Brother, Can You Spare A Nickel?

April 23rd, 2023

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The Bucs have glaring holes in the trenches heading into the draft, but there’s another position of priority for Todd Bowles that needs to be addressed.

Jason Licht is looking for help at nickel back, the hybrid spot that was defined by Rondé Barber for 15 seasons in Tampa en route to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

There are some intriguing prospects to pick from as the Bucs shift Antoine Winfield Jr., back to free safety after a one-year experiment at nickel. While Winfield wasn’t overmatched in the slot, Bowles feels he’s better suited for a traditional safety role to best capitalize on his ball skills.

The Bucs want no part of second-year man Zyon McCollum being their best available nickel cornerback this season, says Ira.

Tampa Bay has added veteran Ryan Neal to a secondary that also features Winfield, Carlton Davis, Jamel Dean, Dee Delaney, Zyon McCollum and Nolan Turner.

“We have guys on the roster that can play it,” Bowles says of the nickel position. “But we also want to address that spot as well if we get a chance to address it. If not, we have guys that can play it.”

Bowles would feel more confident about nickel if Licht lands a draft pick versatile enough to excel at a position that is now on the field for 70 percent of snaps. You need toughness, you need desire, you need athleticism and you need smarts.

“You can ask a nickel back to tell you about offenses,” Barber says, “and I guarantee it will be a thousand times more detailed than a guy who just played outside corner.”

Bowles, a former safety, can’t wait to see what a young, aggressive slot corner can add to this defense. If the Bucs stick at No. 19, there’s a remote chance Alabama’s Brian Branch will still be on the board. He would tough to pass up — even though the offensive and defensive lines loom as priorities.

Branch has been compared to Minkah Fitzpatrick in terms of versatility and football intelligence. He made 90 tackles for the Crimson Tide last season and his impact for the Bucs in run support would be particularly welcome because Tampa Bay’s rush defense has been steadily slipping.

Unlike Branch, Utah’s Clark Phillips III is likely to be available past Round 1. Like Branch, Phillips seems to be a natural for the slot. Only 5-foot-9, he was the Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year, finishing his Utes career with four interceptions returned for touchdowns.

“A lot of teams like me at nickel,” Phillips says. “The Chiefs and Rams called me a hybrid player. The general consensus just slightly leans toward the nickel.”

Licht could decide to wait until Day 3, when TCU’s Tre’Vius Hodges-Tomlinson figures to hear his name called. Undersized at 5-8, he runs a 4.4 and projects as a nickel back at the pro level.

Antoine Winfield knows.

When Winfield Jr. started thinking about playing the slot a year ago, he was excited at the prospect.

“That’s the money spot,” he said. “That’s where the action is.”

The Bucs want in on that action because a stellar nickel back can turn games around by commanding the middle of the field and changing momentum in a flash.

“You can be a shutdown corner outside,” says Monte Kiffin, who helped turn Barber into the prototype for NFL slot play. “But to go inside and play nickel, you need to be special.”

Bowles and Licht are looking for special when it comes to the nickel spot, but special is hard to find. Like Buc Nation, they’ll settle for pretty damned good.

24 Responses to “Brother, Can You Spare A Nickel?”

  1. Destinjohnny Says:

    We need 13 first round picks to plug our holes
    Jason usually gets a good player every third draft.
    So we will be here a while

  2. BringBucsBack Says:

    “But we also want to address that spot as well if we get a chance to address it. If not, we have guys that can play it.” -Double-speak

    Maybe McCollum was over-drafted and/ or under-coached.

  3. HC Grover Says:

    23 Bucs are going to be a ‘Mechanics Special’.

  4. TampaBayBucsFanSince1976 Says:

    Phillips III has a nose for the ball and his highlight reel is electrifying .

  5. MadMax Says:

    Mekhi Garner….been pushing him for a while now….he’s going 4th or 5th….

  6. Dooley Says:

    There are a lot of the day 1 & 2 CBs that project to be candidates as nickels CBs at the next level. Even a day 3 CB like Rezjohn Wright, would be a nice addition to work into our defensive backfield, but I think we take one day 2 and right along with positions like WR or C; that’ll be a position to get an additional day 2 pick to address via trade. We’ll see, just a few more days until we transition to evaluating our draft and UDFA haul.

  7. Goatfarmer Says:

    Jason should ask Rondé to help Bowels with this eval. And then ask Rondé to help coach the lad up, whoever it is, so at least someone other than Winfield in the secondary knows what the hell they’re supposed to so in Bowels’ calculus 7 defense.

  8. Tampabaybucfan Says:

    The thought of moving up for a QB……using an extra pick seems more & more ridiculous. We need a Nickel, Edge, OT, TE, 2 Safeties & probably a RB & WR in this draft…..need all the picks we have..

    Trade down if anything.

