One of the things that drew new quarterback Tom Brady to the Bucs was of course, their offensive arsenal. Armed with two top-10 receivers (I don't care what anyone else says), plus a tight end group that now includes his favorite target from New England in Rob Gronkowski, it's more a question of demand rather than supply.
Brady likes to spread the ball around, though. Even last year with limited resources at the Patriots, Brady completed a pass to 18 different players, 11 of which had double-digit receptions. So while the Bucs' starting five of offensive weapons is likely to consist of a mix of Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, O.J. Howard, Brate and Gronk, along with a running back mixed in there, there is still a need for receiver depth, starting with that third receiver spot. Especially if Head Coach Bruce Arians decides he does, in fact, want to go with more four-wide personnel sets as he's said earlier this offseason.
While the receiver room is still crowded, it's full of young talent. Sixth-round pick from 2019 Scotty Miller saw the most action on offense last season of the lot, but most of his work didn't come until later in the year after both Evans and Godwin went down with hamstring injuries. You've got third-year receiver Justin Watson vying for playing time, too. Then along came Minnesota's Tyler Johnson that the Bucs took in the fifth round of this year's draft. Johnson is thought to be a complete steal and the coaches and front office alike are very high on the rookie.
Plus, there are guys like the gadget-friendly John Franklin, speedy Cyril Grayson, Bryant Mitchell returning from injury and Jaydon Mickens, who was a late addition last season.
So that's the question we're asking today in this series. Which of these guys fits into that third spot? With an abbreviated training camp and no offseason program or OTAs, it may be harder for young players to prove themselves. Does that give Miller and Watson an edge? Let's see as Senior Writer and Editor Scott Smith and I pass start on the second half of our Camp Countdown.
Friday, July 24: Which player on the camp roster faces the toughest challenge over the next couple months?
Tuesday, July 28: Other than Tom Brady, whose absence for an extended period would be the toughest for the Buccaneers to overcome?
Wednesday, July 29: Who do you think is most likely to fit into that third receiver role?
Thursday, July 30: How do you see the offensive backfield shaping up?
Friday, July 31: Who will be the first player to intercept Tom Brady in practice?
Monday, August 3: Which player on the roster will make the biggest leap from 2019 to 2020?
Tuesday, August 4: Who 'wins' training camp? Offense or defense?
Today's Question: Who do you think is most likely to fit into that third receiver role?
If this were a normal year, I might be more inclined to go with the unproven rookie in Tyler Johnson, given how high the coaches and front office are on the Minnesota product. However, acknowledging the fact that this preseason is, in fact, not going to be normal, I think I'm kind of forced to go with the receiver that has the most experience.
Not that Scotty Miller is in any way a consolation prize. He got some significant work last season when he was forced to step into a more prominent role after Evans and Godwin went down with those injuries, missing multiple games each. Miller ended the 2019 season with 13 receptions for 200 yards and a touchdown. It gave him an impressive 15.4 yards per catch average – just .1 less than Godwin.
Plus, Miller possesses a skill set that can be very complimentary to guys like Evans and Godwin. I know a lot of people want to 'slot' Miller into that Julian Edelman-type role now that he has Brady as his quarterback, but I don't think that's where Miller can be most effective. His speed is the reason he was drafted. This is a guy who respond to a challenge by Tyreek “Cheetah” Hill. For that reason, Miller can be extremely effective as an outside deep threat. There are very few defensive backs that will be able to keep up with his 4.3 speed, which is what General Manager Jason Licht said Miller clocked at his pro day just a year ago. He can stretch the field in a way that neither Evans nor Godwin can.
Because of those two aforementioned work horses, plus the tight end crew, you can afford to have more of a specialty player in that third receiver spot. Coupled with his experience, I think that helps Miller fit the role, at least initially.
Honestly, I think it's going to be a bit of a mix. As Carmen notes, it might take rookie Tyler Johnson a bit more time to carve out a significant role given that he'll only have a couple of weeks of NFL practice under his belt before the games begin. That said, I do think the Buccaneers would like to see him have the lion's share of that role at some point, whether it be later this season or in 2021. I could say Miller, Watson, Johnson and maybe even Bryant Mitchell getting some reps in three-receiver sets.
But I think the idea here is to pick one player, and if that's the task than my initial answer would also be Miller. I'm not sure of the rules here; am I allowed to make the same pick as Carmen? If so, I'll just elaborate a bit more on Carmen's reasoning. Last year, Breshad Perriman was the team's third receiver when he, Evans and Godwin were all healthy at the same time, which was essentially 10 games, because Perriman only played five snaps in the Week Four game in which he got hurt. In those 10 games, Perriman played 462 snaps but only caught 19 passes. All the while, Head Coach Bruce Arians was insisting that Perriman was playing well and doing his job as asked, and that became clear when Evans and Godwin went down and Perriman suddenly started catching everything in sight.
My point is, Perriman was on the field for about 50% of the team's snaps during those games but he wasn't putting much into his stat line. He was affecting the game without catching passes because he was enough of a threat to opposing defenses that they had to pay attention, helping put Evans and Godwin into better positions to rack up the catches. That's something I think Miller can do, for the reasons Carmen states. Put him on the outside and let him scare corners and safeties with a deep route and that can only help Godwin in the slot and Evans on the other side.
If I'm not allowed to pick the same guy, I guess I will go with Johnson. Yes, he'd have to get up to speed really quickly, but he's a superior athlete and by all accounts a smart guy. He had a knack for creating space in his routes at Minnesota; if he can do the same thing at the NFL level, perhaps he can make an impact more quickly than expected.