Buccaneers draft Vernon Hargreaves in 1st round

Posted at 9:33 PM, Apr 28, 2016

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are counting on Vernon Hargreaves III to be a big part of the solution for a porous secondary.

And, the Florida cornerback -- the 11th pick in the NFL draft on Thursday night -- feels he's equal to the task.

"I have confidence and I'm not afraid to show it," the All-American and three-time All Southeastern Conference performer said after the Bucs addressed a pressing need for a team that went 6-10 a year ago and missed the playoffs for the eighth consecutive season.

The selection also sets the tone for what figures to be an all-out effort to bolster the defense over the final six rounds of the draft.

"I'm just an overall good football player. I love to play ball, can adapt to any type of defense, any type of receiver," the former Tampa Wharton High School standout said. "I cover them all. I can play bump coverage. I can play man coverage. All that's in my game. Now, it's time to perfect my craft."

Hargreaves was the third cornerback selected in the third round behind Florida State's Jalen Ramsey (Jacksonville, No. 5) and Ohio State's Eli Apple (New York Giants, No. 10).

"We like his competitiveness. We like his ego," Bucs general manager Jason Licht said. "He's not afraid to go against anybody."

Licht and former coach Lovie Smith used 12 of 13 draft picks over the past two years to retool the offense, following a carefully constructed plan to get better on that side of the ball before seeking reinforcements on defense.

Smith was fired after a four-game season-ending slide left the Bucs with an 8-24 record under him, however the plan remains intact.

Pass rusher Robert Ayers, cornerback Brent Grimes and Daryl Smith were added in free agency, but first-year Dirk Koetter reiterated Thursday night that there's still a lot work to do to revamp a defense that allowed opponents to complete 70 percent of passes and throw for 31 touchdowns last year.

"I can stand up here and say anything," Koetter said of the upgrades made over the past two months. "At some point we've got to go out there and back it up."

The past two drafts produced six starters -- five of them on offense, including quarterback Jameis Winston, receiver Mike Evans, tackle Donovan Smith, guard Ali Marpet and tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins.

The lone pick used on a defensive player the past two drafts landed middle linebacker Kwon Alexander, a 2015 fourth-round selection who not only earned a starting job but was one of the unit's most consistent playmakers as a rookie.

The Bucs initially had the ninth overall pick, but traded down two spots in a deal that moved Chicago up to No. 9.Tampa Bay also received a fourth-round selection, No. 106 overall, from the Bears.

"There was a little risk involved, but it worked out good," Koetter said.

The 5-foot-11, 199-pound Hargreaves had nine career interceptions at Florida. He finished his college career with 38 passes defensed and two fumble recoveries.

The Bucs ranked 10th in total defense last season, however the lofty finish was deceptive because the Bucs were 26th among 32 teams in the much more important category of points allowed.

An inconsistent pass rush figures to be an area Licht and Koetter will focus on in later rounds as the duo try to assemble necessary pieces to help Winston transform the Bucs into playoff contenders.

The No. 1 overall pick from a year ago threw for 4,024 yards, 22 touchdowns and 15 interceptions as a rookie, improving from two wins in 2015 to six with Winston taking every snap and ending impressive debut with an appearance in the Pro Bowl.


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