NFC South: Eric Wright

Rapid Reaction: Tampa Bay Buccaneers

December, 15, 2013
12/15/13
4:09
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TAMPA, Fla. -- A few thoughts on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' 33-14 loss to the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday.

What it means: Another season of double-digit losses for a franchise that has had way too many of them. The Bucs are 4-10, but this one is especially painful because the Bucs squandered a chance to beat a good team for their fourth consecutive victory at Raymond James Stadium. Had that happened, coach Greg Schiano might have saved his job. Now, Schiano is firmly on the hot seat with two road games (St. Louis Rams and New Orleans Saints) remaining.

Drive of the day: After being bottled up most of the day, rookie quarterback Mike Glennon led an impressive touchdown drive that stretched from late in the third quarter until early in the fourth quarter.

Almost the play of the day: Linebacker Lavonte David appeared to have an interception return for a touchdown, but it was wiped out by an offside penalty on defensive tackle Gerald McCoy.

Ugly play of the day: The Bucs finally tried to get creative when they were trailing 23-14 in the fourth quarter. They attempted a reverse. But a handoff from Eric Wright to Russell Shepard was botched, and the 49ers recovered the fumble and took it in for the touchdown.

Stock watch: There were a fair number of bright spots from the Tampa Bay defense. But there was one consistent problem. The Bucs continually allowed San Francisco quarterback Colin Kaepernick to extend plays by scrambling, and that cost the Bucs dearly.

Injury report: Safety Mark Barron suffered a hamstring injury in the second half and did not return.

What’s next: The Buccaneers play at St. Louis on Sunday.
So much for that trade of Eric Wright to the San Francisco 49ers. The contractual rights to Wright reverted back to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Monday after Wright failed San Francisco’s physical.

The Bucs promptly turned around and are in the process of releasing Wright.

As I pointed out Friday when the trade first went down, this was about a lot more than getting a conditional draft pick from San Francisco in 2014. It was about getting rid of a player who did not fit Tampa Bay’s style.

Wright was charged with misdemeanor suspicion of driving under the influence in Los Angeles on July 12. He also served a four-game suspension last season for violating the league’s policy on performance-enhancing substances.

The sad part is Wright wasn’t a bad player and the Bucs could have used him. But he wore out his welcome by continually making the coaching staff and front office feel like they couldn’t trust him.
Give the Tampa Bay Buccaneers credit for backing up what they say.

Friday’s trade of cornerback Eric Wright to the San Francisco 49ers spoke volumes about the organization. It showed that coach Greg Schiano’s talk of "Buccaneer Men" isn’t just lip service. It also showed that general manager Mark Dominik isn’t afraid to admit when he's made a mistake.

According to Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department records, Wright was arrested July 12 in California on an unspecified misdemeanor charge. Even before that, a source said, the team was concerned because Wright wasn’t living up to the standards Schiano expects. The source said the Buccaneers would have released Wright if they hadn’t been able to trade him.

Good for Schiano and good for Dominik.

Schiano has unloaded other players (Aqib Talib, Kellen Winslow and LeGarrette Blount, to name a few) who didn’t conform to his ideals. This is another sign that Schiano is serious about not putting up with nonsense, even from a player with some skills.

Dominik invested $35 million in Wright, who was signed as a free agent in 2012. But Wright ran into trouble almost from the start. He missed part of last year’s offseason program due to an unspecified medical issue and was suspended four games for violating the NFL’s policy on performance-enhancing substances.

The Bucs and Wright agreed in April to restructure his contract. Wright took a pay cut for 2013 from $7.75 million to $1.5 million. The other implied part of the deal was that Wright was down to his last strike.

It appears the arrest was the tipping point. Now, the 49ers will be left to answer questions about a player who has had off-field issues. The Bucs don’t have to do that anymore, because they've washed their hands of Wright.

When Eric Wright agreed to restructure his contract and take a massive pay cut back in April, it appeared as if he’d be staying with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

It turns out that’s not the case. The Bucs announced Friday afternoon that they have traded Wright to the San Francisco 49ers for a late-round conditional draft pick in 2014.

