It is very rare in the NFL that you have a team that has no holes on their roster. They don’t necessarily have to be glaring holes, but some positions are just stronger than others. The Buccaneers have a few position groups that I feel extremely confident about going into this season. I would say the team’s strongest, most well rounded position group is wide receiver.
When you look at the receiving corps as a whole, you can argue that it is one of the best, if not the best in the entire NFL. You have Mike Evans, who I consider to be a top five receiver in this game. He had what many consider to be a down year last season, but he still put up impressive numbers. Evans hauled in 71 catches for 1,001 yards and five touchdowns. For most receivers in the NFL, that is a heck of a year, but for Evans that was a down year and he knows he can do better, especially with YAC yardage. If Evans can improve in that aspect of his game, he will put up monstrous numbers and will help take this Buccaneer offense to the next level.
“As far as YAC (yards after catch), it wasn’t my worst year playing, maybe my second worse, but YAC, my yards after catch wasn’t as good,” Evans said. “I guess my awareness wasn’t where it should’ve been. I’ve just got to work on it more in practice and get more reps at it.”
Not only does the team have a true number one receiver in Evans, but they also have a developing star in second year player Chris Godwin. When Godwin was called upon at the end of last season, he delivered. Godwin had a slow start to his rookie campaign as he continued to learn the offense, but once injuries forced him into a starting role, he didn’t disappoint. Over the final four games of 2017, Godwin hauled in 16 passes for 295 yards. He also had a walk off touchdown in the final seconds of week 17, which gave the organization much hope, as he heads into his second season. Godwin has continued his development this offseason and by the sound of it the coaches are very pleased with what they have seen. Godwin seems to have played himself into a starting role on the outside.
Folks, Trevor Sikkema of PewterReport[dot]com here to let you know that at Thursday’s #Bucs OTA, WR Chris Godwin was, in fact, the starting outside receiver and WR DeSean Jackson made a few very nice plays from the slot on momentum routes.— Trevor Sikkema (@TampaBayTre) May 24, 2018
I haven’t forgot about DeSean Jackson, who is still one of the best deep threats in the entire NFL as he heads into his 11th season. Things didn’t fully click last season for Jackson and Jameis Winston. The chemistry never reached its peak, especially on the deep ball. The two have made an effort this offseason to fix that issue and attempt to take their game to the next level. They gathered at Florida State in hopes of building up chemistry.
It wasn’t all on Jackson and Winston however. I think that the coaching staff did a poor job of maximizing Jackson’s speed. Very rarely did we see Jackson line up in the slot, where I believe he can be extremely effective. I don’t know if there is a single defensive back in the NFL that can consistently stay with Jackson on drag routes and slants. He was never really used in the slot last season, but I do remember the Patriots game where he took a simple little slant route from the left slot 41 yards and was a step away from taking it to the house. That reception was also his longest of the season and that play, to my knowledge, was never called again for the rest of the season. Jackson still put up respectable numbers. He hauled in 50 catches for 668 yards and three touchdowns. There is no doubt the chemistry between Jackson and Winston needs to improve, but the team also needs to find more ways to get him into open space.
The team also has Adam Humphries, who in my opinion is as reliable as they come. Outside of the fumble in Buffalo, Humphries has been very consistent and seems to be one of Winston’s go to guys on third downs. Humphries was third on the team in targets last season with 83. He finished with 61 catches for 631 yards and one touchdown. Those numbers don’t jump off the page, but he was an undrafted player from Clemson and has turned into a solid contributor year in and year out. He doesn’t have blazing speed that will beat you down field, but he excels at the short game and that is what the Buccaneers need. I think if the team was to get that kind of production from him again in 2018, they would gladly take it.
The Buccaneers also drafted another receiver this season. The team selected Justin Watson out of Pennsylvania in the fifth round of the draft. He will likely be competing for the fifth receiving spot with Jesus “BoBo” Wilson. Wilson will have the advantage because of his experience and familiarity with not only the offense, but Jameis Winston as well. The two were former teammates at FSU, in which they developed a nice connection and we have seen glimpses of that carry over into the NFL. Watson definitely has his work cut out for him, but I think either of these players are fantastic options to be the team’s fifth receiver. I think that that will be one of the more exciting training camp battles. We can’t forget about the two tight end options as well in Cameron Brate and O.J. Howard. Evan Winter did a great piece on the both and how they can become a dominant duo.
While the receiving core is probably the best position group on the team, the defensive line and linebackers aren’t far off. Both groups have tons of talent, but consistency and familiarity are a bit of a concern heading into the season. It will be fun to revisit this article at the conclusion of 2018, but look for the Bucs receivers to have a fantastic season.