Former Tar Heel defensive back M.J. Stewart was released by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Friday. Just a day later, he was claimed off waivers by the Cleveland Browns.
Stewart was a second round draft pick for the Bucs in 2018. He played in 21 games over his two seasons in Tampa Bay, amassing 68 tackles and five pass breakups. He started in six games, but just one of those starts came during the 2019 season.
The Buccaneers originally brought Stewart in with high hopes. Over his four seasons at Carolina, he recorded 199 total tackles, six interceptions, and 43 pass breakups. He was named second team All-ACC as a sophomore, a year in which he tied for the ACC lead with 18 passes defended. He even got involved on special teams in his final season, returning 15 punts for 170 yards. Although Stewart was a major contributor for the Heels throughout his entire career, his game hasn’t translated to the NFL as smoothly as he’d have hoped.
Standing at 5’11 with a 35-inch vertical, Stewart’s had trouble going against the taller and more athletic wide receivers in the league. While he spent most of his time with the Bucs guarding the slot, his lack of elite speed makes that job difficult as well, which is why some believe he’d be best suited at safety.
Regardless of what position he plays, the Browns scooped him up so quickly because they plan to utilize him. Stewart joins a secondary that includes young talent such as Greedy Williams, A.J. Green, and Denzel Ward and more experienced guys like Kevin Johnson and Terrence Mitchell, leading one to think that the plan may be for him to play safety, unlike in Tampa Bay. Hopefully, Cleveland will find ways to best exploit Stewart’s talents and offer him a place to start fresh.