That brings an abrupt ending to a union the Bucs thought would be a good one when they signed Wright to a five-year, $35.2 million contract in 2012. But Wright never really caught on in Tampa Bay.

He missed part of last year’s offseason program while dealing with an undisclosed medical issue. He later was suspended for four games for violating the league’s policy on performance-enhancing substances.

The Bucs traded for cornerback Darrelle Revis and used their top draft pick on cornerback Johnthan Banks. At first, it appeared as if Revis, Wright and Banks would be the team’s top three cornerbacks.

But it now is obvious the Bucs weren’t sold on Wright even at a reduced price. A source said Wright's attitude in recent months didn't conform with what the team likes and the Bucs would have released him if they were unable to trade him. According to Los Angeles County Sheriff's Office records, Wright was arrested in California on an unspecified misdemeanor charge July 12.

With Wright gone, Banks becomes the leading candidate to start opposite Revis.

Michael Adams, Leonard Johnson, Myron Lewis, Anthony Gaitor and some other young cornerbacks now will compete for the job as nickel back.

Also, the Bucs will not take any cap hit for unloading Wright. Instead, they freed up his $1.5 million base salary, which becomes San Francisco’s burden.
The NFC South, a division where fans often complain about a perceived lack of national attention, has had one market cornered in recent years.

When it comes to Rookie of the Year awards, “small markets’’ haven’t stopped NFC South players from receiving big honors.

Carolina quarterback Cam Newton won the Associated Press Offensive Rookie of the Year in the 2011 season. Last year, Carolina linebacker Luke Kuechly won the defensive award.

Can the trend continue in 2013?

Well, I see at least one potential candidate for each team. But any rookie awards in the NFC South will almost certainly come from the defensive side of the ball because division teams didn’t use early draft picks on offensive skill position players.

Let’s take a look at the guys I think have a chance to win Defensive Rookie of the Year.

[+] EnlargeDesmond Trufant
Dale Zanine/USA TODAY SportsThe Falcons will be counting on rookie CB Desmond Trufant to be an impact player immediately.
Atlanta Falcons. There’s a very strong candidate here. That’s first-round pick Desmond Trufant.

All indications are the Falcons plan to start Trufant immediately after releasing Dunta Robinson and letting Brent Grimes leave via free agency. Letting those veterans go wasn’t an accident. The Falcons wanted to get younger at this position and they also used their second-round pick on cornerback Robert Alford.

The hopes also are high for Alford, but it’s Trufant that the Falcons are expecting big early returns from. The plan is to start him opposite veteran Asante Samuel and let Alford compete with Robert McClain for the job at nickel back.

That means Trufant will be targeted early and often because opponents always test rookie cornerbacks. But the Falcons believe Trufant is polished and NFL ready. If he can rise to the challenge, he could put up some big interception numbers and that could make him a candidate for Defensive Rookie of the Year.

Carolina Panthers. I actually see two candidates here. The Panthers used their first two picks on defensive tackles Star Lotulelei and Kawann Short. Lotulelei was the first-round choice and his best shot at any postseason honors will come if Carolina’s run defense has a strong season. Lotulelei is known more for his run-stuffing abilities than his pass-rushing skills, so he’ll really need to dominate in the middle to turn heads.

Sacks are the statistic people look to when they’re talking about defensive linemen. That’s why I think Short, a second-round pick, might have a better chance to grab attention than Lotulelei. The scouting report on Short is that he can play the run well, but also is capable of generating a pass rush from the interior.

That could translate into big production. Surrounded by the strong duo of defensive ends Greg Hardy and Charles Johnson, veteran defensive tackle Dwan Edwards produced six sacks last season. If Short can beat out Edwards right from the start, I could see him ending up with even more sacks and that could bring awards.

New Orleans Saints. In recent years, the Saints usually have brought rookies along slowly, often not starting them until their second year. But I get the sense the plan with safety Kenny Vaccaro is different this year.

The Saints blew up their defense after ranking last in the league last season. They brought in coordinator Rob Ryan and Vaccaro was the first player drafted to fit his scheme. That means Vaccaro won’t be sitting on the bench.

