Competition is the best kind of problem to have as an NFL team in the preseason. It ensures that when your roster is cut almost in half come Week 1 – you're confident that the best guys are the ones that made it. The best don't necessarily always mean most talented, either. A lot of times it's about talent, plus fit, plus football IQ, plus intangibles like attitude, work ethic and drive. But what happens when a particular group stands out that has a plethora of guys that all fit the bill?
That's kind of the predicament the Bucs are in right now with their group of wide receivers. You have the locks: veterans Mike Evans, DeSean Jackson and Adam Humphries, along with second-year standout Chris Godwin. They take up the standard four receiver spots. Usually teams will add one more in there for depth and at this point, narrowing the second group down to one, or even two guys, looks to be a daunting task.
"I think everyone kind of knows those first four guys. Then there's a group of – you could make it probably as big as five if you wanted to – that's in that second group," Head Coach Dirk Koetter said in the day after the Bucs' 30-14 preseason victory over the Tennessee Titans. "On different days, different guys show more than others. I thought Justin Watson really had a nice game last night, all around, really did well. Freddie [Martino] didn't get many opportunities last night. Bernard [Reedy] was kind of up and down. Sergio Bailey has showed up and continues to show up at the end of games, playing in the second half. I'm probably leaving somebody out – Bobo [Wilson] is out right now."
In the game in Tennessee alone, the Bucs had 14 guys catch a ball. That's of course including tight ends and running backs, but still. The arsenal of weapons Bucs' quarterbacks have to throw to is endless it seems. One of those names Coach Koetter mentioned was Justin Watson, who was drafted in the fifth round out of the Ivy League's University of Pennsylvania in 2018. Watson had his first NFL touchdown catch in Saturday night's game: a beautiful air-raid throw by quarterback Jameis Winston, placed just perfectly in the corner of the end zone where Watson hauled it in. It was a physical catch, an aware catch and some put it as reminiscent of the kind of catches they see from the Bucs'-own Mike Evans. Though Watson is 6'3" compared to Evans' 6'5", Watson plays much bigger than he is.
"That's what we were hoping when Jason [Licht] picked him," Koetter said of the physical style of play he's seen from Watson. "We were hoping he could develop. He's had some really good days and some not-so-good days. Love the way he works at it. He's playing hard on special teams. When you're not in those first two or three [receiver spots] you've got to play on special teams as well. That's just the way it goes. He's definitely making strides there as well."
That last point by Koetter is not to be overlooked. The way you stick around in a group that is so incredibly stacked is by proving you aren't a one-trick pony. If you can heavily contribute on special teams, the odds of becoming one of those coveted 53 increase that much more. As for if the Bucs plan to try and keep six receivers versus the five they had last year, Koetter was a little more coy.
"There's only 53 of them and you've got to have enough at every position," he said. "You can't keep 10 receivers and six offensive linemen. It's got to balance out and at the skill positions – your receivers, your tight ends, your running backs and then are you going to keep three quarterbacks [or] two quarterbacks? That all plays into it as we get down to the end. I know [the media] has to work at projecting who that is, but I try not to do that too much because it's all going to change. It's going to change based on injury, it's going to change based on two more preseason games, it's going to change based on practice. It could change based on a trade. You just don't know. I've got a lot of other things to worry about. Of course we have a pecking order – everybody does. You have your own. We'll just see how it works out."
Even if Tampa Bay elects to keep six instead of five, I still wouldn't want to be the one to have to make that decision. The Buccaneers will continue to evaluate their receiver group in Friday's game against Detroit in front of the home crowd. The starters should be expected to get more snaps than previous games, but when it comes to what the rotation is for the wideouts – it's anybody's guess.