Buccaneers free agency preview: wide receiver

Rob Foldy-USA TODAY Sports

Our 2014 Buccaneers free agency preview continues with the wide receiver position. The Bucs need to add depth at the position, but how far will they go?

Currently on the roster: Vincent Jackson, Mike Williams, Skye Dawson, Chris Owusu, Eric Page, Russell Shepard and Tommy Streeter.

Free agents: Tiquan Underwood

What happened in 2013

Injuries and a lack of depth crippled the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' receiving corps. Vincent Jackson had a solid season as a deep threat, racking up 78 catches for 1,224 yards and seven touchdowns. While he had a few too many drops early in the year, he reined those in later in the year and overall had a very good season.

Unfortunately, he was the only consistent wideout on the team. Mike Williams was hobbled throughout the season, before finally being placed on injured reserve with a hamstring injury. He managed just 216 yards on 22 catches in six games. Tiquan Underwood surpassed that number in his 12 games, but his 24 catches for 440 yards weren't exactly dominant, either.

Behind those three, the Bucs had nothing. Kevin Ogletree managed just four games before being released, while Chris Owusu continued to struggle with injuries and could not get on the field even when he was healthy.

2014 outlook

The Buccaneers have two solid starters in Vincent Jackson and Mike Williams, but lack any quality beyond that. They have a few physically gifted players on the roster, most notably Tommy Streeter and Russell Shepard, while Chris Owusu is a promising player, but they've done nothing in the NFL and counting on them would be a massive mistake.

Most of all, the Bucs don't have the kind of speed receiver Jeff Tedford craves. Mike Williams and Vincent Jackson are both deep threats due to their skill at making contested catches, but neither of them is a truly explosive, speed receiver. Jackson can lift the top off a defense a little, but he's not a real speedster either -- he threatens cornerbacks because of his stride length more than his pure speed.

And then there are Mike Williams' off-field issues. While they're collectively all fairly innocuous, the receiver hasn't endeared himself to the new regime. The team can't release him without taking a massive cap hit, barring some unexpected clauses in his contract. Even if those clauses are present, you will see grievances filed if he's released.

That doesn't mean Williams is a definite starter for the 2014 season. He'll have to prove himself to Lovie Smith and company this offseason, and they will almost certainly bring in competition for Williams. You need three receivers in today's NFL, if not more, and the Bucs have just one they can definitely count on.

Free agency

With $12.5 million of cap space spent on Vincent Jackson and another $2 million in Mike Williams, and even higher totals next year, the Bucs are unlikely to spend big at receiver, but they do need to add depth and preferably some competition for Mike Williams as a starter.

There's only one reasonably high-level starter available in free agency, and that's Eric Decker. He doesn't really fit the Bucs' needs, though, and there's the question as to how much of his production the past two years was made by Peyton Manning rather than by himself. The Bucs are almost certain to look elsewhere. Similarly, Hakeem Nicks is probably off the radar after his disappointing season, given that he's another big-bodied receiver who mostly excels at contested catches.

Instead, the Bucs may look to shiftier, explosive receivers. Golden Tate would be a good option there, a player many Bucs fans wanted to draft instead of Arrelious Benn in 2009. Tate hasn't been consistent and is not the best technician, but he's an explosive force and a very good slot receiver as well as a quality punt returner. Signing him would fill two holes. Andre Roberts is a similar player, and he has the added benefit of being familiar to general manger Jason Licht from his time in Arizona.

James Jones is another possible addition as a quality, professional wide receiver. He's not a real speedster or explosive, but he's a good route runner who knows how to function in the NFL. Emmanuel Sanders fits that mold as well.

Finally, Dexter McCluster, Devin Hester, Jacoby Jones and Ted Ginn could be interesting options as explosive return men who could add some speed on offense in limited roles.

Draft

The draft is filled with quality wide receivers, and may be one of the deepest receiver drafts in years. Right at the top of that draft is Sammy Watkins, who's probably the best prospect to come out since Julio Jones and A.J. Green. If he falls to the Buccaneers at number seven, it's hard to see them passing up an explosive playmaker like Watkins, but he's also the only realistic receiver for the Bucs at that slot.

They're more likely to find a quality player in the second round of the draft. There's a slew of talented receivers who might be available at that spot, including Brandon Cooks, Odell Beckham, Jarvis Landry and Kelvin Benjamin. Any one of them would be a terrific find for the Bucs and while some of those players will be gone at that spot, one of them should be available.

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