If Vaccaro can put up some significant interception and tackle numbers and the New Orleans defense shows strong improvement, the rookie could be in the spotlight.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The big offseason news in Tampa Bay was the trade for cornerback Darrelle Revis and the free-agent signing of safety Dashon Goldson. But there’s another guy who should benefit tremendously from the those two moves.

That’s second-round pick Johnthan Banks. He’ll either start opposite Revis or get a lot of time in nickel situations if the Bucs elect to start Eric Wright.

Either way, Banks could be in a situation where he has a chance to shine. With Revis and Goldson protecting him, Banks could have a chance to come up with a bunch of interceptions.

And keep the Rookie of the Year award in the NFC South.
NFC Eight in the Box: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

How does each NFC South team look in the secondary, and what still needs to be done?

Atlanta Falcons: Brent Grimes and Dunta Robinson left via free agency, but the Falcons made up for it in the draft, using their first-round pick on Desmond Trufant and their second-rounder on Robert Alford. Trufant and Alford are fine prospects, but rookie cornerbacks often struggle initially. Atlanta’s pass rush should be just average at best. Trufant is the likely starter opposite Asante Samuel. Samuel offers little against the run, but is still a very good cover man and a true ball hawk at the corner position. Another cornerback here of note is Robert McClain, who got little fanfare for his work last season but performed admirably for the Falcons. Atlanta might now have four quality options at this position. At safety, Thomas DeCoud and William Moore return as the starters. There is little behind these two, but DeCoud and Moore are a fine pairing. Moore in particular stepped up his all-around game last season and is quickly becoming a do-it-all player and a key member of this defense.

Carolina Panthers: By drafting two defensive tackles with their first two picks, the Panthers look as though they have a fantastic front seven. But their secondary still really worries me. Drayton Florence and D.J. Moore were added at cornerback, but that simply isn’t enough to elevate concerns about the back end of Carolina’s defense. Chris Gamble is out of the picture, leaving Josh Norman and Captain Munnerlyn as the Panthers’ starting corners, although Florence could factor into that equation. Norman had a very up-and-down -- mostly down -- 2012 season, but he does have ability and could be primed to take a step forward in 2013. Munnerlyn, who is best equipped to be a slot cornerback, is probably the Panthers’ best defensive back. Josh Thomas has been underwhelming throughout his career and will provide cornerback depth. Carolina is one of the weakest teams in the league at the safety position. Charles Godfrey will start for sure, and Haruki Nakamura is likely to be the other stating safety. Godfrey is average in coverage and isn’t much of a force in the run game, but he is the best the Panthers have right now. Nakamura should be a backup, but he will most likely be forced to log a lot of snaps. Carolina should be scouring the waiver wire for secondary help, especially at safety.

New Orleans Saints: The Saints made two prominent additions to a secondary that struggled mightily in 2012 by signing cornerback Keenan Lewis and drafting safety Kenny Vaccaro in the first round. Lewis and Jabari Greer will be the Saints’ starters, with Patrick Robinson as the nickel corner, which is what suits him best. But overall, this looks like a solid trio of cornerbacks for New Orleans’ new 3-4 defense, which should stress more press man coverage, although Lewis is probably better suited to zone or off coverage. Roman Harper remains on the team right now, but his type of in-the-box safety who is a liability in coverage is starting to become a dinosaur in this league. Replacing him with Vaccaro gives the Saints much more flexibility from the position. Vaccaro is a great-looking prospect with size, range and physicality. Malcolm Jenkins also has some versatility to his game in that he can patrol the deep middle or walk up and play man coverage against a slot receiver or tight end. However, Jenkins has never quite lived up to his first-round status. Jim Leonhard also is on the roster and could provide stability in a part-time role or as a replacement if Vaccaro or Jenkins were to fall to injury. This secondary looks to be much improved from a year ago.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers: The Bucs made one of the biggest moves around the league this offseason by trading for Darrelle Revis. Tampa Bay featured some of the worst starting corners in the league last season. With Revis on board, that certainly will not be the case again -- even if Revis is not quite himself initially after his knee injury. Having Revis allows the Bucs to match up an elite cover man on the opposing No. 1 wide receiver and more or less leave Revis alone against the likes of Marques Colston, Steve Smith and Julio Jones or Roddy White. By doing so, the rest of the secondary obviously can manipulate coverage to better deal with other threatening weapons. That means Revis’ counterpart, most likely the disappointing Eric Wright or second-round pick Johnthan Banks, will often have safety help over the top. I would imagine Tampa Bay is hoping Banks grabs hold of that starting spot and doesn’t let go. Wright has been a liability since signing a big contract with the Buccaneers. Leonard Johnson also should factor in as a physical quality fourth corner, but he is speed-deficient. Tampa Bay also signed Dashon Goldson, giving them an excellent pairing of safeties along with last year’s first-round selection, Mark Barron. Barron is more of the strong safety type -- and Goldson more of a free safety -- but both can operate near the line of scrimmage or deep in coverage. Expect Barron to take a big step forward in his second season, especially in coverage. Barron could develop into the type of modern defender that matches up well against the new breed of athletic NFL tight ends.
NFC Eight in the Box: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

