Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Training Camp Goals: 2022 Buccaneers, Numbers 80-89

With jerseys in the 80s falling out of favor with NFL wideouts, our look at the potential camp goals for every player on the Bucs' 90-man roster now encounters a large number of young and as-yet-unproven pass-catchers

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TAMPA, FL - May 19, 2022 - Tight End Cameron Brate #84 of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers during OTA’s at AdventHealth Training Center. Photo By Kyle Zedaker/Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Earlier in this series, we noted that players wearing jersey numbers in the 40-49 range has become much more common in the NFL in recent years. Linebackers and tight ends are choosing (or being assigned) those number more frequently and you still get the occasional running back or defensive back joining the party. The relaxing of NFL rules on which positions can get access to which ranges of numbers has helped usher this trend along.

The other side of that coin is the jerseys in the 80-89 range.

For decades, the vast majority of receivers and tight ends were restricted to those 10 numbers if at all possible. Basically, a receiver could only get something in the 10-19 range if every 80 number was already taken by another player on his team. When Keyshawn Johnson was drafted by the Jets in 1996, he purposely let every other receiver and tight end on the roster get his number first so that the 80s would be full and he could take number 19. At the time, that was a big story.

Then, in 2004, the NFL changed its policy to allow receivers to pick jerseys in the 10-19 range even if there were 80 numbers available. A sea change followed as most young receivers coming into the league requested something in the teens. Mike Evans got #13 from the Bucs in 2014 and has since made it iconic in franchise history. Chris Godwin started out in #12 but amiably switched to #14 when Tom Brady arrived in 2020. And so on.

As such, the 80s have become mainly the province of tight ends (and not even all of them) and, in many years, young receivers who are starting out on the back end of the depth chart. And if one of those young receivers happens to make the team, he may switch to something in the teens once a few other numbers are cleared out by roster cuts. Also, now that receivers can choose single digit numbers, too, there's even less of a need for the 80 jerseys.

And that's what we find here as we enter that range in our nearly-complete rundown of every player on the Buccaneers' 90-man camp roster and what their goals for this year's training camp may be. Five of the eight players here are undrafted rookie receivers or tight ends, and a sixth is 2022 fourth-round pick Cade Otton. Veteran tight end Cameron Brate is the only player in this range with any sort of extensive NFL experience. That means there's going to be a lot of projection in these assumed 'Camp Goals.'

#80 WR Kaylon Geiger: One of three relatively small but fast and very productive rookie receivers the Buccaneers signed after the draft, Texas Tech's Geiger is a bit behind his cohorts in terms of practice snaps because he was dealing with a minor injury in the spring. So the first goal for Geiger is to get back on the field and start making his mark for the coaches, perhaps as a shifty option out of the slot. Geiger also has some potential as a return man which, if he could land that job, would be his quickest avenue to a spot on the active roster. One specific goal for Geiger could be to demonstrate that, despite his size, he can get off the line of scrimmage quickly against press coverage.

#81 WR Vyncint Smith: Originally an undrafted free agent in 2018, Smith has impressively nailed down a 53-man roster spot for at least part of each of his first four seasons in the league, first with Houston and then with the Jets for the past three years. Smith is already the first NFL player ever out of Limestone University, a Division II school in South Carolina with a student body of about 2,000. In a crowded group of roster hopefuls on the back half of the depth chart, Smith could be seeking to demonstrate that his existing NFL experience – 29 games, five starts, 23 receptions – has him ahead of a pack of mostly rookies. Smith also returned 10 kickoffs at a 29.9-yard clip for the Jets in 2019, so another potential goal would be convincing the Bucs' coaching staff to give him a shot in that competition.

#82 JJ Howland: Howland has already met one goal since arriving in Tampa – he turned a tryout contract in the team's rookie minicamp into a spot on the 90-man roster and an invitation to training camp. He had tried to do the same thing the previous weekend with the Seahawks but left Seattle without an offer. The obvious comparison for the Yale product is Brate, another Ivy Leaguer from rival Harvard, who turned a tryout in Tampa into a long and productive career. They even share many physical traits, including roughly the same size and weight. Thus it's easy to assign a hypothetical goal to Howland of duplicating everything Brate did along the way. For the latter, that started out as a practice squad spot, which is a perfectly reasonable goal for either of the Bucs' two undrafted rookie tight ends. More specifically, though, Howland will likely hope to show that the route-running skills and sure hands that made him productive at Yale can translate into the same sort of result in an NFL camp.

