Jacquez Green, picked in the second round in 1998, is part of a heavy draft investment the Bucs have made at receiver in recent years
From 1981 through 1996, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers devoted no first round picks and only two second-round picks to the position of wide receiver.
Since 1997, three first-round picks and a second-round choice have been spent on passcatchers, if the two first-rounders shipped to the New York Jets last season to acquire Keyshawn Johnson are included.
Obviously, the team has invested heavily to acquire a completely revamped receiving corps. In 2001, they would like to see a hefty return on that investment.
In addition to Johnson, the Bucs used a first-round choice on Reidel Anthony in 1997 and followed with the second-round selection of Jacquez Green in '98. That trio forms the heart of a group that Wide Receivers Coach Charlie Williams believes is poised for an impact season.
"I thought that, at the times we were counted on and needed, we came up real good throughout the season last year," said Williams. "As a group, overall, I thought we did some nice things in the passing game, but I think there's a lot more out there. I think we will be even better this coming season."
First, a look at the numbers:
Receivers Under Contract: 7 Pending Free Agents: 0 Typical Training Camp Receivers Total: 10-11 NFL Passing Offense Ranking: 26 Bucs Among NFC Leaders: Keyshawn Johnson, 15th in receptions 2000 Receptions Leader: Johnson, 71 2000 Yardage Leader: Johnson, 874 2000 Touchdowns Leader Johnson, 8 First-Round Picks Spent on Receivers, 1976-2000: 1 (Reidel Anthony, 1997) Total Picks Spent on Receivers, 1996-2000: 5
Obviously, the addition of Johnson, a Pro Bowl player with the size the Buccaneers have long been lacking at the position, significantly upgraded this unit in 2000. In his first year in red and pewter, Johnson approached his career averages set in four seasons with the Jets (76-1,027-8) but the sense is that there remains untapped potential there for the Buccaneers. The addition of QB Brad Johnson, renowned for his accuracy, could go quite a way in fulfilling that potential.
"Keyshawn coming in here has definitely brought an extra flavor to our receiving corps," said Williams. "He's a big-time receiver who makes big plays in tough areas of the field. And, obviously, we all know he can take a hit."
Green got the coveted role of starting opposite Johnson (each opened all 16 games) and found some early success in stretching the defense with his speed. Despite the frequency of big plays tailing off somewhat for Green as the season progressed, he still finished with 51 receptions for 773 yards and one touchdown, averaging 15.2 yards per grab.
"On the opposite side (from Johnson), Quez was a very good complementary guy," said Williams. "If we could have hit the big plays a little more often – meaning the deep ball – it would have really helped us out tremendously in our underneath stuff. We would just miss, or something would happen. But I thought he did a real good job all year long."
Former starter Anthony was thus pushed into the number-three slot, a position he made the most of with four touchdowns among his 15 receptions. Anthony was a 50-catch receiver as recently as 1998 and should also benefit greatly if the Bucs' passing game takes a step up this season, as expected.
"I thought Reidel, as the number three, did everything we asked him to do," said Williams. "He came in and made some big catches at crucial times in the game to help us either preserve the win or get the momentum going to take the lead."
Anthony filled the role that had been held for the most part in recent seasons by Karl Williams. Williams struggled with injuries early on and eventually played less than 50 snaps of offense all season. Thus, Williams dropped from an average of 22 catches per season in his first four years to just two last season.
"'The Truth' didn't have a lot of snaps," said coach Williams. "He got hurt early in the season and missed about four or five games, but he's still Karl 'The Truth'. He's very consistent. When given the opportunity, he will make plays for you on a regular basis."
The remaining three receivers currently on the Bucs' roster are lesser known players: Frank Murphy, Chris Daniels and Eddie Hardaway. Murphy spent much of last season on the Bucs' practice squad and finished the campaign on the active roster, seeing limited action in one game. Daniels, a free agent out of Purdue, passed his entire rookie season on injured reserve after hurting his shoulder during training camp. Hardaway was signed after the 2000 season and, like Daniels, is currently playing in the NFL Europe League.
"Frank is switching from running back to receiver," said Williams of the former Kansas State star who was tried out in the backfield by the Chicago Bears early in 2000. "We picked him up from Chicago's practice squad. Frank's been here all offseason to this point and has shown very good signs of improvement. The things that he has to work on are coming in and out of his break, learning how to be a receiver and route-running. He needs to be smooth at what he's doing. But once he picks up the system he's going to be outstanding, because he can run. He can flat fly. And he's improving his catching ability every day.
"I'm not sure if (Daniels) will still be mine when he gets back from NFL Europe or if he'll be moved to tight end. We have not discussed that yet, but we'll be glad to have Chris back.
"I haven't had a chance to work with Eddie Hardaway yet. He's over in the World League getting experience. He's going to come over here and be real tired when he gets here because of the World League schedule, but we'll find out what he can do and work with him."
One thing Williams plans to work on with all of his charges is run-blocking. Though the Buccaneers were visibly improved in this area in 2000, most likely due to Johnson's influence, Williams is not yet satisfied with that aspect of his players' game.
"In the running game, for the most part we blocked well downfield, but that's an area we will improve on this year," said Williams. "These guys want to catch the ball. They're eager to learn if it's a pass route. If we're talking about blocking, they're not so eager to learn, but you've got to do both. That's the nature of the game."
So, with the recent investments the Bucs have made at the position, would they be likely to make an early move at receiver in this year's draft. Williams was non-committal, of course, but clearly wouldn't mind another horse in his stable.
"Any time you're going through the draft and you get stuck on the board – you have several guys rated the same – if there's a receiver sitting on the board, he's probably one of the top guys," he said. "If I had my way, I'd like to take a shot at one of them. There's a lot of good ones out there this year. It's not a priority, but I'm not saying we wouldn't take one, either."
Like last year, when five receivers were taken in the first round, this year's draft pool is considered deep at the position. Though it may not be deep enough to produce three top-ten picks, as it did in 2000, there is certainly considerable interest in Michigan's David Terrell, Wisconsin's Chris Chambers, Oregon State's Chad Johnson, Miami's Santana Moss, North Carolina State's Koren Robinson, UCLA's Freddie Mitchell, Clemson's Rod Gardner and Kansas State's Quincy Morgan. In fact, with all of those hot receivers on the board, the 2001 draft could be even heavier at the position in the first round than it was last year.
The Buccaneers, as usual, will hold a full-team minicamp the weekend following the draft. If any of the newest Bucs happen to be receivers, they would be well advised to hit the ground running. Williams is very eager to get back to work with his promising crew.
"I'm looking forward to getting these guys back and starting over again," he said. "We're not starting from scratch, so we'll be another year older and we'll be ready to go."