The Tampa Bay Buccaneers placed their most active special teams player, Patrick O'Connor, on injured reserve on Tuesday, but on Friday they got back two player who can contribute significantly on those units.
After their final practice of Week 16, the Buccaneers activated cornerback Rashard Robinson from injured reserve and wide receiver Justin Watson from the reserve/physically unable to perform list (PUP). Before suffering a hamstring injury in practice in Week Nine, Robinson had played 90 special teams snaps over five appearances. Watson has spent the entire season on the PUP list but in each of his first three NFL seasons he was on the field for more than 50% of the team's kick-and-coverage plays.
The Buccaneers did not need to make any corresponding moves to create space after opening four spots on the 53-man roster on Thursday by moving Lavonte David and Leonard Fournette to injured reserve and placing wide receiver Jaelon Darden and defensive lineman Rakeem Nunez-Roches on the reserve/COVID-19 list.
Robinson and Watson also provide some needed depth at their respective positions. Cornerbacks Jamel Dean (illness) and Richard Sherman (Achilles) are questionable to play against the Carolina Panthers on Sunday in Charlotte. Meanwhile, the Bucs' receiving corps has lost Chris Godwin for the rest of the season and is also currently without Mike Evans due to a hamstring strain.
Robinson first joined the Buccaneers on September 21, signing first to the practice squad but quickly getting elevated on game day for three straight weeks (once as a COVID replacement). The team then promoted him to the 53-man roster on October 19 and he got into two more games before his practice-field mishap. He contributed two special teams tackles in that span.
Robinson has only played 14 defensive snaps for Tampa Bay this season but he has extensive previous experience over four seasons with the 49ers, Jets and Cowboys. He has played in 47 games with 18 starts and has recorded 87 tackles, two interceptions, 15 passes defensed, one forced fumble and two fumble recoveries. He first entered the league as a fourth-round draft pick by San Francisco in 2016.
Watson was originally a fifth-round pick by the Buccaneers out of Penn in 2018. Over his first three seasons he saw action in 39 games with four starts and caught 23 passes for 258 yards and two touchdowns. He saw his most extensive action late in 2019 when both Godwin and Evans were injured and finished that season with 15 receptions for 159 yards and two scores.
Watson underwent knee surgery this past summer and began training camp on the active/PUP list. He was then moved to the reserve/PUP list to start the season, which required him to be out for at least six games before he could be activated. He returned to practice on December 8, beginning a three-week window in which he could work out with the team without counting against the 53-man roster. Robinson's 21-day window began on December 15.