TAMPA — The Tampa Bay Buccaneers aren’t the only team that seems to think bigger is better at the wide receiver position.
The trend toward taller, more physically imposing wideouts is starting to catch on across the league, and the Bucs’ rivals in the NFC South are among those riding this new wave.
Whether it was through free agency or the draft, Atlanta, Carolina and New Orleans added at least one receiver 6-foot-4 or taller this offseason.
Those additions are, in turn, creating a greater need for taller, more physical cornerbacks, which is why Bucs coach Lovie Smith is glad he inherited 6-2, 185-pound cornerback Johnthan Banks.
“We are not the only wide receiving group in the division that’s gotten taller,” Smith said. “Others have done the same thing, so we’re going to need a couple of corners 6 (feet)-plus, and that’s Johnthan.”
Banks was a second-round pick — the Bucs’ first selection — in the 2013 draft. He came to Tampa with a reputation for making great use of his height and long arms, and he has only enhanced that reputation under Smith’s watch.
Though he is being forced to make the transition from playing in a press man scheme to Smith’s preferred Tampa 2, Banks is fast proving to be just what the Bucs need at cornerback.
“Banks is a great fit for our scheme,” Smith said. “I like what he did last year as a young player, and he’s a coachable guy who has talent. I’m excited about coaching him.”
Banks isn’t the only young cornerback Smith is excited to be coaching. He has become enamored with several others, including one who has a lot of the same attributes as Banks.
That would be 6-2, 193-pound Rashaan Melvin, a second-year pro out of Northern Illinois who wowed scouts at the scouting combine last year by running a 4.42-second 40-yard dash and showing off a 38-inch vertical leap.
Though he went undrafted, Melvin proved during his senior year that he can make a big play when necessary. He set a single-season Mid-American Conference record with 17 pass breakups.
Another young corner who has caught Smith’s eye is Deveron Carr. At 5-11 and 190 pounds, he lacks elite size but can run a 4.3-second 40 and is no stranger to top-level competition. He started the last 26 games he played for Arizona State, recording 68 tackles and 18 pass breakups for what in 2013 was the Pac-10’s top pass defense.
“There’s good competition there,” Smith said of the battle for playing time at cornerback. “I would say there are six cornerbacks that I like on our football team right now, and it will be interesting to see how they grow.”
Smith would love to see his young corners grow, and not just as players. He’d like to see them grow in size, as well, because that’s what’s happening to receiving corps throughout the division.
The Panthers added 6-1, 200-pound veteran Jerricho Cotchery in free agency and took 6-5, 240-pound Kelvin Benjamin with the 28th pick in the draft.
The Saints were already big at the position, with 6-4, 225-pound Marques Colston and 6-4, 218-pound Nick Toon, but they followed up the draft by signing 6-6, 225-pound Brandon Coleman as a free agent out of Rutgers.
Atlanta took the same route, signing the 6-4, 220-pound Geraldo Boldewijn, a Boise State product, as an undrafted free agent and adding him to a receiving corps that already boasts the 6-3, 220-pound Julio Jones.
The Bucs will counter with Banks and 5-10, 187-pound Pro Bowler Alterraun Verner as their starting cornerbacks, but the size of receiving corps might force them to make greater use of some of their projected reserves.
“We have several guys with size and speed that we are seeing daily improvement from,” Smith said. “And I just can’t wait to keep going through the process and get to the preseason games to see exactly how they’ll be.”