You have to give it to him. I mean, the Buccaneers rarely make a splash in the trade market, and they went out and got him anyway. Questions, black marks, and red flags aside, the Buccaneers took a chance.
And Kellen Winslow Jr. rewarded them, handsomely.
Out of the headlines and into the stat book, Winslow was a bright spot on a struggling offense in an otherwise abysmal season in Tampa Bay. And much like a great running attack opens the passing game, so does one capable receiver free-up another.
Imagine what Winslow could have done with a little help.
In 2009, the top-three Buccaneer receivers caught 79 passes for 1,196 yards and six touchdowns combined.
Meanwhile, Winslow caught 77 for 884 and five touchdowns. He was also sixth in the league among tight ends in receptions and yards and seventh in yards per game.
Antiono Bryant is gone. It remains to be seen if second-year player Sammie Stroughter can solidify the third-receiver spot, and Maurice Stovall fighting to stay relevant. Michael Clayton is on thin ice, and rookies Arrelious Benn and Mike Williams could punch Clayton’s ticket out of town if they play to their hype.
While sharing the same task, however, Benn and Williams have different things to prove.
Before this year’s draft, Benn was considered a first-round talent, ranked with Demaryius Thomas and Dez Bryant among the top wide receivers in the draft.
After Thomas and Bryant went in the first round, the Buccaneers selected Benn with the seventh pick in the second round (39th overall). And that will be the chip on Benn’s shoulder throughout his rookie campaign: The teams like Denver and Dallas that passed on him. The teams that drafted defense. Those who thought there were better players on the board.
Williams, however, has another mountain to climb. A manmade mountain, built by a collection of poor decisions and bad judgement.
We all know the story. He quit on his team, and it was seemingly a big misunderstanding, depending on who you ask. Misunderstanding or not, it still occurred, and he’s judged upon that.
Mark Dominik and Raheem Morris feel differently. After interviewing several people close to Williams and to the Syracuse football program, whom Williams allegedly abandoned, the Buccaneers felt comfortable taking Williams, and his baggage, in the fourth round.
He was the 13th receiver chosen.
Despite having different things to prove, Benn and Williams could have an enormous impact on Winslow’s sophomore Buccaneer campaign.
He averaged 55.3 yards per game in 2009, while the top-three wide receivers managed just 29.4. If he had legitimate threats on the outside, the field would open up for Winslow and second-year quarterback Josh Freeman to make some serious noise in the passing game.
Sure, Winslow’s strength is as a receiver, not a run-blocker. But it’s a passing league these days. After all, when it comes to touchdowns, 13 of the top 30 seasons in history have come in the last decade, including the top two by Tom Brady and Peyton Manning. Also, five of the top 10 seasons in history in passing yards have come in the last decade.
Chicks dig the deep ball, and the big play.
Much like Benn and Williams, Winslow had much to overcome when he arrived in Tampa Bay.
There was his well-documented bad attitude in college. There was the broken leg. There was the motorcycle accident. There was his criticism of the Browns’ general manager. There were suspensions.
But the Buccaneers took a chance, and so far, it’s been a victory in a year littered with countless defeats.
As we approach the 2010 season, Benn and Williams have the potential to not only save the Buccaneer passing game (not to mention the careers of Freeman, Morris, and offensive coordinator Greg Olson), but to allow Winslow to emerge as the player he was so highly touted as when he entered the league.
As one of the top tight ends in the NFL.