While it’s poised to be a year of transition for the Buccaneers, one position group that doesn’t need much turnover is the receiving corps.
The team returns two pillars in Mike Evans, who will continue to cement is legacy as Tampa’s best offensive player of all time, and Chris Godwin, who will be a full year removed from his major knee surgery and looking to re-establishing himself as a top 15 wideout in the NFL.
As good as it is to have those two locked up for 2023, it never hurts to build depth and keep an eye to the future. While there’s not much immediate demand for a huge snap-eater in April, injuries and other circumstances can force the need for quick pivots.
Expect the Bucs to look for bargain deals and possible Day 3 additions at receiver, and one strong target for such value could be Penn State wide receiver Mitchell Tinsley. Let’s dive more into the 23-year-old who has quite the success story.
MITCHELL TINSLEY’S COLLEGIATE CAREER
Tinsley’s road to the NFL Draft could hardly be described as a cleanly paved autobahn. Instead, his path took several winding turns and steep inclines to get to where he is today, and that alone should give NFL teams plenty to think about.
He played just one year of varsity football at Lee’s Summit High School in Missouri (he also lettered in basketball and track) before walking onto Hutchinson Community College. He played JuCo for two seasons and compiled 57 receptions, 656 yards and four touchdown catches.
As a 3-star JuCo prospect, he continued his play at Western Kentucky for two more seasons. He produced modestly in 2020 but went off in 2021, tallying 87 grabs for 1,402 yards and 14 touchdowns — the latter two of which ranked 8th and 5th in the nation, respectively.
That performance got him on the Power 5 radar, landing him at PSU for his fifth and final year of eligibility. While nowhere near as prolific as his 2021 season, Tinsley finished first in receptions and second in receiving yards on a roster that struggled with passing the ball (the QBs barely passed for more than 3,000 yards combined). He totaled 51 catches for 577 yards and five scores.
He participated in the East-West Shrine Bowl as a late addition to the roster and dominated practices there, further raising his profile.
WR Mitchell Tinsley (Penn State) has had a heck of a last week.— Ryan Fowler (@_RyanFowler_) January 30, 2023
Another good look at his skillset vs Kei’Trel Clark (Louisville). pic.twitter.com/ObzJVq14bX
All things considered, to go from one season of high school football in rural Missouri to playing at one the biggest programs in the country is a massive indicator of Tinsley’s work ethic and talent. He’s not a blue chipper, but he’s also not the type of player you bet against.
PRO DAY AND SCOUTING COMBINE
Tinsley did the full assortment of athletic testing across the NFL Scouting Combine and the Penn State Pro Day. His biggest questions as a prospect come down to his physical abilities, and he didn’t completely dispel those notions but put some worthwhile numbers out there.
In fact, he produced strong agility testing, which doesn’t emphatically show up on film but indicates a further level of ability that could be brought out with more refinement in his route running technique. His 6.62-second 3-cone is in the 90th percentile and among the class’s best, and he posted strong numbers with the 10-yard split on his 40 (1.53) and the 20-yard shuttle (4.16). That all speaks well to his capability to find holes underneath in zone and create impact plays in short areas.
Unfortunately, mediocre straight-line speed (4.6 40-yard dash at the combine) and explosiveness (average jumps of 35.5” in the vertical and 10’ in the broad) likely limit his downfield potential.
In drills and on tape, Tinsley displays great focus when the ball is in the air and proficient ball tracking. He’s somebody who won’t lose his composure in traffic and see the catch through, and he has a strong build despite smaller-than-elite measurables (6-foot, 202 pounds). He uses his size to full effect in run blocking as well.
Overall, it’s easy to see the lack of standout traits and disqualify Tinsley’s potential, but there’s clearly enough to warrant being on the draft radar — including Tampa’s.
WHAT TINSLEY CAN DO FOR THE BUCS IN 2023?
Theoretically, Tinsley’s job would be to provide depth as a slot option if Russell Gage or Godwin were to struggle with injuries again like in 2022. Outside of the top three of Gage, Evans, and Godwin, there’s not currently anyone who constitutes as established depth so it’s wide open.
Tinsley’s ability to separate from professional coverage will really be the judge how much he sees the field on offense. Either way, it can be expected that he will certainly participate on special teams to some degree.
Even with those tempered assumptions, it may be smarter to give young rookies a chance to establish themselves in those roles over underachieving, more expensive veterans like Breshad Perriman given the current state of the team’s cap situation.
Mitchell Tinsley #5 Penn State (transferred from Western Kentucky) Is one of my favorite sleepers in this class. He's a willing and good blocker on top of being a technically sound receiver. Faster than you'd think, has good deceleration, and catch to attack mentality pic.twitter.com/0bIY8Qrawi— Daniel Harms (@InHarmsWay19) March 22, 2023
In the best of scenarios, you would love to see Tinsley keep pushing his ceiling and potentially develop himself into a useful slot receiver who can reliably move the chains as a quarterback’s trusty failsafe.
While it’s not a 1-to-1 comparison stylistically, his best comp right now might be Hunter Renfrow of the Las Vegas Raiders. Renfrow walked onto Clemson’s football team and simply outworked everyone en route to being a National Championship contributor and, eventually, starting NFL slot receiver.
He’ll likely never scare you as a No. 1 or 2 option, but can absolutely take advantage of the gaps and maximize his opportunities. That’s what you would currently hope to see from Tinsley as time goes on.
With Gage no sure bet to return in 2024, Tinsley’s time to shine could come as soon as his sophomore season.
Tinsley’s draft stock is sitting firmly in the Day 3 range with a outside possibility of being an undrafted free agent. NFL.com’s Lance Zierlein pegs Tinsley as a bottom of the roster/practice squad candidate, which is usually befitting of a 6th or 7th round pick.
However, his fantastic background of upward mobility and gamer mentality is going to resonate in draft war rooms, and he has a positive enough athletic profile and good tape that will sell a team on his potential.
In my own humble opinion, Tinsley hypothetically going in the late fifth round shouldn’t surprise anybody.
ON THE CLOCK...
What do you think about Tinsley, Bucs Nation? Could you all see him as somebody worth wearing the red and pewter? Let us know what you think by voting in the poll below and discussing in the comments!
The Buccaneers should target Mitchell Tinsley...
This poll is closed
In the upper part of his range (5th round)
In the 6th or 7th rounds
See if he becomes an undrafted free agent
He shouldn’t be on their board