Tampa Bay Buccaneers

2022 Training Camp Roundtables: Sleepers to Watch

Brianna Dix, Amy Schwartz and Scott Smith kick off our annual Roundtable Week with a deep dive into the 90-man training camp roster, looking for some sleepers to keep on the radar

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It's Fourth of July Week, so people across the U.S. will be celebrating America's birthday. Here at Buccaneers.com, we'll be using the week to celebrate circular furniture.

That's right, Roundtable Week is back! With the start of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' training camp just around the corner – we now know the first practice is July 27 – we're going to present five lively discussions, one per day, on that topic and the three-game preseason slate in August. Digital Contributor Amy Schwartz and Staff Writer/Reporter Brianna Dix will be joining me as we tackle these five topics:

·    Monday, July 4: Name a sleeper on the Buccaneers' 90-man camp roster on whom you will be keeping a close eye.

·    Tuesday, July 5: What is the best test a player or unit on the Bucs' roster will get during the joint practices with the Dolphins and Titans?

·    Wednesday, July 6: What is a headline you hope to be reading about the Buccaneers as training camp and the preseason comes to an end?

·    Thursday, July 7: Which Buccaneer do you think most needs to have a strong camp and preseason showing?

·    Friday, July 8: Identify a one-on-one battle between two Buccaneers that you are most looking forward to seeing in camp practices.

Duplicate answers between the three of us are not allowed, so the order could matter here. As such, we will be rotating that order from day to day. Amy, you have the honors of starting us off today, followed by Brianna and then me. So, let's get this roundtable spinning – Amy name your sleeper!

Amy Schwartz: WR Cyril Grayson

Training camp is right around the corner, and this season the Bucs will have key position battles across the field. Under the July heat, many players will be making the push to secure a roster position for the 2022 season. In my opinion, the Bucs' receiver position is the most intriguing battle this training camp. While the Bucs have two Pro Bowl receivers in Mike Evans and Chris Godwin, they have also added Russell Gage Jr. from Atlanta, adding necessary depth, but who could secure the fourth position? Following a season full of injuries to the receiving core and with Chris Godwin still recovering from a torn ACL, the remaining receiver spots could prove to be critical down the stretch.

When training camp kicks off, wide receiver Cyril Grayson will be the player I will be keeping an eye on. Grayson spent a good portion of last season on the practice squad before securing a spot on the 53-man roster. Since arriving in Tampa, Grayson has only started in three games but a huge-game winning touchdown with 15 seconds left against the Jets last season showed a glimpse of the impact he could have on the Bucs' offense.

Grayson provided sparks following Chris Godwin's injury and the departure of Antonio Brown, before suffering his own injury during the playoffs. Last season, Grayson recorded 10 receptions for 212 yards and two touchdowns. As a former college sprinter, Grayson brings speed to the receiver room that could set him apart in securing the fourth receiver position.

The Buccaneers coaching staff has seen Grayson's growth since he arrived in Tampa and have had nothing but praise for him this offseason. Following mandatory minicamp, Wide Receivers Coach Kevin Garver spoke on the key factors that contributed to Grayson's growth at the end of the 2021 season.

"Confidence and opportunity – those are the two things that just come to mind," said Garver. "He was a track guy. He played high school football and then went to LSU for track and then got in the league, so he was really kind of learning the position in a way. He kind of bounced around and ended up with us the last couple years, and he has really put in a lot of work and time. I think that's kind of where the confidence piece comes up – understanding what to do and how to do it. Then, really just looking for that opportunity. A guy goes down and it's your opportunity to step up and take advantage of those opportunities."

Garver has called training camp "open season" for the 4-6th receiver competition, and I think Grayson could easily take the fourth position this season.

Brianna Dix: WR Jaelon Darden

Tampa Bay receiver Jaelon Darden has drawn attention from the coaching staff during OTAs and minicamp with production between the hash marks. In our first discussion, I am going with the man donning a No. 1 jersey. Darden ended the 2021 season with six receptions for 43 yards and while his stat line may not be flashy, he presents a unique upside with his speed (4.46) and shiftiness. As the Buccaneers' primary kick returner, Darden accumulated 19 punt returns for 142 yards and 18 kick returns for 359 yards last season. With Chris Godwin recovering from an ACL injury and with Russell Gage dealing with undisclosed soreness, opportunities have risen for Darden to insert himself on the field in a prominent role.

