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Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Kevin Ross: Zyon McCollum Will Be Most Improved Buc

Second-year CB Zyon McCollum has an opportunity to make more of an impact on defense in 2023 and his position coach thinks he's poised to make a big leap this fall


The Tampa Bay Buccaneers did not have a pick in the fourth round of last week's NFL Draft, but that round could still have a big impact on their 2023 season.

The Buccaneers were without their fourth-rounder this year because General Manager Jason Licht had shipped it to Jacksonville a year ago in order to pick up an extra fifth-rounder in the 2022 draft. That selection was used on supremely athletic Sam Houston State cornerback Zyon McCollum.

McCollum had the sort of up-and-down season one expects from a rookie cornerback in the NFL, particularly one drafted on Day Three. His size-speed combination made him an instant success on special teams, where his most prominent role was as a gunner on punt coverage, and he had nine kick-coverage tackles, playoffs included. As a cornerback, he logged 277 snaps on defense, most of it during a two-game midseason stretch while Carlton Davis was hurt and then in Week 18 when the Bucs sat most of their starters.

McCollum's rookie totals on defense included 17 tackles and one pass defensed. He saw some action both as an outside corner and in the slot, and Cornerbacks Coach Kevin Ross identified him as one of the options to pick up the as-yet-unclaimed snaps as the nickel corner this coming season. That job is open for competition because Antoine Winfield Jr. is moving back into a safety-only role and potential options Sean Murphy-Bunting and Mike Edwards left in free agency.

With the outside corner spots occupied by Davis and Jamel Dean, who have both landed new long-term contracts over the past two offseasons, the path for McCollum or any other young defensive back trying to get onto the field is clearest in the slot. However, none of the Bucs' three main corners of the last few seasons – Davis, Dean and Murphy-Bunting – has played a full 17-game season the last two years, and Davis and Dean have yet to make it through a season without missing some time. If McCollum comes to be seen as the third option at outside corner, there's a decent chance he'll see meaningful action at some point.

And if either of those two things happen, Ross expects a positive outcome. In fact, he thinks McCollum is poised to make the biggest leap forward of any Buccaneer in 2023 – not just in his position room but on the entire roster.

"I expect him to be the most improved player on both sides of the ball," said Ross. "Period."

McCollum definitely has the tools to develop into a very good NFL player. He put up ridiculous numbers at the 2022 Scouting Combine, including a 4.33-second 40-yard dash, an 11-foot broad jump and sizzling times in the change-of-direction skills. It all added up to a 99 Athleticism Score – on a scale that stops at 100 – the best among all cornerbacks who were tested.

If that didn't immediate translate to outstanding results on defense in his rookie year, that was in part due to a hamstring injury that delayed his start until the fifth regular-season game. He's healthy now and about to enjoy the fruits of his first full offseason in the NFL. Ross expects improvements across the board.

"From every aspect of his game – the tackling, the coverage, the whole thing," said the coach. "He was doing well until he got hurt, he got a little setback and that position right there you need as many reps as you possibly can get, different looks and things like that. So, it held him back a little bit but he's very smart, he's a very intelligent football player. His football IQ is off the chart. I like his chances of really improving big time."

The best corners in the game get beat every now and then, occasionally giving up a big play. The ones who can maintain their success over a long period are the ones who can shoo any thoughts of that bad moment away before their next snap and remain confident. Ross said that McCollum will have no problem establishing that kind of mindset.

"He's not lacking confidence at all," said Ross. "I don't think anybody in that room is lacking confidence. We stress what you have to be, you've got to be a different animal to play out there and it's not like you're playing the A-Gap and B-Gap. Out there you're being exposed. You guys see that before you see the lineman or linebackers making plays, so they don't have a lot of room for errors, like a stuntman."

The Bucs maintained some stability in their secondary by getting those deals done with Davis and Dean, but they've seen a number of other defensive backs depart over the past two years. There will be some new contributors in the secondary this year and moving forward. Clearly, Ross thinks McCollum will be a big part of that transition.

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