At various times during the preseason, Head Coach Dirk Koetter referred to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' group of wide receivers as the deepest position on the team, the most improved position on the team and the position at which it would be toughest to make the final cuts. As such, it was not a surprise to see the Buccaneers go a bit deep at that position when they formed their initial 53-man roster on Saturday.
The Bucs started training camp with a solid top four locked in at wide receiver: Mike Evans, DeSean Jackson, Adam Humphries and Chris Godwin. Evans is just the third player in league history to open his career with four straight 1,000-yard receiving seasons, and Jackson still has elite big-play making skills, which have been evident during camp. Humphries is one of the most productive slot receivers in the NFL and Godwin came on strong at the end of his 2018 rookie season, with 16 catches for 295 yards and a touchdown over the last four weeks.
That was the easy part. The difficult part was sorting through a second group that included fifth-round draft pick Justin Watson along with Freddie Martino, Bobo Wilson, Bernard Reedy and Ervin Philips. Martino, Wilson and Reedy were all on the Buccaneers' active roster at some point last season and Philips made some headway during the preseason. Watson led all Buccaneer wideouts during the preseason with 12 catches for 130 yards and two touchdowns.
The first decision was whether to keep five or six receivers, with an extra player at that position potentially coming at the expense of a fifth running back or tight end. The Buccaneers went with six and kept both Watson and Martino. Watson, who played his college ball at Penn, offers deep potential as a big and fast pass-catcher in the mold of Mike Evans. Martino brings value to the roster in a variety of ways, as he is an excellent special teams player who can back up all three receiver spots. Martino also has a significant amount of experience in Koetter's offense, dating back to their time together in Atlanta. Over the past two seasons with the Buccaneers, Martino has played in 21 games and made 13 catches for 238 yards and a touchdown, averaging 18.3 yards per grab.
View photos of the Buccaneers' 53-man roster.
Below are some additional notes regarding Saturday's cuts and the initial offensive depth chart they produced.
LONGER LINE: The Buccaneers kept 10 offensive linemen to start the season after mostly rolling with nine during the 2017 campaign. This added depth may be the result of several players working their way back from injuries. Left tackle Donovan Smith, left guard Ali Marpet and right guard Caleb Benenoch were all held out of the third preseason game, in which most of the starters played the entire first half. Versatile reserve Evan Smith also missed practice time this past week and swing tackle Leonard Wester only returned to practice last week after missing most of training camp with a knee injury.
The added depth is provided by two players who made the biggest climb from the start of camp to cut-down day: Mike Liedtke and Adam Gettis. Liedtke and Gettis formed the left side of the line in that third game with Smith and Marpet out, and Liedtke proved he could handle left tackle after mostly playing on the inside during the balance of camp. This position also features one of the four rookies the team kept on the offensive side of the ball, as third-round pick Alex Cappa made the roster and is also capable of backing up several spots. Cappa started each of the last two games at guard and also saw time at center on Thursday against the Jaguars.
ROOKIE RUNNERS: So far the Buccaneers have kept only one of their 2018 undrafted rookies, though others could land on the practice squad and eventually get promotions. That one player who beat the odds was Duke running back Shaun Wilson, who has an excellent chance at assuming at least one of the two kick return jobs. Wilson also ran seven times for 44 yards against the Jaguars and caught two passes for another 24 yards.
It was less surprising, of course, that Ronald Jones made the squad, given that he was the 38th overall pick in April's draft. Jones is likely to split touches with incumbent starter Peyton Barber, with Jacquizz Rodgers rounding out the four-man tailback crew and providing reliable depth for all of the running back roles.
TILTING TOWARDS THE O: The Buccaneers kept 26 players on offense, one more than they retained on defense. Of course, they were able to do so in part because they currently have only two specialists on the 53-man roster. The team kept punter Bryan Anger and kicker Chandler Catanzaro, of course, but released both of their long-snappers, veteran Garrison Sanborn and first-year man Drew Ferris. Obviously, the team will have to add a snapper before the season opener, which will have to come at the expense of one of the 51 players on offense or defense.
PAIR OF PASSERS: Tampa Bay will start the season with just two quarterbacks on the active roster, as incumbent starter Jameis Winston will serve an NFL suspension for the first three weeks. Ryan Fitzpatrick will start and Ryan Griffin, who wrapped up an excellent preseason on Thursday, will be next in line.
The Buccaneers have kept three quarterbacks on the roster for most of the last three seasons as they have not wanted to expose Griffin to the waiver wire. Since the NFL eliminated the "inactive third quarterback" option several years ago, many teams have elected to carry just two quarterbacks on the 53-man roster, keeping a third on the practice squad to run the scout team and be prepared for an eventual promotion. It's likely the Bucs will start the season with that configuration, either by bringing back rookie Austin Allen, who was cut on Saturday, or finding another young passer on the waiver wire.