Conor Philpott takes a look at the Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide receiving core.
I think it’s fair to say the Buccaneers receivers were not at their best last year. A lot of them struggled to create separation, despite the fact that the Bucs were a pass heavy team last year. Despite having 96 more attempts, and 59 more completions, the Bucs only corralled 274 more yards than they did in 2010. Which is an average of under 5 yards per completion (of the 59 more completed).
The Bucs problems led to Josh Freeman having some problems. If a receiver can’t get open then Freeman has two options, he can try and run himself, or try and throw it to a guy who isn’t completely open. I don’t think I’m being harsh on Freeman when I say his accuracy isn’t the best, and of course a good amount of his interceptions came from forcing the ball into covered receiver, although he did also have trouble reading coverages.
So how did the Bucs combat this problem? They went out and got some playmakers. They got Carl Nicks, the two time All-Pro guard in Free Agency. This will give Freeman more time, thus allowing the receivers a better chance to get free. They went ahead and drafted Doug Martin. I’ve already written about Doug Martin see here:
A solid running back who is there on all downs gives you a number of things. It gives you a strong running game obviously, but last year, the Bucs Offence was predictable. Everyone knew if Kregg Lumpkin or Earnest Graham were on the field, the Bucs were not going to run and they could drop deep into pass coverage. But now, as Martin is also a threat in the passing game, it makes people wonder what the Bucs will do. Most importantly, the Bucs brought in Vincent Jackson, a Free Agent from the San Diego Chargers.
Jackson provides the Buccaneers with the genuine number 1 threat they have lacked since the days of Joey Galloway. While a different player to Galloway, Jackson is very athletic a decent route runner, quick and knows where the endzone is. Jackson didn’t put up numbers like Larry Fitzgerald, Andre Johnson, Brandon Marshall and Wes Welker have but there are some things to take into consideration. For a lot of his time in San Diego, the Chargers have had LaDainian Tomlinson and Antonio Gates. L.T. usually saw around 50 receptions a season and normal over 250 rushing attempts. Gates has grabbed at least 50 receptions during Jackson’s time in San Diego, his highest total of 89 came in Jackson’s rookie year.
This year was one of Jackson’s best season when Gates missed game time (L.T. has been with the New York Jets since 2010). Jackson hauled in 60 passes with 9 TDs with an 18.4 yards per reception average. That’s nearly three yards more than the highest average of a Buccaneer last season. Jackson also brings leadership to a unit whose most experienced members were drafted in 2009 (Sammie Stroughter and Tiquan Underwood). While he may have had some issues in the past, (he refused to play when he wasn’t paid what he thought he deserved, and had a DUI) all the noises coming from One Buccaneer Place (Bucs’ training facility) talk about how great “VJAX” has been helping out some of the younger guys and that he is a great guy for the locker room.
Mike Williams had an outstanding rookie season. He holds a franchise record for most touchdowns in a season with 11. He also had the most catches of all NFL Rookies in 2010. Last year, Williams seemed to take a step back. He struggled to create separation and while he still snagged the same number of passes, he only scored 3 Touchdowns. His Yards Per Catch (YPC) also dropped by nearly three yards. Leading to 193 less yards in total. The NFL Lockout (players had no involvement with coaches) probably hurt Williams, it could have been a season where he really blossomed. The arrival of Vincent Jackson helps Mike Williams a hell of a lot. Williams has shown potential to be a “number 1 wideout” in the NFL but even if he doesn’t reach that level, he will be a very good second choice.
While he did miss some of the Bucs training camps and OTAs earlier on this year, due to some relationship issues, Briscoe appears to be back in the fold in Tampa Bay. Briscoe was the leading TD scorer for the Bucs last season. He grabbed 6, seeing as he didn’t start that was pretty good going. Who knows what will happen before the start of the season but if Briscoe continues to improve, he could be the second choice behind either Jackson or Williams. He will have to fight off some stiff competition.
The Bucs slot receiver also had a pretty decent season, he hauled in 3 touchdowns and improved on his totals from 2010. Parker should he was a very reliable guy to have on 3rd downs. He showed that he has great hands and decent short range speed, and nimbleness, to convert 25 first downs for the Buccaneers. Parker may see competition for the slot receiver position, but he should remain on the roster. His duties as a punt returner may be called in to question, he fumbled 8 times in total last season, losing 4.
Benn missed two games, this season. He showed some improvement from the 2010 season, he caught more passes, and scored one more touchdown. Benn doesn’t seem as fast as his speed at the 2010 NFL Combine would suggest and he too struggles getting separation. Benn has shown some of his potential to the Bucs with two great TDs this year, against the Panthers on Christmas Eve, he did a great job keeping his feet inbounds as he grabbed a score. In their win against the Saints earlier on in the year, Benn showed he could make plays down the field as he snagged a score.
The scores can be seen here: http://www.nfl.com/videos/
Sammie’s career as a Buc may be hanging in the balance. He only caught 4 passes last season, and only saw action in 6 games. He did spend a good amount of time injured but it doesn’t seem to promising. He is a decent returner, he had a 27 yard average last year, with a high of 78 yards. However with Parker already there and draft choices Michael Smith and Doug Martin (probably won’t end up doing it but he did return punts and kicks in college) also capable of returning. Stroughter may be the odd man out.
Probably most famous for his hairstyle and being cut the day before last season’s Super Bowl, Underwood played under head coach Greg Schiano at Rutgers University. Underwood caught only three passes last season in New England, he has mainly been a special teams guy over his career. He mightn’t be of much value to Tampa Bay during the regular season. I don’t think many have high hopes for him.
There are also quite a lot of guys who I don’t know a lot about (Greg Ellingson, Wallace Wright, Armahd Lewis) it’s likely these guys will get cut or be placed on the practice squad before September. Ed Gant is another one of these guys, he hasn’t played a down in regular season football but has one notable highlight. His 96 yard score against the Redskins in pre season was a pretty decent score. While the score came in preseason (when a lot of the weaker players play), Gant made a nice grab and showed decent speed. He is pretty tall and quite fast, he probably won’t surprise us but you never know.