View pictures from the Buccaneers' 2018 Training Camp practice on Sunday at One Buccaneer Place.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers' wide receiver depth almost always seems more impressive in the early days of training camp than on the final cut-down weekend.
Some players down the depth chart a bit inevitably flash in the first few weeks of camp and are pulled into the conversation about the battle for roster spots. Those performances aren't always sustained, however, and the final decisions aren't terribly difficult to make, or predict.
This summer could be different. Some of the receivers have indeed stood out in this first weekend of camp, but there's reason to believe that will continue. Even Head Coach Dirk Koetter acknowledges that his team might not be able to keep every wideout that proves himself worthy of the 53-man roster.
"We have depth and we're also going to have competition, especially at the back end, at the back end of that roster," said Koetter of the receiving corps specifically. "There are two or three guys sitting there on the back end that I'd love to have on our football team but right now I don't know how they're going to make it. Usually, through the course of preseason, that works itself out."
The presumptive depth chart at receiver starts with a pretty obvious four, barring injuries shaking up the picture. Mike Evans, DeSean Jackson, Adam Humphries and Chris Godwin were all productive pass-catchers for the Buccaneers last year and it would be a significant surprise to see any of them cut out of the picture.
After that it gets tricky, although we are talking about the proverbial "good problem to have."
The Buccaneers spent a fifth-round pick on Justin Watson, a big and toolsy receiver out of Penn. That draft status certainly does not guarantee Watson a spot, but it is worth nothing that most of the fifth-round picks in Buccaneers history have at least made the opening-day roster as rookies. Running back Jeremy McNichols was an exception last year, but prior to that you have to go back to Larry Brackins in 2005 to find a fifth-rounder who wasn't either on the roster or on injured reserve on opening day.
Freddie Martino would seem like a prime candidate to win a fifth spot (or sixth if the Bucs keep that many) on the receiver depth chart. He can back up all three receiver positions, he has turned in a handful of big plays over the past two seasons – as indicated by his 18.3 yards per catch – and he is an excellent special teams player. Bobo Wilson was lauded by Koetter as one of the team's most improved players over the course of the 2017 campaign, Wilson's rookie season, and that improvement continued throughout this past offseason. Bernard Reedy offers potential value to the back end of the depth chart as a return man; he averaged 10.2 yards per punt return for the Buccaneers last year.
Rookies Ervin Philips and Sergio Bailey and second-year man Jake Lampman round out the group of receivers in camp this year, and all will certainly get a chance to beat out the competition. The four listed above, however, would appear to be the primary competitors for however many additional spots exist at receiver on the regular-season depth chart.
On Sunday, Watson made his first big mark in that competition. He missed most of the team's offseason work due to an injury suffered in the rookie mini-camp, but he was cleared to go at the start of training camp. That gave him his first chance to get back on the field, but his first real opportunity to shine arose on the fourth day of camp.
"Today was his best day," said Koetter. "He got some chances. When you're a wide receiver, you've got to get chances. Sometimes you could be out here all day and not have any balls thrown to you. He showed up today. He's got a fight on his hands because it's a deep position."
Any receivers the Buccaneers keep beyond the obvious first four will undoubtedly have to offer something on special teams. Martino, as noted, showed he could excel as a cover man last year, with seven special teams tackles in just eight games played, and Reedy has his return skills to bolster his resume. Wilson had one kick-coverage stop in a handful of outings last year. Watson will have to prove he can produce in the kick-and-cover game, too, but he's getting every opportunity to do so. The Bucs have given him looks as a punt-team gunner and as a cover man on kickoffs already, and he has a nice size-and-speed combination for the job.
Watson's competition for one of the last receiver spots is stiff. The Bucs aren't hoping to catch lightning in a bottle with the likes of Martino, Wilson and Reedy. All three have already shown they can play in the NFL and offer some very specific things to the cause. The rookie helped himself on Sunday, taking advantage of an opportunity when it arose. The next step is to show he can do so consistently.