Tampa Bay Buccaneers

A Real Presence

The Bucs got their man in Michael Clayton, and the Louisiana State receiver should immediately increase Jon Gruden’s offensive possibilities

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Head Coach Jon Gruden calls Michael Clayton an 'explosive playmaker'

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers added just one player to their roster through the first two rounds of the 2004 NFL Draft. Who knows how many options they added to their offense?

And Jon Gruden loves options.

Having reworked the offensive line and added such yard-producing alternatives as RB Charlie Garner and WR Joey Galloway, the Bucs gave Gruden yet another option on Saturday with the drafting of LSU WR Michael Clayton. Expect Clayton, the highest-rated player left on Tampa Bay's board when pick 15 rolled around, to see a significant amount of playing time as a rookie.

"We are going to play a lot of different personnel groupings, use a lot of different receivers," said Gruden. "Michael Clayton gives us size, speed and gives us some playmaking (ability). He gives us a real physical presence on the offensive side of the ball that we are very excited about."

Some analysts expected the Bucs to target linebacker, running back or defensive end but, in the team's draft room, it was clear fairly early how the first round was shaping up. That was fine by Gruden and the rest of the Bucs' braintrust, which had coveted Clayton all along. Given that four other receivers had come off the board in the first 14 picks, the team apparently didn't feel comfortable trading down. Eventually, an NFL-record seven receivers were drafted in the first round on Saturday.

"Michael Clayton was the number one guy on our board at that time, and we didn't feel like parting with the rights to him," said Gruden. "As the ninth, 10th, 11th, and 12th players were selected, there are always considerations that have to be made, at linebacker, in the secondary, in other positions. But when it was time for the Buccaneers to pick, there was no doubt where we were heading."

The Bucs, who used a lot of multiple-receiver sets on their way to Super Bowl XXXVII in 2002, could be loaded at the position. Galloway replaces Keyshawn Johnson, the man he was traded for, and gives Tampa Bay a speed option they haven't had in quite some time. Keenan McCardell is coming off a Pro Bowl season. Joe Jurevicius is recovering from a knee injury and is expected to provide the same big-man, big-play dimension he did in 2002. Charles Lee had a breakout six weeks after Johnson was deactivated last fall.

Even with all of that, there will be plenty of opportunities for the newest member of that receiving corps.

"Some of our coaches have felt that Michael Clayton was as good of a receiver as there was in this draft," said Gruden. "He is an explosive, hard-to-deal-with man on the perimeter. He's physical. He has a certain charisma about him that is very unique, and something we feel we need here in our organization, and certainly in our offensive huddle."

One of those coaches, Richard Mann, had an intriguing comparison for Clayton.

"The guy that comes to mind is the big receiver that played in Green Bay a few years back, Sterling Sharpe," said Mann, the Bucs' receivers coach. "(They are both) big guys; maybe the body types are a little different but (Clayton) does have size on him. He is a tough guy and it shows on the field. He's capable of making plays down the field. He is capable of running with the ball, and he will smack you. That's what we are looking for."

The receiver that went two spots before the Bucs picked, Wisconsin's Lee Evans, gives up about five inches to Clayton but timed better at the NFL combine. If there was a supposed knock on Clayton entering the draft, it was his unremarkable 40-yard times in Indianapolis. Gruden believes Clayton has more than enough speed to succeed in the Bucs' attack.

"Some guys run fast at the combine, run fast in shorts; this guy runs fast in a football uniform," said Gruden. "Obviously you saw the Lions take Roy Williams and Charles Rogers a year ago, you have to have explosive playmakers to move the ball and make big plays. This guy, I know, will help our running game. He is one of the best perimeter blockers I've ever seen in college history, that I've been looking at film. So he's going to add a lot to our team."

The draft, of course, is just one aspect of the Bucs' offseason renovations, albeit a very important one. Saturday's addition of Clayton adds to what Gruden believes has been a successful reshaping of Tampa Bay's skill-position set.

"(We've added) speed with Joey Galloway, we are hoping Joe Jurevicius can return to health, we still feel Keenan McCardell has a lot of football left, and we have added some players," he said. "I think we have a nucleus of receivers that we can compete with and threaten people with."

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