The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are focusing on defense early in the 2019 NFL Draft, and their targeting players who love the game and have a knack for getting to the football.
After selecting LSU linebacker Devin White with the fifth-overall pick on Thursday night, the Buccaneers started up again on Friday evening with the selection of Central Michigan cornerback Sean Bunting at number 39, seven spots into the second round. This is the first time since 2016 that Tampa Bay has used both of its first two picks on defense.
Bunting (6-0, 195) has good size to match up with bigger receivers, which are ever more common in the NFL. He's also a playmaker, having picked off nine passes in the past three years, including five as a sophomore in 2017. Bunting's 24 passes defensed in 37 games illustrate his nose for the football, and he has also forced four fumbles over the past two campaigns. Bunting declared early for the draft and followed up with an outstanding Combine that included a 4.42-second 40-yard dash and a 41.5-inch vertical leap.
View photos of CB Sean Bunting.
"He's a very, very gifted athlete," said Buccaneers Director of Player Personnel John Spytek. "You see all the measurables. Measurables can be measurables, but he's fast and he's quick and he's got great natural body control. He's got great ball skills. He has nine career interceptions. When he plays the ball, you see a guy who can really play the ball. I think if you're going to take a corner that high, he needs to take the ball back. He also has four forced fumbles in his career and he kind of has a knack for getting the ball back."
The Bucs started their 2019 draft efforts with a high-profile player from a big program but turned to a smaller school in Round Two, making Bunting the first player they have ever drafted out of Central Michigan. He is also the third-highest drafted player in school history, after tackles Eric Fisher (first overall in 2013) and Joe Staley (28th overall in 2007), and the earliest the Buccaneers have ever tabbed a product of the Mid-American Conference (MAC).
As it was, Bunting almost didn't even get a chance to play for the Chippewas. His path from a lightly-recruited three-sport athlete to a second-round draft pick was one of perseverance.
Coming out of high school in Macomb, Michigan, Bunting was slight, standing about 5-10 and 145 pounds, and he got just one D1 scholarship offer, from Central Michigan and Head Coach Dan Enos. However, Enos resigned from CMU early in 2015 and Bunting saw his opportunity evaporate. With the help of his mother, Bunting drove up to Mount Pleasant and appealed directly to the new staff under John Bonamego and was given the option to greyshirt. That involved sitting out a season and beginning his playing career in 2016. It didn't take him long to take advantage of that opportunity.
"There's some adversity there, to get through that," said Spytek. "There's a love to play the game. A lot of kids would have said, 'It's not in the cards for me.' He kept fighting because he loves the game."
Tampa Bay's pass defense struggled in 2018, surrendering 259.4 yards per game to rank 25th in the NFL and allowing an opposer passer rating of 110.9. However, the team not only has the aforementioned new scheme under Bowles but also has quite a bit of young talent to sort through. Counting Bunting, the Buccaneers have now selected six defensive backs in the last four drafts: cornerbacks Bunting, Vernon Hargreaves, M.J. Stewart and Carlton Davis and safeties Justin Evans and Jordan Whitehead. Head Coach Bruce Arians has expressed confidence in Hargreaves and Davis as his starting corners in the team's new press-man scheme but the preponderance of three-receiver offensive sets means that defenses often have at least three cornerbacks on the field.
Though his height and length probably ticket him for a job on the outside in the long run, Bunting could get his first opportunity in the slot, depending upon how the depth chart shakes out.
"We'll play the best three," said Spytek. "He's a good enough athlete to play in there. You look at him and say, 'We've got a six-foot, 195-pound kid that ran a 4.41; he's probably tailor-made and ideal to play on the outside. He's probably going to end up on the outside in his career but if he needs to play nickel for a year or two, there's no reason to think he can't do that."