The Tampa Bay Buccaneers enter the 2021 NFL season with a target on their backs. They begin the defense of their Super Bowl title against the Dallas Cowboys on Thursday Night Football. The Bucs return most of their starters on both sides of the ball. Cornerback Carlton Davis is one of the most vocal players on this defense, and he’s out to prove he belongs in the same conversation with some of the NFL’s elite corners.
Davis is prepared for a challenging Week 1 matchup against the Cowboys’ explosive wide receiver trio.
The Cowboys feature one of the best receiving corps in the NFL
Only five teams in NFL history have fielded a trio of receivers who each recorded more than 1,000 receiving yards in the same season. Barring injury, the Cowboys have a legitimate chance to join that illustrious list. Amari Cooper, CeeDee Lamb, and Michael Gallup form one of the most dynamic receiving corps in the league.
Cooper is entering his seventh NFL season. The Raiders drafted him with the No. 4 overall pick in the 2015 NFL Draft. He’s battled some injuries, but when he’s on the field, he has the talent to make a big play at any moment. The Alabama product is one of the best route-runners in the league. He’s caught 224 passes for 3,028 yards and 19 touchdowns in 41 games in Dallas.
The hype for Lamb continues to build after an impressive rookie season and training camp. The former Oklahoma Sooner recorded 74 receptions for 935 yards and five touchdowns in his first season with the Cowboys. He is poised to take his game to another level in his sophomore season. Lamb is a threat at all three levels and possesses elite body control and ball skills.
Gallup is somewhat of a forgotten man in this offense, but his talent is not in question. The Cowboys have primarily used the former third-round pick as a deep ball threat. It will be interesting to see how he’s used in 2021. Gallup is a good route-runner and possesses the hands and athletic ability to make difficult catches.
Any team trying to defend this trio of wide receivers will have their work cut out for them.
Carlton Davis says the Buccaneers WR trio prepared him to face the Cowboys
The only team in the league that may have a better wide receiver trio is the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Tom Brady is playing with a pot of gold. Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, and Antonio Brown are immensely talented. Each brings a different set of skills to the table.
As a starting cornerback on the Bucs defense, Carlton Davis gets the opportunity to match up with elite NFL wide receivers every day at practice. “Every year, I’ve been prepared by them to go up against these other receivers,” Davis told The Athletic. “It allows me to play fearless because I’ve seen it all, just in practice alone.”
Davis is entering his fourth season in Tampa Bay. The Buccaneers selected him with the No. 63 overall pick in the second round of the 2018 NFL Draft. He’s started all but one game during his NFL career and has made the most of it. The Auburn product has recorded 168 tackles, 41 pass defenses, and five interceptions in three seasons.
Although he’s only 24 years old, Davis is one of the leaders of this Bucs defense. He welcomes the challenge of lining up against the Cowboys’ receivers because Tampa Bay’s defensive backfield is battle-tested.
“We have so much diversity with our receivers as far as quick, big, possession, strong,” said Davis. “Just going up against those guys was great for me because it allowed me to work my technique, to get some game-like plays and reps in during this time where you’re developing, and you’re trying to get back into the groove of the season.”
Getting those reps against Evans, Godwin, and Brown will certainly work to the advantage of the Bucs defensive backs. This will be live game action, though. This is arguably the matchup to watch in their Week 1 tilt.
The Buccaneers secondary is known as the ‘Grave Diggers’
Carlton Davis is one of the more notable names in the Tampa Bay secondary. Despite the Super Bowl victory, he believes that he and his defensive backfield mates deserve more respect.
“If you check the numbers, check the stats, check the film, I’m second to none,” said Davis. The Miami, Florida native is certainly not lacking in confidence. “The players know, and if they don’t know, they will know,” he continued. Davis is looking for his first Pro Bowl nod in 2021.
While the fourth-year corner is the most vocal of the bunch, the Buccaneers secondary is overflowing with young talent. Sean Murphy-Bunting is the other starting cornerback and is also looking to make a name for himself. “A lot of us on the back end don’t have names for ourselves, so it’s about putting on for not only us but for our families as well and representing ourselves in a great way,” said Murphy-Bunting.
Murphy-Bunting is heading into his third season in Tampa Bay after being drafted in the second round of the 2019 NFL Draft out of Central Michigan.
The talent in the secondary extends to the safety position as well. Jordan Whitehead was a pleasant surprise in the 2020 season. He was a fourth-round pick out of Pittsburgh in 2018 but has outperformed his draft position. He recorded 74 tackles in 2020 and is one of the biggest hitters on this defense.
Antoine Winfield Jr. is following in his father’s footsteps but is carving out his own lane. The Minnesota product was named to the 2020 NFL All-Rookie team. He recorded 94 tackles, three sacks, two forced fumbles, and an interception as a rookie.
The talent and production match the confidence. The Buccaneers secondary will meet a stiff test in Week 1 against the Cowboys, and it should be fun to watch.
All statistics courtesy of Pro Football Reference.