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Season in Review: Wide Receivers

Prior to the draft, the wide receiver corps was one of the weakest position groups on the team. 2009's leading receiver Antonio Bryant was not resigned for 2010, Michael Clayton couldn't catch a ball to save his life and that left Maurice Stovall and Sammie Stroughter as the main receivers. Stroughter was a promising rookie, but likely to work best as a slot receiver. Stovall was big, physical and seemed to have some chemistry with Freeman, but he was hardly a standout with his 24 catches for 366 yards. Before the draft, the Bucs added former second-round pick Reggie Brown , making him the most experienced and productive receiver on the roster. Unfortunately, he had dropped to fifth on the Eagles depth chart for a reason.

During the season, all these 'veteran' receivers disappointed. Michael Clayton didn't make it to the regular season roster as he was cut after the preseason. Reggie Brown did slightly better - by exactly 2 days and 0 games. Stovall was pegged as a starting receiver but injuries held him out of the first few games, and by the time he got back there was no room for him on the field. Sammie Stroughter was then asked to step in as a starter, but he too couldn't deliver. He struggled with injuries throughout the season, but he also lacked the skills to thrive as a receiver on the outside. Stroughter may have to move exclusively to the slot in the future. But despite this lack of veteran production, the Bucs certainly had no trouble producing in the passing game. 

The Bucs looked to the draft for this production, and luckily for them it worked out. While second-rounder Arrelious Benn was the more high-profile pick, fouth-rounder Mike Williams was the most talented receiver on the roster. He had dropped in the draft because of character concerns, but set out to prove that those concerns were unwarranted. Mike Williams turned out to be the most productive rookie receiver in 2011 with 65 catches for 964 yards and a Bucs record 11 TDs. Williams was the Bucs' best receiver and a reliable #1 for Josh Freeman throughout the season. While he at times dropped easy catches, he also showed a remarkable ability to catch a football at his highest point, winning a lot of jump balls throughout the season. Mike Williams looks like a future star, but he'll have to continue working on his craft to attain that level. And we all know what can happen with receivers after an amazing rookie season. 

Arrelious Benn did not have nearly as good a season, though. While he started to produce late in the season, mostly as a deep threat, he struggled to get on the field early in the season. After a couple of games he took over the starting job from Sammie Stroughter, but was mostly on the field as a blocker: whenever the Bucs went to pass-heavy formations, Benn came off the field. But this isn't abnormal for rookie receivers, it often takes them a while to get used to the NFL. Benn has a lot of talent and is a very physical receiver. The Bucs frequently used him on so-called 'hitch' or 'smoke' routes and WR screens, getting him the ball in space and allowing him to break some tackles and make people miss. While his season was cut short because of a torn ACL, there's little reason to assume that he won't get better and be a factor for the Bucs. 

There were two other receivers on the Bucs roster that made some significant impacts: Dezmon Briscoe and Michael Spurlock. Briscoe is an interesting case - a star wide receiver at Kansas, he was drafted in the sixth round by the Bengals. They subsequently waived him to get him on their practice squad, but the Bucs offered him a better salary to sign with the Bucs practice squad instead. And when Benn suffered his season-ending injury, Briscoe got a chance to show his skills, appearing in 2 games. He turned out to be another solid receiver, producing this highlight catch among others. While not as talented as Williams or Benn, he showed he can be a relevant player in the future as well. 

Michael Spurlock turned out to be the only productive veteran receiver in 2010 for the Bucs. He still made his presence felt as a returner, with a 25.7 yard average and 1 kickoff return for a touchdown. But his biggest plays came in the passing game. Despite a mere 17 catches, Spurlock's play was best-defined as clutch. He caught a touchdown to seal a win against the Browns in the season-opener. Against the Bengals he caught a sideline pass during the final seconds of the game to set up the game-winning field goal. When the Bucs found themselves facing 3rd&13 from their own 1-yard-line in Atlanta, Spurlock caught a 43-yard pass to help them get out of that hole. And just a few minutes before that, he had returned a kickoff for a touchdown to keep the Bucs within striking distance of the Falcons. Spurlock made a number of impact plays throughout the season, and his versatilty makes him valuable to the Bucs. 


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