Through two preseason games, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have had passes caught by 21 different players, including 11 different wide receivers. The Buccaneers have been prolific through the air, leading the entire NFL with 345.5 net passing yards per game.
Those statistics will mean nothing when the regular season arrives, of course, but right now, halfway through the preseason, they underscore how much talent the team has among its pass-catchers. Head Coach Dirk Koetter noted the depth of that competition on Sunday after the Buccaneers' 30-14 win in Tennessee on Saturday, and it seems likely that the team will have to part ways with a few players talented enough to make the 53-man roster.
Rookie Justin Watson, a fifth-round draft pick out of Penn, said it's that very depth of talent that is pushing all of the competitors to perform well.
"I think that competition is what's driving all of us to keep our focus," said Watson. "We've got a deep receiving room. We've got those top four guys who are unbelievable and our next couple are really talented, too. We just push each other in practice. We're a tight-knit group even though [there is] that competition. We're always building each other up and then pushing each other, and it's just really going to help the competition throughout camp."
Those top four noted by Watson are Mike Evans, DeSean Jackson, Adam Humphries and Chris Godwin, all of whom made big plays in Saturday's win. If Watson is on the bubble for a fifth and possibly sixth spot in that receiving corps, he certainly helped himself with a leaping touchdown catch on Saturday. Watson says he thinks about every route in practice and in games, even if he doesn't expect to get the ball, because one play can be used to set up the next one. In this case, Watson definitely had the situation in mind when he fired off the line on third-and-15 at the Titans' 21-yard line.
"It was third down and 19 seconds left on the clock, so I knew we either had to get in the end zone or get out of bounds," said Watson, aware that the team had just one timeout left. "We got in the huddle and [Jameis Winston] called go routes on the outside, so I knew my route would be live, he'd be looking. We got a cloud look and that's a tough throw for any quarterback, putting it in the hole against Cover Two, but [it was an] unbelievable ball. I saw it in the air and tried to go up and make a play on it."
Through the first two games, Watson is tied for the team lead with seven receptions, is second with 84 yards and is one of four players to catch a touchdown pass. He also has an assisted tackle in kick coverage, and while that number looks modest next to his receiving totals, it is probably just as important. Whether the Bucs keep five or six wideouts, the last couple are going to have to make a contribution on special teams. Watson is getting plenty of front-line reps on a variety of special teams units in practice and he definitely understands how important that is.
"Coming from a smaller school, they didn't put me on too many special teams after me freshman year," he said. "But, yeah, it's something that I always took seriously. In college, I was always in the special teams room making sure those guys were staying on point. It's something I know is going to be a huge part of my career, especially this first year."
As Watson noted, his first touchdown came on a pass that Winston had to fit into a very tight spot, and that the rookie had to high-point and then bring down without stepping out of bounds. It looked very much like the type of play on which Winston has routinely connected with his favorite target.
Watson, who has a similar build and style of play to the Buccaneers' superstar receiver, is fortunate to be able to have Evans' help in honing that type of game. Though he's only 24, Evans is very much a seasoned NFL veteran, and Jackson has more than a decade of dominating at the pro level under his belt.
"The number of snaps those guys have taken in NFL games is unbelievable, so they've seen just about anything, and both of them have been in this offense before," said Watson. "So in the film room they've done a great job of coaching us rookies up. Mike and I, I think, are pretty similar receivers as far as liking to use our size, so he's really helped me out trying to play bigger."
The goal for Watson is not only to play bigger, but to play more. As in, when the regular season begins. The competition at wide receiver is perhaps as fierce as it's ever been during a Tampa summer, but Watson has certainly done a lot to make his case.