The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have 50 players at their rookie mini-camp, including six draft picks. Some of those players are making spectacular catches. Others are simply surviving, or receiving some attention because their story is interesting, or because they play the same position as some eminently replaceable veterans. And yet, almost none of these players will make a significant impact this year.
Of the 55 first-round wide receiver drafted since 2000, exactly two managed to top 1,000 yards: A.J. Green, and the all-too-familiar Michael Clayton. Just 20 players topped 600 yards as a rookie, and 15 didn't even get to 300 yards. On average, rookie receivers managed 525 yards. The median was 512 yards. This data doesn't change if you look at top 10 picks only. So that's what you can expect out of Mike Evans: 500 receiving yards.
Rookies don't come into the NFL as finished products. Mike Evans ran about three different routes in college (if I can believe Greg Cosell). Both Kevin Pamphile and Kadeem Edwards admitted they needed to improve physically in the NFL. Austin Seferian-Jenkins needs to work on his technique as a blocker.
"All rookies have a little learning curve," Jason Licht said after drafting Mike Evans. "They do, and we know that."
Managing that learning curve will be key to the Bucs' success this season. In the past, the team has simply thrown its rookies into the fire. Gerald McCoy, Mark Barron, Johnthan Banks, Doug Martin and Lavonte David were all starters from day one. That can help them get acclimated to the NFL quickly, but it also means you're relying on players who are still learning their positions to play significant roles. And if your draftees can't live up to that early on, your team is going to struggle.
A few months ago, I talked about player development and asked everyone this:
So when the Buccaneers draft or sign a player this year, ask yourself this: what's their plan for this player? How will they use his strengths and hide his weaknesses? What is their plan to develop his skills over the next couple of years?
I don't know the answer to any of this for any of the team's draftees. We can make educated guesses, though: Mike Evans and Austin Seferian-Jenkins will likely be full-time starters sooner rather than later. Charles Sims will be a third-down back and back up Doug Martin. Kadeem Edwards and Kevin Pamphile will likely sit and develop, while it seems Robert Herron is going to be a punt returner and could end up as a slot receiver.
But there are other things we don't know. Will Mike Evans be able to run the entire route tree early on? Will Seferian-Jenkins be a capable blocker? Can he find the right spot to sit down in against zone coverage? If injury strikes the running back position or offensive line, can Sims, Edwards or Pamphile step into a starting role capably? And if the answer to any of these questions is 'no', will they be able to do these things by the end of the season? By next year? In three year's time?
The sobering reality is that some of these players the Bucs drafted will turn out to be busts. Whether that's because they lack work ethic, because they lack talent, because they didn't fit the scheme or because they didn't get the necessary coaching: some of these players will not work out.
Right now, though, the future's looking bright, and we all get to appreciate the new-car-smell of rookie mini-camp.