In the second installment, we move straight to wide receiver. Perhaps the most disappointing position on the team in 2011, despite looking pretty talented the year before.
What happened in 2011
I'll tell you what happened: everyone sucked. Mike Williams couldn't get open or catch, Arrelious Benn lacked explosion, Micheal Spurlock didn't get on the field, Dezmon Briscoe has no speed and Sammie Stroughter was injured and/or ineffective. Preston Parker was the only player to consistently produce, but as a slot receiver his role was limited. Let's go through this player by player.
Sucked. Couldn't gain separation, dropped a ridiculous number of balls, failed to make any contested catches - or anything except easy catches, really. Seemed to lose all his magic from the year before. Despite that he still caught 65 passes for 771 yards and 3 touchdowns.
Was inconsistent but showed flashes. At times got deep behind the secondary - at other times failed to gain much separation. Saw his playing time limited and only made it onto the field on passing downs late in the seasons, but not to much effect. Struggled to catch any ball that wasn't thrown perfectly and caused a few interceptions by tipping high but catchable balls. Also ran a ton of stupid end-arounds that somehow always saw him break 5 tackles before being tackled - for a loss. Those were the worst. Showed some potential coming off an ACL injury, but was too inconsistent to be counted on.
Had no deep speed whatsoever but was a decent possession receiver who had a knack for finding the end zone. Got some extra playing time at the end of the season when Arrelious Benn missed two games. Ended the year with 35 catches for 387 yards and 6 touchdowns. The best thing he did was simply catch balls, regardless of whether they were placed perfectly.
The lone bright spot in the receiving corps. Consistently converted long third downs with his ability to run after the catch, ending the year with 40 catches for 554 yards and 3 touchdowns. Looked like a better version of 2009 Sammie Stroughter, seemed to have some real chemistry with Freeman. Won't ever be a real star, but a useful player in the slot. Was ineffective as a punt returner, and had one disastrous game with a couple of muffed/fumbled punts.
Injured for most of the year, and then inactive or ineffective after that. Showed none of the skills he showed in 2009, although his opportunities were limited. Did have a big kick return to open the season, but that was it.
Never got on the field. Apparently being a third quarterback means you don't get to do anything else, even if you're terrible as a third quarterback. Didn't do anything as a returner or receiver.
What looked like a strength in 2011 now looks like a weakness. While these players probably aren't as bad as they looked this season, the Bucs do need to add some talent and competition to this group. The lack of speed on the outside was evident, as teams could sit on short routes all day and the Bucs had no answers.
Still, there is hope that Mike Williams and Arrelious Benn can bounce back next season. Neither player had an offseason to work on his craft, as no player in the NFL had that, and Benn was coming back from ACL injury which most likely limited him.
There are a plethora of options for the Bucs in 2012. Both the draft and free agency are filled with good receivers. The most obvious draftable receiver is Justin Blackmon, who was highly productive Oklahoma State. He doesn't have the deep speed to blow the top off defenses, but he does have a very wide catching range and consistently makes contested catches. Another player to keep an eye on is Mohamed Sanu, a likely second-round pick who played for new Bucs head coach Greg Schiano at Rutgers.
In free agency the Bucs will have plenty of choices, if they choose to go that route. Vincent Jackson, Brandon Lloyd, Marques Colston, DeSean Jackson, Stevie Johnson, Reggie Wayne, Robert Meachem, Mario Manningham, Pierre Garcon and Laurent Robinson are just some of the names to hit the free agency market this offseason. While some of those players will undoubtedly re-sign with their own teams, the Bucs will have plenty players to choose from.
Likely 2012 depth chart:
Mike Williams, new addition, Arrelious Benn, Dezmon Briscoe, Preston Parker (slot), Raymond Webber, Ed Gant.