The Buccaneers secondary has taken quite a beating the last couple years. Their safeties in particular have become regular targets, but not just for opposing quarterbacks.
Critics have attacked them as well.
For example, ProFootballFocus cited the play of the Bucs safeties, Chris Conte in particular, as its reason for ranking the Bucs secondary 25th overall midway through the 2016 season.
And that was a step up from the 28th-overall ranking the Bucs earned from PFF before the start of the season, when concern over the play of the safeties was cited as the unit’s biggest weakness.
Over the course of the season, however, there is one Bucs safety that PFF has seemingly developed an affinity for and that is Bradley McDougald, the team’s undrafted second-year starter out of Kansas.
In its rankings of the 10 best players, regardless of position, who will likely fly under the radar of most fans when the free-agency signing period begins on March 9, McDougald was rated No. 10.
“Not particularly great in any one area, McDougald is a solid all-around safety that isn’t a liability on the back end,’’ PFF wrote. “The former Kansas Jayhawk has allowed just three touchdowns in his career, and has seen his allowed-catch percentage drop each season, despite seeing the most targets in his career in 2016. With five career interceptions and 13 pass breakups, McDougald is the type of free agent that will command a very affordable contract for above-average play.’’
It’s clear from their evaluation that PFF focused solely on McDougald’s pass defense, which is fine, but it left out the fact that McDougald ranked second among Bucs defenders in tackles this year with 91.
That suggests a couple of things: First, McDougald was probably a little more active in the run game than the Bucs wanted him to be, which is an indication the front seven didn’t do quite as well a job in that area as needed.
Second, it shows just how good a run defender he has become, which means that in addition to being able to play free, which he does rather well, McDougald can also play strong safety, which could be McDougald’s role going forward with the Bucs.
The Bucs were very pleased at the end of the season with what they were getting from Keith Tandy, who took over the free safety role after Chris Conte got hurt, and the Bucs would like to keep that Tandy-McDougald tandem together.
That’s one reason why the chances of McDougald ever getting to free agency may be a bit slim. It’s likely that McDougald will want to test the market but if the Bucs are smart they’ll sign him to a competitive deal long before the market opens up and keep their improving safety corps intact.