It’s a pretty rare thing to see early round draft picks in the modern NFL not secure starting jobs early in their rookie seasons. Many times they’ve secured the job by the time pre-season begins. Whether or not this is conducive to long term success for players is up for debate, but there is a definite danger present in throwing rookies straight into the fire of NFL competition. Teams risk overwhelming young players, and snuffing out their confidence early on, or forcing them into a role that they’re not yet well-versed in.
Being a “starter” should mean that you adequately check all the boxes that go along with that position. For example, a starting defensive end should be able to set the edge in the run game as well as rush the passer. A starting cornerback might specialize in press-man coverage, but they should also be satisfactory in other types of coverage’s, as well as be a willing tackler. When players are given starting roles, a lack of any of these qualities can quickly become apparent, and will be exposed by the competition. This is what the Bucs will look to avoid with Vernon Hargreaves and Noah Spence, two supremely gifted defenders with limitations typical of rookies.
The Bucs expect Noah Spence to contribute to their pass rush from day one, but with his questionable chops in run defense, it seems inevitable that the team will place him in a passing-downs role. Robert Ayers and Jac Smith both have starting experience and should allow the Bucs to “hide” Spence while he learns the ins and outs of playing defensive end professionally. He won’t be a “starter” on paper, but with the amount of passing in today’s NFL and the Bucs lack of sacks over the years, Spence will assuredly log his fair share of snaps. The Redskins and Preston Smith exemplified this strategy last season, and saw the rookie log eight sacks.
Vernon Hargreaves is in a similar situation. The Bucs have a solid stable of veteran cornerbacks led by Johnthan Banks and Alteraun Verner that can start on the boundary and allow Hargreaves to begin his career in the nickel position. In this spot the Bucs can take better advantage of Hargreaves feisty tackling and playmaking ability, while not overwhelming him with the superstar receivers playing on the outside. The Bucs nickel cornerback will essentially be a starter, without the title; it’s been said that the Bucs will likely be in their nickel defense 70% of the time. Like Spence, Hargreaves will get starter snaps without the expectations of a complete player that usually come along with that.
Don’t get it twisted, though. The Bucs took these players because they have needs at those spots, and because both of these guys are very good players. It’s not out of the question that one of or both of them “do the Kwon” and seize the reigns of their position groups early on.