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Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

2023 State of the Bucs: Wide Receiver 

Taking a position-by-position breakdown as the Buccaneers head into the 2023 season, continuing with wide receivers


Position Group: Wide Receiver 

Players: Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, Julio Jones, Russell Gage Jr., Breshad Perriman, Scotty Miller, Deven Thompkins 

2022 Evaluation: The Buccaneers' tandem of stalwarts, Mike Evans and Chris Godwin, spearheaded the team's aerial attack in 2022. Tampa Bay was forced to rely on its passing game this past season due to a myriad of factors, as Tom Brady hit 499 pass completions (most in NFL history in a single-season) and 751 pass attempts (most in a single-season in NFL history). During the regular season, Godwin led the Bucs in receptions with 104 and Evans held a team-best in receiving yards (1,124) and receiving touchdowns (six). Evans and Godwin were one-of-five sets of teammates in 2022 to go over 1,000 yards each, joining Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle (Dolphins), A.J. Brown and Devonta Smith (Eagles), D.K. Metcalf and Tyler Lockett (Seahawks) and Ja'Marr Chase and Tee Higgins (Bengals). The dynamic duo put up historical seasons in 2022, respectively. 

Godwin reached the 100-reception milestone this past season, setting a career-high 104 catches, the second-most in a single-season in franchise history. He became a motivational figure for the Bucs in 2022, as he worked his way back from a torn ACL/MCL suffered last December and ensuing January surgery to suit up Week One. Though a hamstring injury then caused him to miss two contests, Godwin returned in Week Four and gradually reverted to peak form. Godwin caught at least five passes in every game from Week Four on, including the Wild Card loss to the Cowboys in the playoffs, when he set a Bucs single-game postseason record with 10 catches. Down the stretch, defenses had no answers for Godwin, the club's most consistent weapon. He continuously exploited cushion in coverages when defensive backs did not challenge at the line of scrimmage. When opposing teams used shell coverage, Godwin took advantage. Overall, he caught 104 passes (eighth in the NFL) for 1,023 yards and three touchdowns. He gained 52.6% of his total yards after the snap, generating yards after the catch off quick passes. His 26 receptions on screen passes in 2022 were the most by any receiver in the NFL and his 165 yards on those plays ranked fourth. Godwin has established himself as one of the best slot receivers in the game with physicality at the catch point. Toughness and intelligence over the middle of the field are second nature to Godwin, and that is why he continues to be so reliable and productive in short areas on the field.

Evans, the jump-ball specialist, became the only receiver in NFL history with 1,000-plus receiving yards in each of his first nine seasons, surpassing Hall of Famer Randy Moss (six seasons). He concluded the 2022 season with 77 receptions for 1,124 yards, an average of 14.6 yards per reception, six touchdowns and 908 yards before contact. Most notably, Evans hit the aforementioned 1,000-yard milestone in Week 17 against the Panthers, where he took advantage of single coverage on the outside versus Cover One. He finished the game with 10 catches for 207 yards and three touchdowns (franchise record) – all of which came on go routes down the right sideline of 63 yards, 57 yards and 30 yards. The Buccaneers had struggled down the stretch to achieve a consistent downfield attack in 2022 but against Carolina, Evans served as the beneficiary. The cheat code on back-shoulder fades, Evans possesses a lethal combination of size and high-point ability. He puts himself in prime position before the ball arrives, boxing defenders. Evans is adept at powering through jams and creating subtle separation from defensive backs. He creates a size mismatch and became a game-changer for the Bucs this past season. 

Two days into the NFL's 2022 free agency period, the Bucs signed Russell Gage Jr. A former sixth-round pick out of LSU in 2018, Gage had been a productive pass-catcher for the Falcons and impressed during the second half of the 2021 campaign, when Atlanta was playing without star receiver Calvin Ridley. Gage possesses straight-line speed to stretch the field vertically but also showcases agility to break inside on underneath/intermediate routes. He established himself as a third-down target for the Falcons and joined the Bucs' talented wide receiver room. He was featured prominently in three-receiver sets with Evans and Godwin, working interchangeably on the outside and in the slot. In 2022, Gage accumulated 51 receptions for 426 yards and five touchdowns. He was set to become an integral part of the Bucs' wide receiver corps this past season but consistently dealt with injuries. He had problems with a lingering hamstring ailment throughout the entirety of the season and before the Wild Card game against the Cowboys, he injured his back on a touchdown catch the prior week against his former team, the Falcons.

As the Bucs' 2022 training camp kicked off, they added to an already impressive offensive arsenal with seven-time Pro Bowl wide receiver, Julio Jones. After causing the Bucs' defense consistent fits over the years, Jones joined his former NFC South rival. The 33-year-old spent the 2021 season with the Tennessee Titans after an illustrious career spanning a decade with the Falcons. Throughout his prolific career, Jones had accumulated 879 receptions for 13,330 yards and 61 touchdowns prior to joining the Bucs. He possesses the full repertoire of ideal traits: catch radius, body control and leaping ability. However, the precise route-runner never reached his full potential in Tampa Bay as injuries derailed his campaign. In five game starts (10 games played), Jones posted 24 receptions for 299 yards and two touchdowns. He managed a knee injury for most of the year, hindering ascension. 

Both four-year veteran Scotty Miller and seven-year pro (two with Tampa Bay) Breshad Perriman served as viable depth options for the Bucs, adding relief as injuries piled up with Gage and Jones. In three game starts, Perriman totaled nine receptions for 110 yards and a touchdown. Miller finished with 23 receptions for 185 yards in one game start. Deven Thompkins originally joined the Buccaneers as an undrafted free agent out of Utah State in May. Thompkins took over Tampa Bay's punt and kickoff return jobs after the release of Jaelon Darden. To make him available on game day, the Bucs elevated him from the practice squad late in the season. 

2023 Outlook: Of the receivers listed above, Julio Jones, Scotty Miller and Breshad Perriman are set to become free agents in March. Miller has carved out a role as a productive backup for Tampa Bay with key catches in both the Bucs' comeback victory over the Rams and historical game against the Seahawks in Munich. Perriman has also been a key contributor for the Bucs over the previous two years when his number has been called, providing insurance. Jones was brought in on a one-year deal, but injury prevented him from making a mark in 2022. The Bucs current cap situation will play a crucial role in which players they will be able to retain and which ones they will not.

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