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Does Justin Watson Need To Step It Up?

The second-year receiver has made progress this year, but will it be enough?

NFL: Washington Redskins at Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Justin Watson is physically gifted, but hasn’t put it all together just yet.
Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

When the Bucs lost Adam Humphries to free agency and traded away Desean Jackson, most figured that Justin Watson would help make up for the attrition.

The second-year receiver appeared to be on the right track during the early stages of training camp, but hasn’t really taken the next step over the past few weeks.

Bruce Arians was asked whether or not Watson had the fourth receiver spot locked up during Sunday’s media availability and he didn’t mince words with his response.

“No, I would not say that,” Arians said bluntly.

It’s clear that Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, and Breshad Perriman are the top three receivers in Tampa Bay. Watson was the favorite to take over the fourth spot, but strong preseasons from Bobo Wilson, Spencer Schnell, Tanner Hudson, and a strong camp from Scotty Miller have caught up with Watson, in a sense.

Watson showed a nice rapport with Jameis Winston early in camp, but then had some issues with drops over the next few practices. Arians specifically mentioned how Watson needed to make the “grimy catches” in this offense, but was struggling at times to get the job done.

Watson has just six catches for 59 yards so far this preseason. Schnell had seven receptions and 119 receiving yards in the final nine minutes of the fourth quarter against the Steelers. Wilson has five catches for 84 yards and Hudson leads the team with 13 catches for 177 yards and two touchdowns.

Dare Ogunbowale, the team’s fourth running back, has 54 receiving yards of his own on three receptions.

It’s obvious that Schnell, Wilson, and Miller all pose a threat - some greater than others - to Watson’s roster status due to the fact that they are receivers. Hudson’s production leaves the Bucs wondering whether or not they should carry four tight ends, which could affect Watson’s final status, as well. Watson could also be affected by whatever the team decides to do with Ogunbowale.

What will likely save Watson is his athleticism. He checks in at 6-foot-3, 215-pounds, but ran a 4.42 at his Pro Day. He possesses a perfect combination of size and speed that comes in handy when playing in Arians’ offense.

He’s also shown that he can make plays without actually making them, if that makes sense. Watson was a key component on the Bucs’ first touchdown drive against the Dolphins. He was able to draw a defensive pass interference call that set the Bucs up inside the Dolphins’ five and they scored a touchdown on the very next play. His size and speed will be tough enough for most defensive backs to handle, which should only help him at the end of the day.

But Arians obviously isn’t too thrilled with how things have turned out. Will that have a residual effect over the final week and a half of the preseason?

Stay tuned.