Since January, all we’ve been able to do is talk about what the Buccaneers will look like in 2019. With training camp just over one week away, talking season is nearly over. We’re about to actually see what the team looks like on the field.
For NFL players, the end of July and the entire month of August is all about returning to game shape, getting reps and in some cases, fighting for roster spots. For fans, it’s simply a time to appreciate finally having football back. There’s always a group of players that get a bit of extra attention throughout training camp and the preseason.
Who is in that group this year for Tampa Bay? Last week, we looked at five returning players to watch. Yesterday, we went through five newcomers to follow. Today, we’ll be rounding out the series by looking at five undrafted free agents worth watching over the next month or so.
RB Bruce Anderson
Bruce Anderson is one of the main undrafted free agents on this team that has been getting a lot of hype throughout the summer. Anderson rushed for 2,896 yards and 24 touchdowns in four years at North Dakota State. He was fifth all-time in Bison history in all-purpose yards with 4,704. The 5-foot-11, 210-pounder has all sorts of playmaking ability, AND he showed up when it mattered most in the FCS Playoffs. In 15 career playoff games, he put up 1,653 all-purpose yards and 18 total touchdowns. There are plenty of reasons to be excited about Anderson’s potential. He’ll be exciting to watch in training camp, but we should all be looking forward to seeing him in live preseason games.
The thing is, Anderson has a legitimate shot at making the Tampa Bay roster out of training camp. The running back position is interesting for the Bucs. Peyton Barber and Ronald Jones II are locked into the top two spots on the depth chart. But behind them, things are pretty open. Andre Ellington might be a favorite to stick around, but Anderson is a guy that could certainly push him for the spot behind Barber and Jones. Truthfully, he could show up those two guys as well. It was just last year that undrafted rookie Shaun Wilson emerged as a threat to Jones in the preseason. Anderson is an exciting back. Getting to see what he can do against the Tampa Bay defense — and then the defenses of the team’s four preseason opponents — will be loads of fun.
WR Anthony Johnson
Like the running back position, the Bucs’ wide receiver group has some spots already locked down. But it’s the depth spots — namely the fourth and fifth receiver roles — that are up for grabs. Anthony Johnson is a guy that could easily threaten for the team’s WR4 slot. The former Buffalo wide receiver going undrafted was legitimately a surprise. His NFL.com draft profile projected him as a fourth-round pick and labeled him a potential starter or a WR3 at the professional level. How did this guy go undrafted? Sure, maybe he comes from a smaller program and didn’t test all that well, but his frame and overall production are beyond impressive. In two years with the Bulls, he caught 133 passes for 2,367 yards and 25 touchdowns.
At 6-foot-2, 209 pounds, Johnson has a nice build and a good skillset. He can play physical and stretch the field, with good speed too. According to his draft profile, he was primarily used as a vertical threat at Buffalo, but he also got some possession work in the slot. The Bucs could use that kind of versatility, especially with no clear-cut answers for the spots behind Mike Evans, Chris Godwin and Breshad Perriman. Johnson has plenty of competition in Scotty Miller, Bobo Wilson, Justin Watson and a certain other guy on this list (more in a bit), but it’s hard to ignore the Buffalo product’s size, skillset and potential. Watching him match up against the Bucs’ young secondary should be fun, especially if given a chance to work with Jameis Winston. It wouldn’t be a surprise if Johnson quickly becomes one of the big talking points for Tampa Bay during the month of August.
G Zack Bailey
The Tampa Bay offensive line is by no means set. Ryan Jensen, Ali Marpet, Donovan Smith and presumably Demar Dotson are set in their spots, but right guard is a real question mark. Alex Cappa and Earl Watford will challenge for it, as will Evan Smith (depending on health). But it’s definitely possible for a dark horse to emerge and threaten for some playing time at the position. South Carolina graduate Zack Bailey could be that guy. The 6-foot-5, 299-pound Bailey carries intriguing versatility. He played center, guard and tackle during his time with the Gamecocks. Given the uncertainty at right guard, the health concerns with Dotson and the lack of depth, Bailey is a guy who could possibly step into a significant role.
In recent episodes of the Locked on Bucs podcast with Bucs Nation’s James Yarcho and David Harrison, there was some interesting talk about the 2018 All-SEC Second-Teamer. On two different episodes, Scott Smith and Carmen Vitali — both of Buccaneers.com — named Bailey as someone they’re excited about in training camp this year. There’s not a lot to see from the offensive linemen until the pads are on, but when those days come, keep an eye on Bailey and how he handles the pressure of an NFL defensive line.
WR DaMarkus Lodge
That other undrafted wide receiver that might figure into Tampa Bay’s plans for depth at the position? It’s Ole Miss product DaMarkus Lodge. The 6-foot-2 receiver has a nice mix of size and speed. He ran a 4.55-second 40-yard dash at the NFL Scouting Combine and displayed big-play ability in his time with the Rebels. As a junior in 2017, he led the team in yards per catch with 17, In his senior season, he started 11 games and caught 65 passes for 877 yards and four scores. He averaged 13.5 yards per catch, forming a strong duo with fellow wide receiver and current Tennessee Titan A.J. Brown. Lodge has a good body for the NFL level and can win matchups on 50-50 balls. He should get a chance to display that during the next month.
Lodge will mix into the Bucs’ wide receiver battle. As mentioned above with Anthony Johnson, there’s plenty of competition for those fourth and fifth receiver spots. Bobo Wilson and Justin Watson return to the team, while Johnson and Scotty Miller are coming on as rookies looking to make the roster out of camp. Like with Johnson, it should be exciting to see Lodge work with Jameis Winston. The depth guys tend to get more work with the second, third and fourth-string signal-callers, but I don’t think I’m alone in wanting to see both Johnson and Lodge get reps with Winston and the first-team offense.
CB Mazzi Wilkins
Truthfully, this slot was initially meant to belong to North Dakota State’s Jalen Allison. But with him being waived/injured just days ago, the Bucs had to regroup and so does this list. Why not go with the guy Tampa Bay signed in Allison’s place? Mazzi Wilkins is no stranger to Raymond James Stadium, having played his college ball with USF. Wilkins’ ties to Tampa go further than his college days, as he also spent his high school career at Plant in South Tampa. At 6-foot, 191 pounds, he will likely have to fill out his frame a little more to excel as a corner in the NFL. But the simple fact of him being a local guy fighting for a spot on his hometown team makes him someone worth following in camp.
Wilkins may have gone undrafted, but that obviously doesn’t mean his college career didn’t go well. As a two-year starter with the Bulls, he totaled 110 tackles, 19 pass breakups, three interceptions, two tackles for loss and a fumble recovery. His production was there in college, and he’ll be looking to bring that to the professional level over the next three or four weeks. The Tampa Bay secondary is extremely young. With 24-year-old Vernon Hargreaves III as the veteran of the group, there isn’t a lot of experience there. But even still, Wilkins faces an uphill climb. The other young guys start ahead of him based on both overall talent and the draft capital that was used on them. That doesn’t mean we can’t follow and root for a local guy in Mazzi Wilkins, though. Seeing him get his chance late in preseason games should be fun at the very least.
There you have it, Bucs fans. I’ve given my five undrafted free agents to watch throughout training camp and the preseason. Who are you most intrigued by heading into the next few weeks?