Kellen Winslow Jr. is a special talent at tight end. The fact that he was selected 6th overall in the 2004 draft should speak to that: no tight end has ever been selected higher than that. But throughout his career, his production has been lagging behind his talent.
The first two seasons of his career he managed just 5 catches for 50 yards, as those two seasons were shorted by different injuries. First, he broke his leg in his rookie season, which made that a lost season for him. Then in the next offseason he managed to tear his ACL in a motorcycle accident, which held him out for another year. When he finally got on the field for the Browns he performed well, catching 89 passes for 875 yards and 3 touchdowns, which is a very good but not elite total. The next season Kellen Winslow turned in his best season, as he caught 82 passes for 1,106 yards. That's obviously a very good total, even elite, and he was arguably the best pass-catching tight end in the NFL at that season. And he did that with Derek Anderson throwing to him instead of an actual NFL quarterback.
Unfortunately, Kellen Winslow hasn't come close to that production since. In 2008 he played just 10 games, catching just 48 passes for 884 a mere 428 yards. He was a victim of a staph infection that season, missing several games because of it, but even in the games he played his production wasn't up to par. That was also his last season as a Cleveland Brown, as the Bucs traded for him the next offseason, giving up second- and fifth-round draft pick.
For that price the Bucs could expect good production, which is what they got: 77 catches for 884 yards in 2009 and 66 catches for 730 yards in 2010, those totals accompanied by 5 touchdowns each. And because he offers so little as a blocker, the sum of Kellen Winslow's value is closely approached by his production as a receiver, and that hasn't been as good as it could have been. He hasn't approached his 2007 season here, so why has that not happened?
You can point to his chronic knee injury that needs to be managed and limits his practice time. It's conceivable that this has been a bigger problem in recent years than it was in 2007. If that is the case, then there is some good news at least: Kellen Winslow says his knee feels better, but that's a platitude that every previously injured player spouts during the offseason. But Winslow hasn't had knee surgery this offseason, which is a new sensation. In addition to that, he's also working out with Josh Freeman in Florida, while he had stayed in Calfiornia in previous years during the offseason. He claims that he's now learned how to handle his injury better and doesn't need to work on it on his own because of that, but this should also help his on-field chemistry with Josh Freeman.
So there's now some reason to believe that Kellen Winslow will do better in 2010, but I can give you a much more convincing argument: the way he progressed through last season. At the start of the season he seemed to be an afterthought at times, with a low of 1 catch for 5 yards against the Arizona Cardinals. he didn't catch a touchdown pass until week 10. Interestingly, though, there was no difference in terms of catches from the first half of the season to the second half of the season: in both halves he caught 33 passes. But there was a big discrepancy in terms of yards per catch. That rose from 10.2 yards per catch over the first 8 games, to 11.9 yards per catch in the second half of the season. Extrapolate that over a full season of, say, 80 catches, and that's a 950-yard season. A full 200 yards more than if he'd had 75 catches for the 10.2 yards per catch of the first half of his 2010 season.
The change in production from the first to the second half of the season was caused by a number of things. At the start of the season, the Bucs pass offense struggled a little while it was on fire toward the end of the season. Early in the season, defenses focused on Kellen Winslow, as Mike Williams was still an unknown. As Mike Williams started to make a bigger impact, Kellen Winslow got a little less attention and a little more room to make rooms. Finally, it's likely that Freeman and Winslow developed a better connection as the season progressed. Kellen Winslow has shown he can be a top producer as a receiving tight end in the NFL. I think we can expect that production next season.