If the Bucs learned one thing from falling short in the 2021-2022 playoffs, it was that they can’t have enough depth at wide receiver. In the team’s 30-27 loss to the Rams, the Bucs finished the game with Mike Evans, Scotty Miller and recently-signed John Brown as the only healthy wideouts. Gone for the season were Chris Godwin (ACL) and Antonio Brown (cut), while Cyril Grayson and Breshad Perriman also missed the game with injuries. In the fourth quarter, Tyler Johnson left the game with an injury.
Now, good luck surviving that severe of an injury situation. Deep down, the Bucs know that. Unfortunately, the stars did not align for the team’s health in 2021. A big part of winning championships in the NFL is luck, whether we want to admit it or not. And the Bucs didn’t have enough luck last season.
However, the team is making every effort this offseason to prepare their roster to absorb more unluckiness this season, if it comes. This offseason, the Bucs have signed Chris Godwin to a long term contract, while adding a brand new No. 3 receiver. Russell Gage will fill Brown’s void to the tune of a 3-year, $30 million contract. That’s a lot more than Brown was making at any point in Tampa Bay. And it show how far the Bucs are willing to go to upgrade their receiver depth.
In addition to Gage, veteran Breshad Perriman is back on a cheap, one-year contract. The Bucs liked his flashes last year, and it’s hard to argue with them. Given the affordability and the fact that Perriman has played his best career football in Tampa Bay, it’s a good move. Johnson and Miller will return as well, despite disappointing 2021 campaigns for both. Last year’s fourth round pick Jaelon Darden also remains in the mix.
Bucs Not Done At WR Yet?
So the Bucs are set at wide receiver. Right?
Not so fast.
According to several reports, the Bucs are hosting multiple wide receivers on Top 30 visits over the next few weeks. Each NFL team is allowed to invite 30 non-local prospects to their facility during the pre-draft process. Right now, the Bucs are slated to host Ohio State wide receiver Chris Olave and Arkansas WR Treylon Burks.
New Bucs WR Russell Gage, Jr. – Photo by: USA Today
So not only are the Bucs bringing in wideouts for visits, they are bringing in projected first round wide receivers! This is very interesting for several reasons. First, the Bucs have their top three wide receivers all under contract for the next two seasons. And when Evans’ contract is extended, you can bump that number to the next three seasons. That’s a long time for a top draft pick to wait for playing time! Or a lot to pay Gage to be your No. 4 wideout.
But honestly, screw all that. Having more weapons than everyone else enhances your ability to create offense. Teams that create the best offense have the highest chance to win Super Bowls. The past few years has unequivocally taught us all of this. It might not fit typical roster-building for the Bucs to draft a wide receiver in Round 1, but that shouldn’t stop them from doing it.
Which WRs Could Bucs Target?
In addition to their upcoming visit with Olave, the Bucs have also met with the receiver formally at the Combine. In many ways, Olave fits the Bucs scheme very well. He’s primarily a vertical threat, well-suited for a Z-receiver role in the NFL. Olave is an excellent route runner and has the speed to win downfield as well. But he’s not a very physical player, nor will he be a factor after the catch. Those could be issues in the NFL.
It’s safe to say those things won’t be a problem for Burks. He’s one of the draft’s premier deep threats despite being 6-2, 225 pounds. On tape, Burks shows it all. He can stretch the field and run by cornerbacks, or he can adjust and make the tough catch. Plus, the big receiver is a factor after the catch as well. Burks played mostly in the slot at Arkansas, but has outstanding reps outside vs press in his 2021 tape.
If there’s a concern with Burks, it’s that his Combine was good, not great. A 4.55 40 at his size isn’t a big deal, but many thought he’d be faster. He also only jumped 33 inches, although his 10-yard split and broad jump were fantastic. But Burks’ timed speeds at Arkansas are very impressive. The SEC star nearly hit 23 miles per hour in a game this year, a measurement which the Bucs pay attention to. Tampa Bay’s interest in Burks shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone, except in relation to their loaded wide receiver room.
But, based on their pre-draft activity, the Bucs are invested in this wide receiver class. Tampa Bay attended North Dakota State receiver Christian Watson’s Pro Day a few days ago. That fit makes too much sense, as the Tampa native has talked about looking up to Evans’ skill set in his training. Watson is raw, but has elite athleticism and size, which he used to dominate the Senior Bowl.
Tampa Bay has also had a formal interview with Cincinnati wide receiver Alec Pierce. It’s no surprise the Bucs are interested after Pierce’s Combine performance. If you’ve read my research on GM Jason Licht’s draft preferences at wide receiver, you’ll see that Pierce checks every box. He’s big (6-3, 211), fast (4.41) and has great hops (40 1/2 vertical). But Pierce also struggles to separate at times, which could be problem in the NFL. He’s a mid-round option, unlike the aforementioned trio.
Whether you want the Bucs to draft a receiver or not, it’s becoming clear the team is interested in doing so. Last year, the Bucs saw what happened when they ran out of weapons. In a system that relies heavily on receivers to win one-on-one, they can’t have enough depth at wide receiver. If the team can add a big-play rookie, it could take a great offense over the top this season.