Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Depth Check: Wide Receivers

In the weeks leading up to the immensely important 2010 NFL Draft, Buccaneers.com will take a position-by-position look at the team's current roster, analyzing depth, free agency issues and the potential in this year's draft class...In this edition: wide receivers

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 WR Sammie Stroughter turned in a strong rookie season...how significant will his role be in 2010?

Editor's Note: This is the second in a series of pre-draft articles analyzing the Buccaneers' roster position by position. Each position analysis will include a look at the team's current depth at that spot, its history in stocking the position and the potential additions available in the draft and free agency. Next week: Defensive ends.

In the eight-year period from 2001 through 2008 - the Golden Age of passing in pro football - only two teams in the NFL sported at least one 1,000-yard receiver every season.

One you might guess easily. The trio of Peyton Manning, Marvin Harrison and Reggie Wayne produced 1,000-yard seasons during the 2000s as if they were overripe peaches falling off the tree. In fact, both Harrison and Wayne went over that mark each year from 2004 to 2006.

The other team might surprise you, at least if you weren't reading this on Buccaneers.com. Tampa Bay could claim a top-10 passing offense only once in that span (in 2003) but there always seemed to be a go-to receiver on hand. Other than the Colts, the Buccaneers were the only team in the NFL with a 1,000-yard receiver every year in that span.

The run began with Keyshawn Johnson in 2001 and 2002, used Keenan McCardell and Michael Clayton as one-year bridges in 2003 and 2004, respectively, moved on to Joey Galloway for the 2005-07 campaigns and finished with Antonio Bryant in 2008. Those represent eight of the 12 1,000-yard campaigns in team history.

However, while Wayne (not to mention Dallas Clark) kept the Colts' streak alive last year, the Bucs run came to an end during a 2009 campaign that definitely saw Tampa Bay's offense in a transition. The Bucs franchised Bryant and hoped for more of the same in '09 but he struggled with a knee injury. Tight end Kellen Winslow emerged as the team's top receiving threat. Galloway was gone and Clayton continued to be more of an all-around contributor than an 80-catch threat. Rookie Sammie Stroughter showed significant promise but missed the end of the season with a foot injury.

Meanwhile, the team spent the last half of the season breaking in rookie Josh Freeman, who looked very much the franchise quarterback the team believed it was adding at the 17th pick of the first round of the 2009 draft. With Freeman in place, hopefully for a decade or more, it seems obvious that the franchise will be looking to build a strong receiving corps around him. Some of that will come from what is already on hand - and that includes recently-acquired former Eagle Reggie Brown, who came over via trade - and some will undoubtedly be added in the coming years.

Will any of those key acquisitions happen in the next couple months? Before we break down the wide receiver position further and look at potential additions the team could make, here's a rundown of the receivers the Bucs will have returning in 2009:

* -* Nunn was on the Buccaneers' active roster for six weeks but did not appear in a game.*

Two Buccaneer receivers became unrestricted free agents after the 2009 season: Bryant and Brian Clark (Clark because the team declined to extend a tender offer to make him an restricted free agent). Both quickly found new homes, Bryant in Cincinnati and Clark in Detroit.

The shape of the Bucs' receiving corps obviously changes with the departure of Bryant, who was the team's offensive focal point in 2008 and a franchise player in 2009. However, that corps was already in flux last season as Bryant was hampered through much of the fall by a knee ailment. Stroughter emerged as a legitimate weapon, third-year man Maurice Stovall had his moments and the team added some potential future pieces to the puzzle by picking up the likes of Nunn, Mark Bradley and Mario Urrutia.

As it turns out, Stovall and Bradley are restricted free agents, two of the six players who received tender offers from the Buccaneers. Teams signing either receiver away would have to give up a second-round pick for Bradley and a third-rounder for Stovall.