A first-year player who has turned heads in OTAs/minicamps:

Atlanta Falcons: Second-round pick Robert Alford has made a very positive impression in the OTAs and could be putting himself in position to challenge for a starting cornerback spot. First-round pick Desmond Trufant isn’t allowed to take part in OTAs until his University of Washington class graduates, and veteran Asante Samuel hasn’t been around for all of the voluntary sessions. That has allowed Alford to get plenty of first-team reps, and he’s made the most of them. He’s held his own against receivers Roddy White and Julio Jones, and the coaching staff has been very impressed with his speed and quickness.

Carolina Panthers: Every time coach Ron Rivera is asked about young guys who are making a good impression, he mentions safety Robert Lester and cornerback Melvin White, who were signed as undrafted free agents. Lester is the one I think is worth keeping a close eye on. Though he wasn’t drafted, Lester has some pedigree. He played on two national championship teams at Alabama and was an important part of the defense. Charles Godfrey is the only sure thing the Panthers have at safety. Lester has a chance to compete with D.J. Campbell and Mike Mitchell.

New Orleans Saints: Outside linebacker Rufus Johnson stood out during this week’s minicamp. He’s the product of a small school (Tarleton State), but he certainly looks like he has the tools to play in the NFL. He has a nice combination of size and quickness and has been working at the “Jack" linebacker spot behind Will Smith and Martez Wilson. Smith is nearing the end of his career, and Wilson is unproven. Johnson appears to have the potential to develop into a strong pass-rusher and could take on a bigger role in the future.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers: While Darrelle Revis works with the trainers on the sideline to rehabilitate his knee, rookie cornerback Johnthan Banks has been getting a fair amount of first-team work. Banks hasn’t been flawless. But at times he’s held his own against starting receiver Mike Williams, and that is an encouraging sign. At 6-foot-2, Banks has the size to match up with the division’s bigger receivers like Marques Colston, White and Brandon LaFell. If Banks can continue to impress, there’s a good chance he’ll end up starting opposite Revis, and Eric Wright will slide inside to play the nickel position.

Around the NFC South

May, 31, 2013
5/31/13
8:55
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Let's take a morning run through the headlines from around the NFC South:

ATLANTA FALCONS

A Georgia watchdog group has filed a petition in an attempt to force a referendum in which voters can decide whether or not public money should be used to build a new stadium for the Falcons.

CAROLINA PANTHERS

Wide receiver Steve Smith, who is headed into his 13th season, told the Associated Press he wants to play 15 or 16 seasons. That’s a lot for a receiver. But I wouldn’t bet against Smith, who hasn’t shown any signs of slowing down. Smith’s always taken very good care of himself and he’s such a competitor that I easily could see him going several more years.

Quarterback Cam Newton said he would like to be a team captain at some point. It might take some time because Smith and left tackle Jordan Gross are basically grandfathered in as captains. But Newton can work to eventually fulfill his goal by continuing to earn the respect of his teammates.

