In 2019, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers had two wide receivers top 1,100 yards in the same season for the first time in franchise history. One, Mike Evans, was obtained with the seventh overall pick in 2014, in one of the best receiver drafts in recent memory. The other, Chris Godwin, was drafted in 2017, in a field that produced a very disappointing first round but saw eight wideouts come off the board in the third, several of whom have gone to big things.
The 2020 draft might end up as a combination of both. The first round could produce instant stars with such highly-regarded prospects as Oklahoma's CeeDee Lamb, Alabama's Jerry Jeudy and Clemson's Tee Higgins, just like 2014 produced Evans, Sammy Watkins, Odell Beckham, Brandin Cooks and Kelvin Benjamin. But teams that choose to wait at receiver and address other needs in the first round will still have multiple shots at top-notch receiving talent on Day Two, just like the 2017 draft produced Godwin, Kenny Golladay and Cooper Kupp in the third round.
In fact, NFL Network draft analyst Daniel Jeremiah says the 2020 draft boasts the deepest group of receivers he's ever witnessed. Jeremiah counted 27 pass-catchers he felt were worthy of being drafted within the first three rounds. That's nearly one for every team! Buccaneers Head Coach Bruce Arians has seen enough already, even before the receivers take the field at the NFL Scouting Combine on Thursday night, to agree with Jeremiah's assessment.
"Oh wide receivers, no doubt," said Arians of the most talented position at this year's Combine. "You're going to find every shape, size that you're looking for. It's a beauty contest. Whatever you like – tall/fast, little/fast – they're all here. I think the kids that used to play basketball are now playing wide receiver in college because they couldn't make it in the NBA. The athleticism of some of them is amazing."
Arians gushes about the receivers, but would he want his team to use one of its picks on another wideout? The amazingly productive Evans – whose 1,157 yards in 2019 represented his sixth 1,000-yard output in as many NFL seasons – is under contract through 2023. The team has also made no secret of its desire to get an extension for Godwin, who was one of the NFL's breakout stars in 2019 with 1,333 yards and is headed into the last year of his rookie contract. It certainly doesn't seem like a need on par with say, offensive tackle or defensive line.
The key may be Breshad Perriman.
The Buccaneers signed Perriman to a one-year deal last spring, hoping he would be a strong number-three receiver alongside Evans and Godwin. And, after a light first half of the season in which Perriman simply didn't see many targets, the former Raven and Brown caught fire down the stretch and finished with 645 yards and six touchdowns. He topped 100 yards in each of the last three games as the Bucs saw both Evans and Godwin go down with hamstring injuries.
Now Perriman is headed towards free agency again, and while the Buccaneers would clearly like to have him back he may find more lucrative opportunities on the open market after his strong 2019. At some point, the Bucs may have to weigh the potential second investment in Perriman against the very real opportunity this draft offers to restock at the position. The Bucs might be able to get a ready-to-play option in the third round or even later to compete with Scotty Miller and Justin Watson, two receivers picked on Day Three in the last two drafts.
"When you look at it, the future, we want to get Chris extended," said Arians. "So yeah, Mike and Chris, keeping that. Scotty came along. We would love to have Breshad back. He fits what we're looking for. But not at a [certain] price when you have all these receivers in the draft."
Evans pulled his hamstring in Week 13 and Godwin went down two weeks later. That not only gave Perriman his opportunity to shine but also forced Watson, a fifth-round pick in 2018, into a starting role. Miller, a sixth-round choice in 2019, also got increasing snap counts in the second half before his own hamstring injury. Watson caught 15 passes for 159 yards and two touchdowns while Miller made 13 grabs for 200 yards and one score.
"That was great that they got those opportunities late in the year, especially Justin [because] Scotty got hurt, too," said General Manager Jason Licht. "We were able to see what we have in the entire wide receiver corps because of Chris and Mike being hurt, and we're excited about all the options that we have."
They have reason to be excited about the options in this year's draft, too. In addition to those noted above, Colorado's Laviska Shenault, Alabama's Henry Ruggs, Arizona State's Brandon Aiyuk, TCU's Jalen Reagor and LSU's Justin Jefferson could all possibly come off the board in the first round. More likely, the impressive depth at the position will convince some teams to wait and a few of those names will become second-rounders. They could be joined on Day Two by the likes of Penn State's K.J. Hamler, Baylor's Denzel Mims, USC's Michael Pittman Jr., Minnesota's Tyler Johnson and many more.
And it would not be surprising if one of them ended up a Buccaneer. Tampa Bay may not be shopping in the Mike Evans district in this year's draft but they very well could bring home a new Chris Godwin.