Free Agent Wide Receivers from the 2009 Buccaneers
Player Exp. 2009 (Rec.-Yds.-Avg.-TD) Career (Rec.-Yds.-Avg.-TD)
Mark Bradley (RFA) 6 24-320-13.3-2 92-1,283-13.9-9
Maurice Stovall (RFA) 4 24-366-15.3-1 44-579-13.2-2

A very productive four-year run by Galloway (235 catches for 3,774 yards and 28 touchdowns) ended in 2007 but the Bucs were able to replace his contributions in 2008 with those of Bryant (83-1,248-7). There was a bit of a vacuum last season when Bryant was limited to 39 catches and Stroughter was the only other receiver to surpass 30, but it was filled to some extent by the addition of Winslow. Winslow set team for tight ends with 77 receptions and 884 yards, an enormous rise in production for Buc tight ends. However, Tampa Bay management had hoped to add such numbers to equally strong production from the wideouts in order to really push its offense to another level.

Instead, the Bucs were 26th in the NFL in passing in 2009. Obviously, that had something to do with the team going through three starting quarterbacks, including a rookie and a second-year player seeing his first real action. The Bucs are very high on that former rookie, Freeman, of course, and believe he will develop rapidly after a promising nine-start debut. That would be a more likely outcome, however, if Freeman is given even more weapons to exploit.

Here are some other numbers relating to the wide receiver position:

Wide Receiver Position Numbers:

  • Starting spots/Returning starters: 2/1 (Returning: Clayton; Departed: Antonio Bryant)
  • Total players under contract (as of 4/10/09): 6 (Brown, Clayton, Nunn, Spurlock, Stroughter, Urrutia)
  • Unrestricted/Restricted free agents: 0/2
  • 2009 Pro Bowlers: 0
  • 2009 AP All-Pros: 0
  • Relevant 2009 NFL Rankings: Tampa Bay ranked 28th in the NFL in total offense and 26th in passing offense
  • Wide Receivers Taken to Training Camp in 2009: 10* (Bryant, Kelly Campbell, Patrick Carter, Brian Clark, Clayton, Joel Filani, Cortez Hankton, Dexter Jackson, Stovall, Stroughter)
  • Wide Receivers Carried During the 2008 Regular Season: 6^ (Bryant, Clark, Clayton, Yamon Figurs, Stovall, Stroughter)
  • Wide Receivers Drafted by Tampa Bay, 1976-2007, Rounds 1-3: 12...Gordon Jones (2, 1979), Kevin House (2, 1980), Mark Carrier (3, 1987), Danny Peebles (2, 1989), Lawrence Dawsey (3, 1991), Courtney Hawkins (2, 1992), Lamar Thomas (3, 1993), Reidel Anthony (1, 1997), Jacquez Green (2, 1998), Marquise Walker (3, 2002), Michael Clayton (1, 2004), Maurice Stovall (3, 2006)

* - The Bucs added an 11th receiver, Mario Urrutia, midway through training camp.

^ - - The number of receivers on the Buccaneers' 53-man roster fluctuated between five and seven players from week to week but the most common number was six. The six WRs who were on the roster for the most games are listed above.

As deep as the 2010 draft appears to be overall, it may not be able to match last year's class of wide receivers, at least at the top of the draft. Six receivers went in the first round in 2009 - Darrius Heyward-Bey, Michael Crabtree, Jeremy Maclin, Percy Harvin, Hakeem Nicks and Kenny Britt - and they collectively lived up to that billing. This year, many mock drafters are predicting as few as two receivers in the opening round.