#83 WR Deven Thompkins: Thompkins is another of the three undrafted rookie wideouts mentioned above, but he has one thing that Geiger and Jerreth Sterns may not have yet: momentum. Thompkins stood out during OTAs and the full-team minicamp, taking advantage of some minor injuries to other Bucs receivers and making the most of his enhanced snaps. Thompkins' performance was impressive enough to make him the one player Head Coach Todd Bowles specified when asked during minicamp who had caught his eye. Bowles said he was eager to see what Thompkins would do when training camp began and the competition for roster spots became more intense. So for Thompkins, who caught 102 passes for 1,704 yards and 10 touchdowns in his final year at Utah State, the goal is clearly to keep that momentum going.

#84 TE Cameron Brate: With Rob Gronkowski's retirement, Brate is now the elder statesman in the tight end room, at least until and unless the team adds another veteran, as has been reported. At the moment, he is the only player in his room with more than one career regular-season reception. The Buccaneers obviously have a lot still to determine about how the tight end depth on their 53-man roster is going to shake out, but Brate's spot obviously seems secure. It could be among his goals for his ninth NFL training camp to help bring his young tight end teammates along quickly and help the coaching staff determine how best to utilize them. As for any personal goals, he could be looking to demonstrate to those coaches that he is ready to shoulder a load of any size in the offense; he hasn't played more than 50% of the offensive snaps since the 2017 season and last year finished at 40%. There's room for much more exposure with Gronkowski and O.J. Howard no longer in the picture.

#86 TE Codey McElroy: McElroy will likely come into camp believing that he has a golden opportunity to take the next step forward in his NFL career. That step would be locking down a spot on the 53-man roster for more than just a cameo. He has been with the club in some capacity for all of the past three seasons but so far has seen action in just three regular-season games, logging one catch. That path could become just a bit harder if the Buccaneers do add another established veteran, but there is room in the Bucs' offensive plans for a tight end who could emerge as the most dynamic pass-catcher in the group. McElroy played three different sports at various times during his collegiate tenure and has remained in the Bucs' developmental plans for such a long time because he has impressive athletic talents. McElroy was another standout during the team's offseason program and he'll be seeking to show he has more value on the roster than the host of rookie tight ends in the mix.

#88 TE Cade Otton: The first goal for the Bucs' fourth-round draft pick is to get on the field. He was a spectator during OTAs due to an ankle injury from his final season at Washington that required surgery. The Bucs have been optimistic that he'll be ready to go by the start of camp. At that point, Otton will begin trying to prove that the Buccaneers are correct in their belief that he can be a true two-way 'Y' tight end in the NFL, a player who can be on the field for all downs because he excels at both blocking and pass-catching. Otton's injury in 2021 and the Huskies less-than-perfect quarterback situation contributed to relatively modest receiving numbers but there is the potential for more production at the NFL level. Otton has already demonstrated that he is a willing and effective blocker, which is a trait that would probably get him on the field quickly if he can show it to be true against NFL opponents.

#89 TE Ben Beise: Beise comes to the Buccaneers' training camp from a Division III school that hasn't produced an NFL player since 1925, so the first order of business for the Wisconsin-River Falls product is to show he can make the transition to the highest level of football. As a former quarterback who stands 6-5 and 255 pounds and ran a 4.78 40-yard dash, he has an intriguing set of athletic talents and size to bring to the position. The flip side to that is he remains relatively new to playing tight end and is getting his first taste of NFL coaching, so he likely has some work to do in honing his technique at the position. That in itself is a perfectly fine goal for Beise as he heads into his first NFL camp: Soak up all the high-level coaching and along the way show that he has the potential to fashion a career in the pros. If he is unable to secure a spot on the 53-man roster in the end, an invitation to join the practice squad would be an excellent alternative for the start of his career.

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