It’s been a surprisingly good start for the Buccaneers with a 2 – 1 record and a lot of optimism. And Tampa Bay does have high hopes for their number one pick in this past April draft, Washington defensive tackle and Vita Vea.
However, a month into the regular season, there is a legitimate to be made that Tampa Bay, who had a need at safety, misfired when they didn’t take Florida State’s Derwin James in April.
James, was regarded along with Alabama’s Minkah Fitzpatrick, as one of the two top impact defensive backs in the entire draft. And, a lot of analysts and Buccaneer fans wanted to see him in pewter and red, because of a Buccaneers need and of course, the regional tie into him having played in Tallahassee.
The Dolphins drafted Fitzpatrick with the 11th pick in the first round. And then, James was available when Tampa Bay selected #12 overall. They passed on the opportunity.
And just four games into his NFL career, James is already turning heads with the team that did draft him at number 18, the L.A. Chargers.
Take a look at this play last Sunday against Jared Goff and the Rams at the Coliseum:
Derwin James just keeps making plays!
— Pro Football Focus (@PFF) September 23, 2018
Also, the guys who grade every player on every play in the NFL, Pro Football Focus, have been very fond of the job that James has done so far this season. According to their ranking formula, James has already been the top performing defensive rookie regardless of position so far this season.
Derwin James has been the highest graded defensive rookie in the NFL so far this season. pic.twitter.com/K3H5SwsJ4m
— Pro Football Focus (@PFF) September 28, 2018
With the understanding that it is a small sample size, you also have to take a look at the fact that the Bucs had two veterans in Keith Tandy and Chris Conte that they were counting on to help them in 2018.
For whatever reason, the team, coach Dirk Koetter and defensive coordinator Mike Smith didn’t feel that the popular veteran Tandy could still help them. So, they released him on the final cuts of preseason, and he was gobbled up by the Atlanta Falcons.
As for the veteran Conte, he’s been a source of controversy among Buccaneer fans who feel he’s not aggressive enough or good enough to be regularly playing for them. Conte injured his knee in the Bucs win over Philadelphia and then try to play during the Monday night game with the Steelers.
He was famously face planted in the open field by tight end Vance McDonald on a long touchdown catch. Now, it turns out Conte was trying to play with a torn PCL ligament in his knee and has been placed on injured reserve.
That means both of the veteran safeties the Tampa Bay was counting on can no longer help them. GM Jason Licht and his staff did draft Jordan Whitehead of Pitt later on on day three of the draft and Whitehead has been playing early in the season that will now be counted on moving forward.
As for Vea, he may be able to play in Sunday’s game in Chicago and the Buccaneers have high hopes that next to Gerald McCoy, he will have immediate impact throughout his rookie year.
Still, you can’t blame Bucs fans, particularly the Florida State ones, if they’re watching James perform on the West coast for the Chargers and saying “we could have had him helping us already.”
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