  9. gotbbucs Says:

    Antonio Johnson

  10. BelleGladeBuc Says:

    I bring you the Bucs Defensive Line:

    Vita Vea and Greg Gaines are the only DL on the Bucs defensive line who are not UDFA/roster fillers, etc. Vea and Gaines are the only players on the Buc’s defensive line who other NFL teams would be excited to have on their rosters.

    Logan Hall as of this date done nothing.

    Then you have the roster fillers in:
    Mike Greene
    Patrick O’Connor
    Willington Previllon
    Deadrin Senat

    Now I bring you the Buc’s OLB who Rushe the passer.

    There’s Shaq Barrett coming off Achilles surgery.

    Anthony Nelson is a solid pro.

    Then you have the first round bust in JTS.

    Then you have 3rd stringers like Cam Gill, Hamilcar Rashed, and Ulysses Gilbert.

    It’s madness to talk about drafting another defensive back with the reality of depending on Soon to be Bust Logan Hall, Mike Greene, Patrick O’Connor, Willington Previllon, Deadrin Senat, Achilles Surgery Shaq, 1st Round Bust JTS, Cam Gill, Hamilcar Rashed, and Ulysses Gilbert to dominate the line of scrimmage and shut down the other team’s run game as well as putting pressure on the other team’s QB in the pass game.

    The Bucs desperately need defensive linemen and edge rushers at this time.

    Drafting a good nickel corner means you’re not addressing the trenches.

    That means that the other team will run the ball down our throats because our defensive line and edge are in shambles right now.

  11. Jeebs the Honey Bear Says:

    Great as always, IRA! I would be happy with any of the guys you mentioned in your article. I think smart money is trading down for more draft capital, and grabbing one of Phillips or Hodges-Tomlinson in round 2 or 3. Those guys are both small, but excellent competitors and should be instant starters in the slot.

  12. Beej Says:

    Imagine had we traded up to get Chase Young. EVERYbody thought he would be a perennial all-pro, now Washington is trying to decide whether to do his 5th year option. Can’t blame a lot of this stuff on the GM

  13. Joe in Michigan Says:

    Goatfarmer Says:
    April 23rd, 2023 at 11:58 am
    Jason should ask Rondé to help Bowels with this eval. And then ask Rondé to help coach the lad up, whoever it is, so at least someone other than Winfield in the secondary knows what the hell they’re supposed to so in Bowels’ calculus 7 defense.
    Your posts are about as useful as a Greta Thunberg speech.

  14. Voice of Truth Says:

    Belle Glade Buc, I concur 1000%

    Our DL and pass rush are #32 in the NFL as of today

    If they go DB at 19, we may not reach our projected 6 wins and are clearly looking to ‘24 already…

  15. TonySoprano Says:

    I’ll be pissed if we spend a 1st on a 4.6 slot. Todd has been spoiled with the draft capital Licht has already provided in the secondary. Build the damn trenches.

  16. Dooley Says:

    Final roster cuts for the regular season are roughly 4 months away. That’s a lot of time for positional competitions and evaluations to play out, maybe relax a bit and maybe lean away from thinking 1 draftee is going to come in and solve our problems/inefficiencies/be some world beater. Just a thought

  17. BelleGladeBuc Says:

    If the Bucs draft a DB at 19 they will be lucky to win 2 games.

    With our current defensive line, Carolina, Atlanta, and New Orleans would just run the ball down our throats with Kamara, Algier/Patterson and Foreman/Hubbard.

    The Bucs must stop the Titans, Bills, Vikings, 49er’s, and Jags rushing attack, all of those teams are playoff teams.

    If you don’t draft the tranches, then Tanking for Caleb is not out of the question.


  18. Jack Burton Mercer Says:

    Barber was better at nickel than Brooks was at LB. And it’s not that close. Brooks was great, phenomenal, unreal. Barber was better.

  19. Jon Grudin Says:

    BelleGladeBuc has his eye on the ball. Need a couple of defensive linemen to go with an OT and safety. Trade back and build the trenches!

  20. Goatfarmer Says:

    Jhoe in Michigan – want me to post your wonderful take on Tom Brady being a bust again? LOL, you really know your foosball.

  21. 1#bucsfan Says:

    About Logan hall. Everyone is calling him a bust. Seriously just after one season. Get it together y’all. If he’s still playing like he did this season on year 3 then yes he’s a bust. He’s not a DT they should move him to edge tho.

  22. garro Says:

    Great observations Ira. As always

    I don’t think we really know what we’ve got at slot corner. But they would not have moved a very good safety if they were confident in what they had last season.
    Maybe it was the learning curve…I believe Ronde. Its not as simple as most think. Winfield has been studying football his whole life. I’m pretty sure he was ahead of the curve in the learning of it.

    With a year of the system under they’re belt maybe the guys we have can step up….maybe.

  23. Goatfarmer Says:

    Logan Hall might be able to play nickel. He’s neither a DT, DE, or Edge.

  24. Brandon Says:

    Branch doesn’t fit the Bucs profile for a DB. Please quit pushing your garbage on us.