With the expected start of training camp approaching, we’re going to dive into the 2020 Tampa Bay Buccaneers position by position. Today, we continue with the wide receivers.
While it may have seemed inconceivable at the beginning of the offseason that the Buccaneers might land Tom Brady in free agency, it seemed less crazy once you really evaluated the potential pitches the team could make to him. As everyone came to find out, Brady essentially did the pitching during the free agency process, selling the Bucs on why they should bring him in (not that they needed much convincing, surely). Whatever the case was, a large part of the appeal for the G.O.A.T. to sign with Tampa Bay had to be the wide receivers that he would have at his disposal.
For years, the Bucs’ wide receiver group has been one of their stronger assets. It’s not hard to see why, especially with the talent at the top. Mike Evans has been a 1,000-yard receiver in each of his first six NFL seasons, and he is just one of two players in history that has accomplished that feat, with the other being Randy Moss. Evans’ partner in crime, Chris Godwin, emerged in 2019 as one of the league’s best receivers, putting up a 1,000-yard season of his own.
Beyond Evans and Godwin, there has been plenty of receiving talent in the Buccaneer locker room in past years, and the same can be said for this year. But before we get further into breaking down the 2020 group, let’s take a look back at 2019.
Tampa Bay fielded the league’s No. 1 passing offense in 2019, with Jameis Winston becoming the eighth quarterback in NFL history to surpass 5,000 yards through the air. The two guys at the top were obviously Evans and Godwin, with both going over the 1,000-yard mark. Evans caught 67 passes for 1,157 yards and eight touchdowns, averaging 17.3 yards per catch to earn a Pro Bowl nod. Godwin was also selected to the Pro Bowl after bringing in 86 catches for 1,333 yards and nine touchdowns, posting an average of 15.5 yards per catch.
For much of the season, it was Evans and Godwin carrying the load for the Bucs as 2019 offseason addition Breshad Perriman struggled. However, Perriman came on strong in the latter part of the season, which was huge given that Evans went down with an injury in Week 14 and Godwin picked up a season-ending injury of his own the very next week. Perriman went over the 100-yard mark in each of the team’s final three games and even mixed in a three-touchdown game in that stretch for good measure. He finished the year with 645 yards and six touchdowns on 36 catches, averaging 17.9 yards per catch.
Tampa Bay’s depth was tested late in the season, with rookie Scotty Miller showing flashes of potential while Justin Watson also got a chance to prove himself in his second year.
Meet The Group
Heading into 2020, the Bucs have a wide receiver room that looks a lot like it did in 2019, only without Perriman, who signed with the Jets. Evans, Godwin, Miller and Watson are all familiar faces who will lead the way out wide, now catching passes from Brady rather than Winston. Evans and Godwin obviously have the top spots occupied, but with Perriman’s exit, there is now a chance for guys like Miller and Watson to step into a bigger role.
Another guy who could potentially fill the void left by Perriman is rookie Tyler Johnson, who was drafted out of Minnesota in the fifth round of this year’s draft. A guy who many have touted as a big steal, Johnson should certainly get a chance to earn a prominent role within the Bucs’ receiving corps.
There’s no arguing that Miller, Watson and Johnson are the favorites to fill the spots behind Evans and Godwin, but the Bucs have plenty of other receivers vying for roster spots. John Franklin, Cyril Grayson, Bryant Mitchell and Spencer Schnell are back, while John Hurst, Travis Jonsen, Jaydon Mickens and Josh Pearson are all looking to make the squad out of camp (or whatever version of preseason we end up getting).
After Perriman’s departure, it was expected that the Bucs would add another receiver to their group. It would’ve been hard to do that through free agency given their cap situation, so they went the draft route instead, selecting Johnson with their first pick of day three. The Minnesota product started his breakout as a sophomore in 2017, catching 35 passes for 677 yards and seven touchdowns (averaging 19.3 yards per catch). He followed that season with back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons in 2018 and 2019, totaling 25 touchdown catches between his final two years with the Golden Gophers. His 204-yard, two-touchdown game against Auburn in the Outback Bowl—at Raymond James Stadium, nonetheless—was a fitting end to his collegiate career.
Johnson is an exciting prospect, one that could make an impact for the Bucs as early as this year. Pro Football Focus was very high on him during his final year at Minnesota, naming him the highest-graded receiver in the country with a 91.8 grade. His 94.7 grade against single coverage since 2017 was also the best of any receiver in this year’s draft class. Plus, he had the third-most receptions of 15-plus yards (59) between 2018 and 2019, trailing only Jerry Jeudy (64) and Justin Jefferson (61), both first-rounders in April’s draft.
Biggest Question: Who Steps Up Behind Evans and Godwin?
When the Bucs lost Evans and Godwin late in the 2019 season, it exposed just how unproven their depth at receiver was. Perriman became the No. 1 guy and produced huge numbers, but that got him a new contract elsewhere. Other than Perriman, there was Miller, Watson and practice squad callups. Miller eventually suffered a season-ending injury of his own, finishing his rookie year with 13 catches for 200 yards and a touchdown. Watson finally got some consistent snaps down the stretch in his second year and ended up totaling 15 catches for 159 yards and two touchdowns. Regardless of their late-season reps, Miller and Watson are still pretty unproven headed into 2020.
So, the big question surrounding Tampa Bay’s receiving corps as of right now is just that: How do things shake out behind the top two? Even without injuries to what is the league’s best receiving duo, the Bucs have to figure out who will be their No. 3 receiver. Of course, given the amount of talent at tight end, they likely already have their No. 3 (plus 4 and 5) receiving options. But tight ends aside (that group gets their own preview... stay tuned), how will the Bucs see their depth behind Evans and Godwin? Miller and his ridiculous speed could—and should—be a huge asset for Brady, but Watson has the size and skill to be a contributor as well. Not to mention, Johnson should be able to make a splash as a rookie.
The Bucs definitely have options for depth at receiver. Those options just happen to be unproven. It should be pretty interesting to see how the third, fourth and fifth spots on the depth chart are filled out. Regardless, Brady will have no shortage of guys to throw to out of this group.