Cornerback M.J. Stewart was the second of the Bucs' second-round picks this year. Thanks to some crafty movement by Jason Licht and company, Tampa Bay had a total of three in that round. Stewart drew some criticism initially because for a corner, he's not terribly tall. At 5'11 and 200 pounds, his build actually looks more like a safety than corner. But it's that build, coupled with his crazy athleticism and work ethic that make Stewart one of the most versatile players in the secondary.
That was on display for the first day of practice. In fact, Stewart got in some second-team reps while the Bucs were in their nickel package, looking to be that second five-guy behind third-year player Vernon Hargreaves.
Stewart had success covering the slot yesterday, breaking up a pass meant for rookie wide receiver Erv Philips on the second team. What was even more encouraging to watch was Stewart's success when he was bumped back outside. He made a couple of really nice pass breakups down the sideline as well. And let me tell you – he kept pace with any receiver he covered.
In college, Stewart was a sure tackler with an acute awareness for the ball. In 2017, he registered 45 tackles, with five of those for a loss. He also had 12 pass breakups on the year, making him North Carolina's all-time career leader in the category. His sophomore season in 2015, Stewart had 14 pass breakups along with four interceptions on the year.
Stewart also has experience in returning the ball. He ranked top ten in the ACC for punt returns (15), punt return yards (170) and his per return average (11.3) in 2017. He could be looking to continue that kind of contribution on special teams at the NFL level.
The Bucs' secondary should look a little different this year, in general. The rotation of players is all but set and with three defensive backs taken in this year's draft, even the established vets will have to contend with some competition. Stewart seems to be a piece that can fit in at multiple spots, so keep an eye on him and where the Bucs decide to use him as you watch training camp.