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Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Slot Corner Job Up for Grabs in Bucs' Camp

The Bucs have at least five candidates to take over for Antoine Winfield in the slot, but no clear starter as training camp begins


The Tampa Bay Buccaneers won't put out their first 'official-unofficial' depth chart until the week of their preseason opener against Pittsburgh, but if they did so know it would have a glaring hole at one front-line spot. As the Bucs begin their 2023 training camp, they do not yet have a player they have identified as their starting nickel back.

The slot corner job isn't always displayed along with the starters on a printed depth chart, but it most definitely barks and wags its tail like one. In the modern NFL, most offenses run more than 50% of their plays with a third receiver on the field, which necessarily means that an extra defensive back is in the mix more often than not. It's an important job, one that requires a specific set of skills, which makes finding the starting nickel one of the Bucs' more pressing tasks in this year's camp.

In the weeks ahead, the Buccaneers will either identify a starting slot corner already on the roster or seek help in what's left of free agency. That makes every player listed at cornerback, and even some of the safeties, a potential candidate.

"All of them right now," said Head Coach Todd Bowles of the list of defensive backs on the roster under consideration. "We haven't ruled anybody out at the nickel spot. We don't have a starting nickel at this point in time. We think we have one in house, but if we do not, we will go out and get one."

The Buccaneers are seeking to replace Antoine Winfield Jr., who played a hybrid safety-slot position last season but is going to focus exclusively on free safety this year. Two potential options to take over Winfield, Sean Murphy-Bunting and Mike Edwards, left in free agency. That leaves a lot of young players in prime position to compete for that job, and Bowles identified five of them on Tuesday: 2022 draftee Zyon McCollum, returning (but relatively inexperienced) veterans Dee Delaney and Anthony Chesley, sixth-round rookie Josh Hayes and undrafted free agent safety Christian Izien.

"For right now, I think there are about four or five guys battling for that spot, whether it's Zyon, Delaney, Izien, Hayes or Chesley," said Bowles. "We've got a bunch of guys who can play that position."

McCollum stands out a bit in that sub-group of five because his 6-2, 200-pound frame looks like that of an outside corner, not a slot-dweller. But, barring injuries, the Bucs have their two starting outside corners in Carlton Davis and Jamel Dean, so they may have to find other ways to get McCollum involved.

"I think Zyon [McCollum] had a great spring and we're looking for him to play a bigger role this year," said Bowles. "Obviously, Winfield, Carlton and Dean have played together for a while now. Ryan Neal coming in, he has great communication, and he brings great leadership. We're really looking for the top guys to be in-sync as camp goes on."

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