Prospecting the Draft: A Closer Look at the Wide Receivers

Could Golden Tate fall in the Bucs' laps with the 35th pick?

On a 3-13 team, it's not hard to imagine that there are multiple positional groups that are underperforming or lack the perceived talent to succeed.  Following the announcement that top Buccaneer wideout Antonio Bryant will not be retained by the Buccaneers this offseason, a tenuous wide receiving unit took a big step backwards.  Rather than reach out to some ok, but not great, unrestricted free agent wide receivers like Nate Burleson and Kevin Walter, Mark Dominik stood pat.  When Anquan Boldin was reportedly placed on the trading block for a 3rd round pick, the radio station phone lines and blogosphere blew up with hope and excitement that a battered-but-not-yet-on-his-last-legs veteran like Boldin could be the perfect elixir for the continued development of a young, developing quarterback.  Instead, he's off to Baltimore with with a 5th round pick in exchange for 3rd and 4th rounders.  It's unknown if the Bucs made any overtures, but Dominik never hinted to Duemig yesterday that they were going to do so.

Look, the bottom line is this.... whether or not you like the decision to refrain from acquiring another wide receiver or re-signing AB, the Bucs sit here today with the following to show as their WR depth chart:

Michael Clayton, Sammie Stroughter, Maurice Stovall (RFA), Brian Clark (RFA), Mark Bradley (RFA), and Mario Urrutia, and (now) Reggie Brown.

Accordingly, the wide receiver position has gone from needing an upgrade to Defcon 3 panic mode.  While folks on here have debated on whether or not Antonio Bryant is a legitimate #1 NFL WR, there's zero doubt he was head and shoulders above the rest of the receiving corps and, when healthy, as close to a #1 WR as the Bucs have had in years.  Now, with the Michael Clayton set to take over as the Bucs' primary wide receiver, the Bucs will obviously have to take a long and hard looking at spending one of their first 3 draft picks on an impact wide receiver. 

At this juncture, the only WR being projected by many purported draft experts to be taken in the first 20 picks is Oklahoma State WR Dez Bryant.  Bryant is considered to be the most explosive receiving threat by far out of the WR crop this year.  However, as most of you will recall, Bryant played in only 3 games in 2009 before being suspended for the remainder of the season.  He also missed the combine due to a hamstring injury and will not be working out at Oklahoma State's Pro Day on March 10. 

With all that in mind, let's take a closer look at some notable WR prospects in this year's draft and the projected position where the Bucs might have a chance to land them. 

Reminder: this post is listed under the section "2010 Draft", which you can find right below our site name on the front page.  After this article has moved past the front page, you can go to this section to find this article and all of our other draft pieces there to keep the discussion going.  I encourage all of you to use this piece as a hub for the discussion of all things related to wide receivers in the draft. 

FIRST ROUND

1. Dez Bryant - Oklahoma State.

Pros: Probably the most likely game-breaking wide receiver in this year's draft.  Reminds me of a bigger version of Michael Crabtree at 6'2, 225 pounds.  He's a true red zone threat, a big guy with long arms who can get off a jam, speed to get a half-step on your average corner, and the ups to win fade patterns and jump balls over smaller cornerbacks in the back of the end zone. 

Cons: Tends to take some plays off if he's not the featured guy.  Concerned with the attitude and bad judgment he showed that led him to get suspended during the 2009 season.  Hasn't showed much enthusiasm to roll his sleeves up and block in the running game (although he's got the long arms, frame, strength, and attitude to do it). 

Overall: Impossible to take with the 3rd pick if either Suh or McCoy are on the board.  Wide receivers can be reported can't-miss guys from the pundits and flame out epically (see the 2000 NFL Draft for a plethora of examples).  I don't see the Bucs trading down out of that spot if either is available.  However, if both DTs are gone (unlikely now) and the Bucs can trade down with maybe a team like Buffalo, Bryant wouldn't be the worst selection in the world around the 9th(ish) pick of the draft.  He would provide the big-armed Freeman with a deep threat to stretch the field that could become pretty nifty for years to come.

FIRST - SECOND ROUND

2. Golden Tate - Notre Dame.

Pros: Incredibly quick and agile, which, if he can perfect his route-running skills would make him lethal in the short to mid-range passing game.  Good shimmy....can make tacklers miss and turn it up for a big gain.   Surprised many at the combine by running a blazing unofficial 4.36 at the combine.  Despite his less-than-ideal size, has good hands and instincts to go up and catch the ball at the highest point when needed.  Played in a pro-style passing offense at Notre Dame. Has the potential to be an incredibly effective slot receiver for years to come.

Cons: Size, size, size.  At 5'11, 195 pounds, doesn't carry the frame of the prototypical NFL #1WR, which teams are certainly seeking with their 1st pick.  Not the most physical receiver and could struggle some against press coverage.  Also could find tough sledding as a blocker.

Overall: It would be a gift if this guy fell into the Bucs' collective lap at 35.  He has the upside to become an all-around stud, as both a 7-10 catch, 85+ ypg #1 type receiver and a home run threat.  He's the WR I'm hoping the Bucs can land. 