However, that doesn't mean the draft is lacking in receiver value. One might compare it to the 2008 draft, in which teams eventually decided that none of the available receivers were worthy of a first-round pick. Two years later, that class of receivers actually seems fairly strong, having produced the likes of DeSean Jackson, Eddie Royal, Pierre Garcon, Early Doucet, Donnie Avery and Earl Bennett. Here's a look at some of the most highly-regarded receivers available in the 2010 draft:

  • Dez Bryant, Oklahoma State...Bryant is all over the board on various mock drafts, not due to any perceived lack of talent but because he sat out much of the 2009 season due to a violation of NCAA rules... Big and fast, Bryant had an amazing 87 catches for 1,480 yards and 19 touchdowns for the Cowboys in 2008.
  • Demaryius Thomas, Georgia Tech...The next Calvin Johnson? Thomas certainly has the size, at 6-3 and 230 pounds, and he's been rising on the mock draft boards... Despite playing in Tech's run-oriented attack, had an enormous junior season with 46 catches for 1,154 yards and eight TDs, averaging 25.1 yards per catch.
  • Arrelious Benn, Illinois...Benn has the same sort of size/speed combo as Bryant, and after a disappointing combine he started to move back up the mock drafts after a very good pro day at Illinois... Declared for the draft as a junior after catching 159 passes in three seasons.
  • Golden Tate, Notre Dame...Tate doesn't have the size of those above, at 5-11 and 195 pounds, but if he can live up to comparisons to Steve Smith, that will be of little concern... Has good hands and can run after the catch.
  • Brandon LaFell, LSU...Unspectacular 40-yard dash times at the Combine didn't help LaFell's stock, but the junior-eligible receiver was very productive in college, especially during a 63-catch 2009 season.
  • Jordan Shipley, Texas...Shipley doesn't have the size/speed combination that wows scouts but he runs routes well, has very good hands and was certainly good enough for Colt McCoy at Texas.
  • Eric Decker, Minnesota...Decker isn't the fastest receiver on the board but he's got enough speed to be a threat in the NFL and he complements that with good size (6-2, 215) and a strong all-around game.

In the last five years, the Bucs have selected just two receivers in the first three rounds, including Maurice Stovall in 2006. Stovall has developed into more of a role player than an everyday starter, though there is still time for him to make another jump forward in 2010. Second-rounder Dexter Jackson did not pan out at all, however, and lasted only one year with the team. On the other hand, a seventh-round pick paid huge dividends last year in Oregon State's Stroughter.

Here's a closer look at the wide receivers the Bucs have drafted in the last five years:

Wide Receivers Drafted in the Last Five Years
Year Round Player School Still on Team?
2005 5th Larry Brackins Pearl River CC No
2005 7th Paris Warren Utah No
2005 3rd J.R. Russell Louisville No
2006 3rd Maurice Stovall Notre Dame Yes
2008 2nd Dexter Jackson Appalachian State No
2009 7th Sammie Stroughter Oregon State Yes

Historically, the Bucs have spent only 13 early-round picks at the wide receiver position. As we'll get to in a moment, most of the club's recent success at picking up receivers has come through methods other than the draft.

However, earlier in franchise history, the Bucs did a good job nabbing some talented wideouts in the early rounds, with names such as Gordon Jones, Kevin House, Lawrence Dawsey and Courtney Hawkins all putting up solid numbers while with the Bucs.

There have been some misses, however, headlined by Marquise Walker in 2002. Other drafted receivers that never quite panned out include Danny Peebles, Lamar Thomas, Reidel Anthony and Jacquez Green. Anthony, the first receiver ever taken by the Buccaneers in the first round, and Green, a high second-round pick, were particularly painful misses for the franchise.

Here's the full list of receivers the Bucs have selected in the early rounds of the draft:

Wide Receivers Drafted by Tampa Bay in Rounds 1-3

  • Gordon Jones (2nd), 1979...Gave the Bucs four solid years, about half of it as a starter...Recorded 86 catches for 1,230 yards and eight touchdowns during that span...Squeezed out a bit by the arrival of Gerald Carter.
  • Kevin House (2nd) 1980...An instant hit with five touchdowns and 531 yards on just 24 catches (22.1 yards per catch) as a rookie...Ranks fifth in team history in receptions (286), third among wide receivers, and second in receiving yards with 4,928...One of the better second-round picks in team annals,
  • Mark Carrier (3rd) 1987...The leading receiver (by yards) in team history; ranks second to RB James Wilder in receptions...In six Buc seasons caught 321 passes for 5,018 yards and 27 touchdowns...All-time franchise leader with 15 100-yard receiving games...Only Pro Bowl receiver in franchise's first 25 yards, getting all-star nod in 1989 after setting a team record with 1,422 yards on 86 grabs,
  • Danny Peebles (2nd) 1989...A big miss, lasting only two seasons in Tampa and catching just 17 passes for 230 yards and one touchdown...Had track-star speed but lacking in football skills.
  • Lawrence Dawsey (3rd) 1991...Started very fast, with a then-rookie record 55 catches in 1991 and another 60 grabs in 1992...Slowed by injuries in 1993 and never regained form...Succeeded early despite well below average speed for an NFL wideout.
  • Courtney Hawkins (2nd) 1992...A high second-rounder and the Bucs' first pick in the 1992 draft, he had five reasonably productive seasons for Tampa Bay (and several more in Pittsburgh) despite being hampered by lack of size (5-9, 180)...Peaked with Bucs in 1993 with 62 catches for 933 yards and three touchdowns.
  • Lamar Thomas (3rd) 1993...Another miss, hampered by slight frame...Had just 25 catches in three seasons as a Buc and was out-performed by the other University of Miami receiver the Bucs took a round later, Horace Copeland.
  • Reidel Anthony (1st) 1997...The first receiver ever drafted by the Buccaneers in the first round, he had difficulty living up to the lofty status of the 12th overall pick...Had 86 receptions in his first two seasons but just 58 over his last three as a Buccaneer.
  • Jacquez Green (2nd) 1998...Had back-to-back 50-catch seasons in 1999 and 2000 and was pretty productive as a kick returner, but he lasted only four seasons in Tampa, followed by brief cameos in Washington and Detroit...Like Hawkins, hampered by his size (5-9, 172).
  • Marquise Walker (3rd) 2002...Essentially the Bucs' biggest first-day draft miss ever at receiver, given that he never played a down for the team...Did bring back value after his rookie season when the Bucs traded him to Arizona for RB Thomas Jones.
  • Michael Clayton (1st) 2004...Had one of the five best rookie seasons by any receiver in NFL history in 2004, with 80 receptions for 1,193 yards and seven touchdowns...Was derailed by injuries in his sophomore campaign and has since struggled to return to his 2004 form.
  • Maurice Stovall (3rd) 2006...A big and athletic target who started seven games in 2009 due to injuries at the position and produced well in those starts...Remains one of the team's best special teams players.
  • Dexter Jackson (2nd) 2008...Essentially asked to concentrate on kick-return job in rookie campaign but ended up inactive after his early struggles and the stunning emergence of Pro Bowl return man Clifton Smith... Got another look in training camp '09 but was released.

When NFL free agency was still in its infancy, the Bucs made their first attempt at importing a #1 receiver in 1995, snaring Alvin Harper out of the Cowboys' multiple-championship program. Harper, who had shined as a #2 opposite Michael Irvin, was a bust and a distraction in Tampa, nowhere near the sort of free agent success the Bucs had found at linebacker (Hardy Nickerson, Lonnie Marts), cornerback (Martin Mayhew, Charles Dimry) and tight end (Jackie Harris). The Bucs tried again three years later with former Falcon Bert Emanuel, a converted college quarterback, but Emanuel was only a little better than Harper (if quite a bit better in the locker room).

However, beginning with the 2000 trade for Keyshawn Johnson and the 2002 signings of Keenan McCardell and Joe Jurevicius, the Bucs were able to start a successful run of wide receiver acquisitions. The trade of Johnson for Galloway was a huge success, as well, and Bryant stepped in after a year out of the game and had a career year.

