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Tampa Bay’s receiving corps is ready to break through in 2018

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An elite group of athletes with the right attitude will be just what the Bucs need to succeed this season

NFL: Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Miami Dolphins Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

Sure, you know Mike Evans and DeSean Jackson.

Both receivers have made their fair share of incredible, highlight-reel catches over the years. They’ve made a combined four Pro Bowls while on their way to becoming major offensive threats in the NFL.

But what about the guys behind them? Football is a team sport, so every position is important and fortunately for Evans, Jackson, and the Bucs - they have no shortage of reliable pass-catchers.

The strength of this team lies in this unit, there is no doubt about that. Tampa Bay returns four receivers that caught a combined 216 passes for 2,827 yards and ten touchdowns. While those numbers are solid, these guys want more.

“I just expect to be better than I was last year. I’m a year in being around both the team and the organization, just understanding myself and where I want to grow. I’m just trying to do whatever I can to help the team,” second-year receiver and breakout candidate Chris Godwin told me after practice. Godwin had a very successful rookie season in 2017, but there was much left to be desired.

That has changed quite a bit since he caught the game-winning touchdown against the Saints in the season finale. Not only has Godwin made incredible plays all throughout camp - he’s earned the right to start opposite Evans while Jackson has moved into the slot.

But even though the sky is the limit for the budding youngster, he still has a ways to go before catching up to the Bucs’ main target in Evans. He was all over the place during Tampa Bay’s joint practice with the Titans on Wednesday, making anyone who defended him look absolutely silly.

Both Evans and Jackson drew praise from head coach Dirk Koetter, which is what you want to hear when your team goes up against a different opponent during camp.

“They were sharp, they were sharp. It started right off the bat in one-on-ones; they came out smoking. Just naked eye, I thought Mike had a really good day,” Koetter said. “DeSean didn’t get quite as many opportunities, but when he did he looked good. It should be no surprise; those guys are good players.”

It doesn’t stop there, either. Once you get past Evans, Godwin, and Jackson, you have Adam Humphries, coming off a 60-plus catch season and consecutive 600-yard seasons.

Not a bad option for the fourth target on the team.

Further down is a group of unproven players, but who also have all the talent in the world to last in the league.

BoBo Wilson and Freddy Martino both made some plays for the Bucs in 2017, but it wasn’t enough to keep them from drafting Justin Watson out of Penn in the fifth round of this year’s draft.

New Orleans Saints v Tampa Bay Buccaneers
There is some major competition happening at the Bucs’ fifth receiver spot
Photo by Brian Blanco/Getty Images

The 6-foot-3, 215-pound Watson brings size, speed, and length to a position that is already loaded with bigger-than-average receivers. He knows that he is surround by talented players and is doing whatever he can to learn, but more importantly he knows his role on the team and what he needs to do to get better.

“Right now my job is to get as close to them as I can possibly can and make sure that when those guys are tired and they need a break, I can step in there and our offense doesn’t take a step down,” Watson said before heading over for some after-practice reps with Jameis Winston.

Watson finished second on the team in receptions amongst the Bucs’ first-year players in Miami - behind undrafted rookie Sergio Bailey - and he’s carried that momentum into this week’s practices.

Fortunately for Watson, he’s been brought up the right way when it comes to transitioning to the NFL.

“I’ve been around a bunch of great coaches. At Penn, we were a smaller school but I think they prepared us well for this next transition. Just paying attention to the details and doing all the things right – it’s a lot of the same message that our coaching staff preaches, so it’s an easy transition from that standpoint.”

That continuity is good for a rookie like Watson, who will be battling for his life over these next couple of weeks to earn a spot on the 53-man roster. That is by all accounts no insult to Watson whatsoever, but more of a testament to those around him.

Regardless of the outcome, the Bucs will have plenty to work with come 2018 and for a team on the fringe of a total overhaul, any type of stability is always welcome.