Chris Conte. The name alone sends shivers up some Bucs fans spines. But why? Oh yeah because he “gets torched all the time,” right?
Does he get beat sometimes? Sure. Every NFL defensive player does. Every corner gives up touchdowns every now and then. Every safety misses a tackle here and there. And yet Conte, who’s going into his 8th NFL season and his 4th with the Bucs, is still hanging around. He’s still an NFL starter. And he’s still catching a bad rap from some Bucs fans. Is it deserved? I don’t think so. And I’ll try to explain why in this piece.
The Conte Conundrum
First of all, I’m not the only one who shares this opinion. I’ve heard from and spoken to plenty of educated Bucs fans who think he’s a valuable piece of this team’s defense. Jason Licht is obviously a Chris Conte fan because he continues to re-sign him every year. In fact, he was signed to a two-year/$5 million contract in 2017 and the Bucs just picked up his second-year option. You know who the Bucs didn’t re-sign this offseason? T.J. Ward. A former Pro Bowler who couldn’t beat Conte out for a starting job in this defense. Licht likes him because he’s one of the best athletes on the entire team and because he works his ass off. He’s always in the building working out or meeting with Mike Smith and Brett Maxie, the defensive backs coach – and he’s a solid player. Is he an upper tier NFL safety? Not necessarily, but how does he stack up against some of the best in the business? Let’s take a look.
Conte By the Numbers
Over his last 3 seasons, Conte has played in 44 of 48 games totaling 226 tackles, 5 interceptions, 5 forced fumbles and 19 passes defended while averaging 5.2 tackles per game. In comparison, that’s more tackles than Eric Berry (145/4.4), Earl Thomas (200/4.9), Tyrann Mathieu (202/5.1) and yes T.J. Ward (191/5.0). That’s more forced fumbles than Harrison Smith (1) and Malcolm Jenkins (4). That’s more interceptions (3) and passes defended (15) than Devin McCourty. That’s more forced fumbles than all of them. Those are some of the best safeties in football right now and Conte’s numbers are right there with all of them or better. In fact, the only ones in this group with more tackles in that time span are Harrison Smith (235), Malcolm Jenkins (258) and Devin McCourty (244) and Jenkins (48) and McCourty (46) both played more games. He’s right there.
What about comparing him to one of Tampa Bay’s legends in safety John Lynch? Well, let’s take a look at those numbers. I used two different sets of Lynch’s numbers for this comparison. One set is for his 5th (Tampa), 6th and 7th (Denver) seasons, which are the same years as Conte’s last three seasons. The second set is Lynch’s last three seasons here in Tampa. In both cases, Conte had more tackles and more tackles per game in the same number of games. Lynch did have 3 more interceptions (8) in his last 3 seasons in Tampa, but Conte had more passes defended than Lynch (17). In Lynch’s years 5-7, he did have more forced fumbles (7) and passes defended (26) than Conte did though.
Listen, in no way, shape or form am I saying that Chris Conte is as good or better than John Lynch. I’m just throwing numbers out there to show Conte’s production is better than some people think. John Lynch is one of my favorite all-time Buccaneers and he deserves to be in the Canton. Conte does not, but his numbers are right there.
Conte’s Not Bad
Look, the numbers don’t lie. They also don’t always tell the whole truth. Do I think Chris Conte is on the same level as Harrison Smith or Eric Berry or Malcolm Jenkins? No, of course not. I don’t even think Chris would honestly put himself in that category, but he’s better than some Bucs fans give him credit for.
“But Chris Conte sucks!”
“Chris Conte gets burned all the time!”
“Chris Conte gives up too many plays over the top!”
To those people, my rebuttal is always how do you know Conte got burned? Do you know what defense they were in? Do you know what the coverage call was? Do you know what everyone’s responsibilities were on that play? Are you sure that it was Conte’s fault? How do you know someone else in the secondary didn’t miss an assignment? How do you know that Conte didn’t get hung out to dry by someone else’s bad play or a poor decision? The answer to all these questions is you don’t know. None of us do. The only ones who can watch most of those plays and know who really got beat or burned are the Bucs coaches and players who actually know what was going on.
Does he get beat? Yes, but like I said before, who doesn’t? The best shutdown corners in the NFL get beat from time to time. It doesn’t mean they suck. It means they’re human. Nobody is perfect. I know that. I also know that Chris Conte is always one of this team’s leading tacklers. I know that Chris Conte always seems to make plays when it counts. I know that Chris Conte is usually in the right place at the right time and Chris Conte will likely be the starting strong safety, once again, going into the 2018 season. If this article didn’t change your mind or at least make you think about it, then you obviously have some sort of personal vendetta against the guy and nothing anyone says will change your opinion. Hopefully, another solid season of making tackles and making plays will eventually sway you into at least not badmouthing him in the future. He deserves better.
Until then, as always…Go Bucs!!!