spence (1.0) and Ayers (0.5) all got into the act as well. Neither Smith nor Spence are necessarily going to start this season but they will be counted on heavily as pass-rushers.
The busiest person on that list, however, may end up being Ayers, who is slated to start at right defensive ends. In order to get another one of those edge rushers on the field on obvious passing downs, Ayers also frequently shifts to defensive tackle. Gholston can do the same thing, which essentially means that the team can keep five players active on game day that are capable of rotating in at defensive tackle and giving a break to the front three of McCoy, McDonald and Akeem Spence.
5. The 2016 draft class could make a big impact.
There are 10 rookies among the 53 players the Bucs kept through Saturday's cuts. Again, that could change in the days that follow, but there are clearly some NFL newcomers who are going to be relied on heavily.
Those 10 include six of the seven players the Buccaneers drafted in the spring. Hargreaves, the 11th-oerall pick, gradually picked up first-team playing time as the preseason progressed and will undoubtedly be on the field quite a bit, whether it's on the outside or in the slot. As noted just above, second-rounder Noah Spence will get plenty of opportunity to rush the passer.
Second-round kicker Roberto Aguayo obviously has that job to himself, and he finished the preseason by making his last 11 kicks. Fourth-round safety Ryan Smith is one of just four players the team kept at his position and thus has an excellent chance of being active on game days.
Benenoch's development has been slowed by a UCLA class schedule that forced him to miss most of the team's offseason program, as well as a training camp injury. He played in the finale against Washington, however, and now finds himself just one injury away from being relied upon on Sundays. Cherilus and the non-starter out of the Hawley/Smith competition seem like the most likely players to be active reserves on game day, but Benenoch is presumably next in line for that duty.
Bond, the sixth-rounder out of Oklahoma, is one of just two linebacker reserves, as mentioned above. Both he and Adarius Glanton are likely to be active on game days and used significantly on special teams.