NEW ORLEANS SAINTS

Outside linebacker Victor Butler said he’s looking forward to getting out of the shadow of DeMarcus Ware and Anthony Spencer in Dallas. He’ll get that chance with the Saints. Defensive coordinator Rob Ryan was with Butler in Dallas and I doubt the Saints would have signed the linebacker if Ryan didn’t think highly of him.

TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS

Cornerback Eric Wright, who was thought to be on his way out of Tampa Bay, said there’s no place else he’d rather be. Wright must be serious about that because he took a significant cut in pay to stay with the Bucs after serving a four-game suspension last season for violating the league's policy on performance-enhancing substances.

Checking in on the Buccaneers

May, 29, 2013
5/29/13
12:39
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TAMPA, Fla. -- Some quick takeaways from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ OTA (organized team activities) on Wednesday:
  • Safety Cody Grimm said he was sorry about his recent arrest for public intoxication in Virginia. Grimm said he has talked with coach Greg Schiano about the incident and promised it would not happen again. Grimm clearly is fighting for a roster spot and the off-field stuff isn’t going to help him. But Grimm appeared to have a productive session Wednesday, coming up with an interception on a tipped ball and breaking up at least one other pass.
  • Schiano said he’s very happy with the condition left tackle Donald Penn is in this spring. Schiano said when he arrived last year, Penn’s weight was an issue. But Schiano, Penn and the training staff discussed ways to deal with it and Penn’s weight hasn’t been an issue since.
  • Schiano said cornerback Darrelle Revis continues to progress well in his recovery from knee surgery. But the coach stopped short of saying whether or not Revis is expected to be ready for the first day of training camp. Schiano emphasized the goal is to have Revis ready for the start of the season, but said training camp is part of the process. Revis was working with trainers Wednesday, but spent part of the session on the sideline watching his teammates.
  • It doesn’t look like the Bucs plan to bring rookie cornerback Johnthan Banks along slowly. He was getting plenty of first-team work and seemed to hold his own in several matchups with starting receiver Mike Williams. I don’t know if Banks will start ahead of Eric Wright, but it’s pretty obvious the Bucs expect the rookie to be one of their top three cornerbacks.
  • One of the better competitions in training camp should be for the job as the third receiver. It looks like free-agent pickup Kevin Ogletree and Tiquan Underwood are the primary candidates. Underwood appeared to have a solid practice Wednesday. He caught a long touchdown pass from Josh Freeman and also had a nice diving catch on a medium-range pass.
  • Luke Stocker appeared to get most of the first-team work at tight end Wednesday. But I think the Bucs are hoping free-agent pickup Tom Crabtree can blossom. Crabtree didn’t get a lot of opportunities in his Green Bay days, but he appears to have some skills as a pass catcher.
  • Schiano said he’s confident his team is following league rules that prohibit contact in OTAs as closely as possible. But he did acknowledge there was one incident last week when a couple of linemen got into a tussle in the heat of the moment.

NFC South Stock Watch

April, 30, 2013
4/30/13
2:04
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RISING

Matt Ryan. With Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers signing a huge contract extension, Ryan and his agent have stepped out of the on-deck circle and are walking toward the plate. Ryan’s going to get money similar to what Rodgers and Joe Flacco got. I wouldn’t look for a drawn-out negotiating period. The market value has been set and the Falcons and Ryan know they want to be together for the long haul.

Lamar Holmes. The fact the Falcons didn’t draft a single offensive lineman is a good indication of how they feel about Holmes, a third-round pick last year. It now is looking like Holmes is the heir apparent to right tackle Tyson Clabo, who was released.

Eric Washington. He’s the defensive line coach for the Carolina Panthers and already was a rising star after Charles Johnson and Greg Hardy each produced double-digit sacks last year. Now, Washington will get a chance to really bolster his reputation (and perhaps eventually become a defensive coordinator after the Panthers used their top two picks on defensive tackles Star Lotulelei and Kawann Short. On paper at least, Washington has enough talent to whip up one of the league’s best defensive lines.