In the fourth round of the 2021 NFL Draft, the Bucs traded up to select Darden at No. 129. At North Texas, Darden made a name for himself as one of the most elusive slot receivers, compiling 74 catches for 1,190 yards and 19 touchdowns during his senior year. He averaged 16.1 yards per catch and led college football with 16 receiving touchdowns from the slot in 2020. Although the Bucs typically covet larger receivers in the slot, Darden's agility allows him to create separation when lining up outside on go routes. With his acceleration and contact balance, Darden opens another dimension in Tampa Bay's receiving corps.

"He's been working hard," Head Coach Todd Bowles exclaimed following OTA practice. "It's not [just] today, I think he had a good offseason. His Phase II was outstanding – his OTAs were great and he's picking up right where he left off. I think he's got his head down, he's working, he's in-shape, he understands the offense, and he's just letting his play speak for itself."

Last offseason in his rookie year, Darden checked off all of the boxes during minicamp and OTAs, but the production did not translate over to training camp. Fast-forward to 2022 and he has made significant strides during OTAs once again, flashing his ability to get open downfield. The question mark is, can he be a catalyst in the Bucs' aerial attack when the pads come on during training camp? The fourth and fifth receiver spots on the depth chart are wide-open behind Mike Evans, Godwin and Gage. Darden is looking to cement a spot on the final 53.

Scott Smith: CB Kyler McMichael

I applaud both of you on your restraint in not going with undrafted rookie wideout Deven Thompkins, since he was basically the one mostly unknown name that Coach Bowles brought up as someone to keep an eye on in training camp. I thought for sure one of you would take a swing at that ball on a tee but you admirably went in a different direction.

However, you both did pick wide receivers, which means I really need to go in a different different direction. Like, a really deep cut.

My choice is cornerback Kyler McMichael an undrafted free agent out of North Carolina. First off, I think it's worth noting that the Buccaneers really wanted McMichael as they dived into the post-draft frenzy of league-wide phone calls. Of the 13 players they were able to land in the draft's "eighth round," McMichael got easily the top signing bonus and the most guaranteed money. That indicates there was competition for his services and that the Bucs were willing to do a little extra to make sure he came to Tampa.

At 6-0 and 202 pounds, Michael brings decent size and length to the position and offers some scheme versatility between man and zone. He's tough and is happy to mix it up in press coverage and in run defense, which I know will appeal to Coach Bowles and Cornerbacks Coach Kevin Ross. He was one of the standouts at the 2022 Shrine Bowl, making a string of eye-catching plays in pass defense. McMichael ran a 4.52 40-yard dash at the North Carolina Pro Day, which isn't going to blow any scout away but isn't a quick disqualification either.

But if you're looking for a sleeper in training camp who actually has a shot to stick around, you also have to factor in opportunity. It's hard to be completely sure before the team has had even one practice in pads, but I think I can see some opportunity for a young cornerback to impress this summer. Yes, the top three are essentially set with Carlton Davis and Jamel Dean on the outside and Sean Murphy-Bunting in the slot (with some possibility of adjusted roles for Dean and Murphy-Bunting along the way), and I doubt the Bucs would move on from intriguing fifth-round corner Zyon McCollum after a single camp.

So that looks like four spots that are pretty much set, but the Bucs always keep at least five cornerbacks during the regular season and sometimes go as deep as six. Dee Delaney had a nice offseason and has experience in the system, so he's certain a strong candidate, and Rashard Robinson is very good on special teams. Ross Cockrell carries a lot of versatility, which can help when shaping a depth chart.

Still, I don't that competition is too daunting for McMichael, and if he has a good camp and shows value on special teams, he could work his way up. And when we're talking about "opportunity," we should look beyond just making the 53-man roster in Week One, even if that is the main goal. For an undrafted rookie, even earning a spot on the practice squad is a great way to begin an NFL career.

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