A new league year begins, ushering in change. From free agency departures to re-signings to draft selections, the roster evolves. With the Tampa Bay Buccaneers win-now approach as Tom Brady returns for his 23rd season in the NFL, the organization is striving to remain atop the NFC hierarchy in 2022. Each position group will be evaluated during the offseason workout program as turnover shifts the depth chart. Next up in the series, let's take a look at the wide receiver position.
The Bucs have an embarrassment of riches at the receiver position, fostering an offensive powerhouse and arguably the best 1-2 punch in football. Tampa Bay's offense relies first on an aerial attack, led by soon-to-be 45-year-old quarterback, Tom Brady. His talented and dynamic cast starts with Mike Evans, Chris Godwin and Russell Gage as the headliners.
Evans is a go-to target for Brady in critical gametime situations, a testament to his dynamic ability. He has been selected to the Pro Bowl four times and is the only player in NFL history to begin his career with eight consecutive seasons with at least 1,000 receiving yards. Longevity is one thing but the ability to sustain consistency is quite another feat in the league. Evans has elite size, speed and high-point ability.
He is dangerous in jump-ball situations and keeps defenders away from the football with his physicality. Defensive coordinators must know where No. 13 is at all times, the greatest telling factor of premier status. Defenses must employ a safety over the top because Evans takes advantage of one-on-one matchups downfield. Throughout his eight-year career with Tampa Bay, Evans has accumulated 606 receptions for 9,301 yards, 75 touchdowns and an average of 15.3 yards per catch in 122 games. He is a key fixture in the Buccaneers' offense.
Godwin, aka "Mr. YAC," has become a household name alongside Evans with rare yards-after-catch ability. He possesses superb contact balance and has cemented himself among the league's elite. He is a defense's nightmare, being able to line up anywhere, beating defenders deep and on intermediate routes. With strong hands, he showcases stellar instincts to adjust to the ball in flight. Godwin can win in contested catch situations and is as tough as they come.
Over the course of his five-year career, Godwin has tallied 342 receptions, 4,643 yards., a 13.6 average in yards-per-catch and 29 touchdowns in 72 games. He signed a lucrative new three-year contract with the Bucs this offseason after first getting the franchise tag, despite suffering an ACL injury in 2021 that could force him to miss time to begin the 2022 season. Head Coach Todd Bowles disclosed on Tuesday that Godwin is progressing well in rehab and is showing the necessary signs of improvement but is still not where he needs to be. There is no set timetable on Godwin's return.
Enter Russell Gage. The Buccaneers have gone against the former Atlanta standout countless times and acquired him as an insurance policy to bolster the receiver corps. He possesses straight-line speed to stretch the field vertically but also showcases agility to break inside on underneath/intermediate routes. He proved to be a third-down target for the Falcons and will now join the Bucs' talented wide receiver room. He will likely be featured prominently in three-receiver sets with Evans and Godwin, with Gage and Godwin working interchangeably on the outside and in the slot.
On the addition of Gage, Bucs' wide receiver's coach Kevin Garver described, "Russ is a great addition to the room for us. We're glad to have him on our team. Obviously, we've been going against him the last few years and he has really put together two productive years in Atlanta, so I think the proof is kind of in the pudding with him. I think the biggest thing for him is coming in and learning the new offense, learning the terminology, learning how we run our routes and the ins-and-outs to it, getting on the same page with Tom – I think that those things are going to be big for him. Having Phase II (of OTAs) again and having this offseason program is huge."
During OTAs, Gage will have the opportunity to hone in on alignments, execution and playbook installation, prior to the start of training camp as he acclimates to the Buccaneers' way. Five returning players will compete for the remaining three or four spots (could carry seven total) including fourth-year pro Scotty Miller, Cyril Grayson, veteran Breshad Perriman, second-year pro and return specialist Jaelon Darden and third-year pro Tyler Johnson. Undrafted rookies Jerreth Sterns, Deven Thompkins, and Kaylon Geiger will strive to make an impact during OTAs and training camp to earn one of the remaining spots. This will be one of the best position battles to watch throughout the offseason as competition heats up between the hash marks. Production on the field and evidence of information absorbed will be crucial at this point for those fighting for a spot on the coveted 53.
On Miller being less involved in the offense in 2021 than 2020, Garver stated, "He went out with the injury, and with the timing of it, other guys kind of stepped up in that place and in that role. So, it kind of made it a little harder for him to get back right away. Then obviously at the end, he ended up getting back on the field and stuff. He's going to have an opportunity just like everyone else. Obviously, the Super Bowl run that year, he contributed a lot to us and to the offense and made a lot of big plays for us. He definitely has the ability and I think it's just a matter of what he does on the field moving forward."
As the Buccaneers make another title run in 2022, the wide receiver corps will be instrumental in the club's hopeful return to the grandest stage and bringing another Lombardi Trophy home to Tampa Bay. Keep an eye on the receiver competition battle ensuing throughout the offseason at the AdventHealth Training Facility.