FALLING

Ronde Barber. The Buccaneers say they still want the veteran defensive back to return for another year. But in what capacity? He’s not going to start at free safety because the Bucs signed Dashon Goldson. A return to cornerback is possible, but Barber likely would be behind Darrelle Revis, Eric Wright and rookie Johnthan Banks. Backup safeties and fourth cornerbacks almost always have to play special teams. Do you honestly see Barber doing that at this point in his career? If he wants to keep playing, there might be a place or two where he can still be a starter and that could mean he won’t play his entire career with the Bucs.

Charles Brown and Jason Smith. The New Orleans Saints used a third-round draft pick on offensive tackle Terron Armstead. That means they aren’t sold on Brown or Smith as their left tackle. Armstead won’t be handed the job, but he’ll compete with Brown and Smith in training camp.

John Abraham. There has been a lot of talk from Atlanta fans about the Falcons perhaps re-signing the veteran defensive end. I’ve said all along that’s a long shot. After the draft, I think it’s an even longer shot. The Falcons drafted defensive ends Malliciah Goodman (fourth round) and Stansly Maponga (fifth round). They also have a couple of other young defensive ends on the roster in Jonathan Massaquoi and Cliff Matthews. It doesn’t look like there’s room on the roster to bring back an aging player who already was released.
During the NFL draft, Tampa Bay general manager Mark Dominik said the door was still open for veteran cornerback Ronde Barber to return for another season.

But how wide is that door really open?

As Barber has been pondering whether to retire or play another season, the Buccaneers have been filling up their defensive backfield with talent.

Barber
Barber moved to free safety after playing his entire career at cornerback. But the starting free safety job no longer is available.

The Bucs filled that spot by signing free agent Dashon Goldson. Barber’s not really suited to play strong safety and the Bucs are set there with Mark Barron, last year’s first-round pick.

If Barber is going to return and wants to play safety, he’d be a third safety at best. Putting Barber in that role would be less than ideal for the Bucs because teams generally require their third safety to play special teams.

The other scenario for Barber to return would be for him to move back to cornerback. But the Bucs no longer have a big need there after trading for Darrelle Revis and drafting Johnthan Banks.

Revis, Eric Wright and Banks figure to be the top three cornerbacks.

The Bucs have been wise in repeatedly saying they want Barber back. That avoids the kind of public relations nightmare they endured when they unceremoniously released Derrick Brooks. But the Bucs also have been wise in going ahead and stocking up their secondary.

Maybe Barber still will return in some sort of ceremonial role. Having a guy like Barber in your locker room is a good thing because he sets a good example with his work ethic.

But, if Barber decides not to return to the Bucs, the team has set itself up nicely to move on without him.
As I look at what NFC South teams did in the NFL draft, I’m not seeing a lot of players that will make instant impacts.

In fact, I’m seeing only four players that are likely to be starters on opening day. Let’s take a look:

Atlanta Falcons: Go ahead and put first-round pick Desmond Trufant in the lineup as a starting cornerback opposite Asante Samuel. Second-round pick Robert Alford will get a chance to compete with Robert McClain for the job at nickel back. Levine Toilolo, a fourth-round choice, has a shot at some decent playing time as the second tight end.

Carolina Panthers: First-round pick Star Lotulelei will be an instant starter at defensive tackle next to Dwan Edwards. Second-round pick Kawann Short could start off his career rotating in for Lotulelei and Edwards. The rest of Carolina’s draft picks will begin their careers as special-teams players.

New Orleans Saints: Although the Saints brought defensive backs Malcolm Jenkins and Patrick Robinson along slowly in recent years, I think safety Kenny Vaccaro will get thrown right into the starting lineup. He’s likely to unseat Roman Harper as the Saints overhaul their defense and go to a 3-4 scheme. It might be too much to expect third-round pick Terron Armstead to be an immediate starter at left tackle. But Armstead will get a look in training camp because Charles Brown and Jason Smith are the only other options.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers: At worst, second-round pick Johnthan Banks will begin his career as the third cornerback. That’s virtually the same as a starter because teams use so many nickel packages. But I think there’s a good possibility Banks vaults past Eric Wright and starts opposite Darrelle Revis. Fourth-round picks Akeem Spence and William Gholston have a chance to earn spots in the rotation on the defensive line.
The NFC South second-round picks just wrapped up.

