Position Group: Cornerbacks
Players: Carlton Davis, Sean Murphy-Bunting, Jamel Dean, Ross Cockrell, Pierre Desir, Richard Sherman, Dee Delaney, Rashard Robinson
2021 Evaluation: Of all the injuries sustained across the defense, and really the entire team towards the back half of the season, the cornerback room was likely the one hit the hardest. It started in Week One when Murphy-Bunting went down with an elbow injury against the Dallas Cowboys. A sequence of injuries to both Jamel Dean and Carlton Davis followed, necessitating the acquisition of veteran free agent Richard Sherman by Week Four, in which three days after he arrived in Tampa, Sherman played 98% of the team's defensive snaps after Dean became a late scratch in New England. Davis missed the following seven games as he went on injured reserve. Sherman himself then missed time. Murphy-Bunting wouldn't return until Week 11 against the Giants. In fact, the three starting corners (Murphy-Bunting, Dean, Davis) didn't actually start a game together, barring the season opener, until Week 13.
It meant that the Buccaneers' back level was in flux more often than it wasn't and the movement necessitated other players to step in and step up – often with short notice. It was guys like Cockrell (who split time at safety), Delaney and Desir, who came in the beginning of October after spending training camp with the Seattle Seahawks. The nine-year vet played in 12 games for the Buccaneers, alternating between the outside corner spot and helping on special teams.
Despite all the shuffling and at one point letting up the most yards per game through the air, the Bucs finished with the 21st ranked passing defense, letting up an average of 238.9 passing yards per game. And even that number is a little skewed – with their reputation for having one of the best run defenses in the league, teams threw the ball more against the Bucs this year, which inflated the passing numbers. Consider that the Bucs ranked fourth in yards per passing play in the regular season, letting up an average of just 5.97. The only teams that did it better were Buffalo, New England and Cleveland. Tampa Bay tied for eighth in interceptions league-wide. That tells the real story of the cornerback unit, which was responsible for seven of 17 interceptions, this season.
2022 Outlook: Of those eight cornerbacks listed above, five are under contract with Davis, Sherman and Desir set to become free agents next month. Davis has been the Bucs' top performing corner since he arrived in 2018. Injuries marred his 2021 season but during the Bucs' 2020 Super Bowl run, he registered 68 combined tackles with four interceptions and ranked near the top of the league with 18 passes defensed. This was a season after he led the league in pass breakups with 19. Davis has also been the de facto leader of an extremely young group and will likely look to lock up a top corner contract with the Bucs, which makes him a question the team will have to answer come free agency. Both Dean and Murphy-Bunting remain under contract through 2023, as do Delaney and Cockrell. Robinson is signed to a futures contract, currently.