Of course, the Bucs had little intention of shopping heavily on the free agent market this year, instead focusing on the very deep upcoming draft. Part of the motivation for that strategy was the modified free agency rules of 2010, which reduced the number of available unrestricted free agents by more than 200 players in their respective primes. Several other interesting receivers came off the market quickly, further diluting the pool. The Detroit Lions moved quickly to snatch up Seattle's Nate Burleson, who hasn't had a 1,000-yard season since 2004, the Bengals went for Bryant and the Pirates reclaimed Antwaan Randle El after he was released by the Redskins. A number of potentially interesting receiver acquisitions instead re-signed with their own teams, including Braylon Edwards (New York Jets), Jason Avant (Philadelphia), Chris Chambers (Kansas City), Kevin Walter (Houston) and Brandon Lloyd (Denver).

A handful of the players that would have been prime targets on the open market this year found themselves in the restricted, rather than unrestricted, free agency pool due to this league year's modified rules. Some of those players are included below, but in most cases those men will return to their original teams as long as the teams are motivated to keep them.

  • Miles Austin (RFA, Dallas) - The perfect example of a player who would have been highly-coveted on the unrestricted market in other years...Breakout year in 2009 included 81 catches, for 1,320 yards, 11 touchdowns and an excellent 16.3 yards per catch.
  • Mark Clayton (RFA, Baltimore) - Another RFA unlikely to move, but maybe the additions of Anquan Boldin and Donte' Stallworth in Baltimore will make the Ravens more likely to deal (Clayton's tender requires a second-round pick as compensation)...Coming off career lows in catches (34) and yards (480 but is still just 27.
  • Laveranues Coles (Released, Cincinnati) - Coles was supposed to replace the production of the departed T.J. Houshmandzadeh in Cincy last year, but it didn't happen...Dipped to 43 catches last year but had 70 in 2008 and 91 for 1,098 as recently as 2006.
  • Kevin Curtis (Released, Philadelphia) - An interesting case in that he caught 77 passes for 1,110 yards and six TDs in 2007 but followed that with two injury-plagued campaigns and is now 31...Released by the Eagles, who have a deep receiving corps.
  • Vincent Jackson (RFA, San Diego) - Tendered at a compensation of first and third-round picks, so almost certain to stay put...Still, would be quite a catch given his age (27), back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons and career average of 17.2 yards per catch.
  • Brandon Marshall (RFA, Denver) - Widely considered the most likely of the RFA's to be built, given clashes with Denver management...Huge (6-4, 230) and hugely talented, with three straight seasons of at least 1,100 yards and six TDs.
  • Terrell Owens (UFA, Buffalo) - Age 36 and coming off his least productive full-season campaign (55-829-5) since 1996, but with Hall of Fame credentials overall.
  • Josh Reed (UFA, Buffalo) - More of a third-receiver type in his eight seasons in Buffalo, topping out at 58 catches in 2003... Did have 56 grabs in 2008 but owns a career per-catch average of 11.5 yards.
  • Bobby Wade (UFA, Kansas City)...Still just 29 and has averaged 44 catches for 530 yards and two touchdowns per season over the last four years (with three different teams)... Caught 53 and 54 passes for Minnesota in 2007 and 2008.
  • Kelley Washington (UFA, Baltimore)... After two seasons of failing to work into the rotation in New England, Washington set career highs in Baltimore in 2009 with 34 receptions for 431 yards.

The Bucs began the offensive overhaul last year with the drafting of Freeman, the trade for Winslow and the signing of running back Derrick Ward. RB Cadillac Williams turned in a strong comeback year in 2009 and the backfield of Williams, Ward and Earnest Graham should be more productive in 2010. The team also still believes its young and promising offensive line will be a major strength in years to come. Of less certainty, at least in March of '10, is how the receiving corps will shape up.

For that reason, the position is one of the most interesting to watch as the Bucs prepare for the upcoming season. Will the draft bring any aid? And, if not, are there still options on the free agent market? Barring either of those developments, how much can the team expect to get out of the receivers on hand? The answers to those questions could arrive soon.

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