I’ll do a quick analysis on each of the three (the New Orleans Saints didn’t have a pick in the road). And I’ll be back later with a column on what I think is the division’s best story of the night and quick analysis of what transpires in the third round.

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers selected Mississippi State cornerback Johnthan Banks with the 43rd overall pick. Banks was once viewed as an early first-round pick, but a slow time in the 40-yard dash at the scouting combine caused his stock to fall. Tampa Bay coach Greg Schiano and general manager Mark Dominik just talked to the media and they’re not concerned about how fast Banks ran in Indianapolis. They think he can step right in and play with Darrelle Revis and Eric Wright and make a position that was a problem last season a strength.

The Carolina Panthers used the 44th pick on Purdue defensive tackle Kawann Short. That might seem like excessive attention on the defensive tackle position after the Panthers used their first-round pick on Star Lotulelei. But, like the Bucs at cornerback, the Panthers are trying to turn a weakness into a strength. Carolina also likes incumbent starter Dwan Edwards, but he’s nearing the end of his career and the Panthers now should be strong at defensive tackle for years to come.

At No. 60, the Atlanta Falcons continued the division-wide trend of loading up on one position by taking Southeast Louisiana cornerback Robert Alford. The Falcons used their first-round pick on cornerback Desmond Trufant. After the departures of Brent Grimes and Dunta Robinson, the Falcons now are back to full strength at cornerback.
We conclude our pre-draft rankings of position-group needs with the defensive backs.

Remember, the earlier the ranking, the greater the need.

Carolina Panthers: General manager Dave Gettleman has assembled a group of guys that could be decent second or third cornerbacks. But the Panthers still could be in the market for a true No. 1 cornerback. They also need to upgrade at safety.

New Orleans Saints: The pass defense was a mess last year. That’s why the Saints signed cornerback Keenan Lewis as a free agent. They’re hoping Jabari Greer can bounce back from a rough season, but they may want to upgrade from Patrick Robinson as the nickel back. The Saints also could look for a safety to challenge Roman Harper.

Atlanta Falcons: The only reason I have the Falcons third in this area is because everything is relative. The Panthers and the Saints have desperate needs in the secondary. The Falcons, who have Pro Bowl safeties in Thomas DeCoud and William Moore, aren’t desperate but they do have a significant need at cornerback. They need one more starting-caliber cornerback to go with Asante Samuel and Robert McClain.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers: A couple days ago, the Bucs would have topped this list. But the trade for cornerback Darrelle Revis changed everything. Tampa Bay suddenly has a pretty solid secondary with Revis joining Eric Wright and safeties Dashon Goldson and Mark Barron. But it still is possible Tampa Bay could draft a cornerback fairly early because they’re unsettled at nickel back.

It looks as if the most anticipated trade of the offseason could be going down.

Rich Cimini reports the New York Jets have given the Tampa Bay Buccaneers permission to bring in cornerback Darrelle Revis for a physical examination. Revis is coming off a major knee injury, but all indications are he’s progressing well.

Tampa Bay’s team doctors now will get a close look at Revis’ knee.

But I think the mere fact that the Jets are allowing the Bucs to look at Revis means there’s a good chance the two sides must be close on what the compensation will be. There have been reports that the Bucs likely would have to surrender first-, third- and fifth-round picks, although it’s unclear if they would all be in this year’s draft or if some would be in 2014.

As I pointed out the other day, the Bucs have spent the offseason setting themselves up for a Revis deal. They have more than $33 million in cap space. If a deal is completed, the Bucs likely would sign Revis to a long-term extension worth around $15 million per year.

A healthy Revis would go a long way toward fixing a pass defense that ranked last in the league last year. Revis and Eric Wright likely would be the starting cornerbacks and the Bucs already spent big money on safety Dashon Goldson, who will start next to Eric Wright.

The deal isn’t done yet, but this is a major step toward Revis joining the Buccaneers.

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