Elite ACC Cornerback Projected to Bucs in First Round

Nate Wiggins

Getty Clemson cornerback Nate Wiggins.

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are in the market for an elite cornerback. One might be on the way in the first round of the 2024 NFL draft.

PFF has the Buccaneers taking Clemson cornerback Nate Wiggins in its latest mock draft with the No. 26 overall pick in the first round. Wiggins has been one of the nation’s top corners the last two seasons and left college with one year of eligibility remaining to enter the NFL draft.

The Buccaneers traded starting cornerback Carlton Davis and sixth-round picks in 2024 and 2024 to the Detroit Lions on March 13 in exchange for the Lions’ 2024 third-round pick (No. 92 overall).

“(The Buccaneers) now have a bit of a void opposite Jamel Dean, so Wiggins would immediately step in as a long, smooth athlete at cornerback,” wrote PFF’s Brad Spiegelberger. “We’ll hear about Wiggins’ slender frame in the pre-draft process … but he battled well with Florida State wide receivers Keon Coleman and Johnny Wilson, who are both big, physical players.”

Speed Trumps Slight Frame for Clemson’s Nate Wiggins

Wiggins’ measurements of 6-foot-1 and 173 pounds at the NFL combine raised some questions about his durability because of his weight — questions quickly set aside after he ran the 40-yard dash in a blazing, 4.28 seconds.

Wiggins could also just be growing into his frame. He’s only 20 years old and won’t turn 21 until the end of August.

“Wiggins’ combination of coverage talent and traits could make him a defensive coordinator’s dream,” wrote NFL analyst Lance Zierlein. “He’s tall, long and fast with rare recovery speed when beaten. Silky smooth lower-body movement allows him to mirror releases and trace routes without much effort. He can squeeze a little tighter from off-man coverage, while his range as a Cover 3 cornerback makes him a dangerous option to throw near. He plays with good recognition and elite burst to the throw, which could lead to Pro Bowl production if he can play with more consistent decisiveness.”

Wiggins showed a knack for making big plays at Clemson. In the 2022 ACC Championship Game, he intercepted a pass from North Carolina’s Drake Maye and returned it 98 yards for a touchdown then blocked a field goal in the Tigers’ 39-10 victory. It was one of two career intereceptions Wiggins had against Maye, who is projected as a high first-round pick.

After returning an interception 46 yards for a touchdown against FAU in 2023, Wiggins became the first Clemson player since Rex Varn in 1977-1978 to return interceptions for touchdowns in back-to-back seasons.

Buccaneers Signed Two Cornerbacks in Free Agency

Tampa Bay has already tried to cover its bases in the secondary after the Davis trade.

The Buccaneers signed two free-agent cornerbacks in March, bringing in Tavierre Thomas from the Houston Texans and Bryce Hall from the New York Jets.

The Bucs also brought back safety Jordan Whitehead on a two-year, $9 million contract with $4.5 million guaranteed and a max value of $10.5 million with incentives. Whitehead played for the Buccaneers from 2018 to 2021 and started all 16 games in 2020 when Tampa Bay won Super Bowl LV.

“Adding Jordan back to our defensive backfield is a big addition for us and we are all excited to get him back in the building,” said Buccaneers General Manager Jason Licht in a press release after Whitehead was signed. “Jordan is a thumper, who sets the tone with his physicality and effort, and he was a key member of our Super Bowl defense.”