3. Arrelious Benn - Illinois.

Pros: Ideal size for an NFL WR at 6'2, 220 pounds.  Although his agility and ability to make players miss leaves something to be desired, he's a big, physical presence who is tough to bring down in the open field.  Has good speed, although his acceleration to top speed is not top-notch.  His physicality is also evident in his blocking.  Also able to fight off jams.  Long arms, good ups, and premiere body control make him a true 3rd-and-short chain-moving machine.

Cons: Played for a stinky QB at Illinois in the seemingly-regressing Juice Williams, which prevented Benn from standing out and demonstrating what he's fully capable of.  Rounded off his routes far too much and will have to improve those.  Still hasn't shown the ability to juke or fool coverage.

Overall: Still an unknown comodity, with much of his stock to be determined at private workouts and his pro day.  Regardless, his imposing size, straight-line speed, and physical tools make him a very attractive option to teams looking for the next big, #1 Plaxico Burress-ish type of receiver.

4. Demaryius Thomas - Georgia Tech.

Pros: Superior strength and blocking ability for a WR....easily the best out of the WRs in this draft.  Terrific size and frame at 6'3", 230.  Would be one of those "violent and physical" players that Raheem Morris has supposedly been seeking.  Played in an offensive system at Georgia Tech that required him to block the vast majority of the time, so he's used to working harder than your average receiver and didn't take many, if any, plays off.  Has the ability to punish any poor DBs that might even think about stepping in his way at the snap.  A load to bring down.  Has great straight-line speed and can get to that speed quickly.  A true vertical threat.

Cons: A boom-or-bust, go-or-stop type of receiver.  He's not a guy that can cut off a route or change speeds on a dime.  He doesn't run fluid routes and is raw and unproven in a pro-style offensive system gearing towards short passes........would be a true fish out of water starting out in a West Coast offense.

Overall: Tough to say if he'll develop into a true #1 NFL WR due to his utilization in an offensive system straight out of the 40's.  However, his particular skill sets are tempting to consider in the Bucs' offense.  If we are going to rely on the running game (finally...?), then Thomas could be a tantalizing option to pair with Michael Clayton, which could set up some truly special gains on outside runs and screen passes.  Thomas could also be effective deep in play action in those situations.

SECOND ROUND

5. Jordan Shipley - Texas. 

Pros: The thing that struck me first about Shipley is his awareness on the field of where the pass is going and the great body control he has to adjust to the path of the ball and make a play.  He's a very smart player who's always in the right spot.  He may not possess quality deep speed, but he is extremely quick and absolutely explodes off the line.  Can make all the catches in the book.  Certainly a very capable slot receiver in a complex offensive system and a dependable 3rd-down/short yardage option.  Lethal in zone coverage.

Cons: Although he can fly off the line at the snap, he's not going to be able to run away from the majority of NFL defensive backs.  

Overall: Heck...there's not alot I can find against Shipley.  He's going to be a good, productive player in this league.   

6. Damian Williams - USC.

Pros: Good vision...able to quickly see where the defenders are coming from and find the optimal route for a big gain.  Shifty...adept at making defenders miss.  That escapeability makes him a true threat as a punt returner.  Good, but not top-end speed.  A better route runner than several of the other bigger WRs in this draft.  Excellent hands and can go to the ground to make the catch.

Cons: Not able to break tackles with ease...often going down on first contact if he's unable to elude the defender.  Not particularly physical...would likely be a liability in the running game. 

Overall: If he's still there in the second round, I wouldn't be upset if the Bucs plucked him off the board.  He's capable of emerging as a productive #2 NFL wide receiver, or possibly even more.

7. Brandon LaFell - LSU.

Pros: 6'3, 206 pound frame and long arms suits LaFell to push around smaller DBs and get free in press coverage.  LIke many of the bigger wide receivers in the top-part of this draft, uses his long arms and muscular frame to take his defender out of the play on running plays.  Has acceptable, but not top-end speed........good enough to become a decent deep threat, if not consistent.  Appears to be a better intermediate route runner than big WRs Demaryius Thomas and Arrelious Benn. 

Cons: Dropped some catchable passes more often than he should've at LSU.  Numbers declined a bit senior year....although upon closer review it was a result of a few mediocre games, whereas he blew up with big performances the majority of the 2009 season.

Overall: Has the stuff to make a big impact for an NFL team, even though he's fighting that LSU stigma for touted receivers that don't amount to much. I personally don't buy that.  Dwayne Bowe and Percy Harvin are working on reshaping that image right now.  LaFell's adequate speed, good, crisp route running, long arms, and alright speed will make him a red zone machine.......as long as he catches the ball regularly.

Add in Mardy Gilyard, Dezmon Briscoe, Riley Cooper, and Carlton Mitchell as likely 3rd-4th rounders, and there are a number of possibilities for the Bucs to consider with their first 5 draft picks.  Anyone want to take a crack at breaking down some of those cats? Overall, I think this is a talent-laden draft for WRs, even if it's not getting as much pub for that talent as past drafts have received.  Question is....who are YOU hoping the Bucs land and where?  Let's hear it.......

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