The NFL and the NFL Players Association have come to an agreement on how to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic, and NFL training camps have opened up across the country, including in Tampa Bay. PewterReport.com offers up its analysis of each position on the Buccaneers as new quarterback Tom Brady and his teammates prepare for the 2020 season.
Table of Contents
Mike Evans | Age: 26 | NFL Exp.: 7th season | 6-5, 231 Chris Godwin | Age: 24 | NFL Exp.: 4th season | 6-1, 209 Scotty Miller | Age: 23 | NFL Exp.: 2nd season | 5-11, 174 Justin Watson | Age: 25 | NFL Exp.: 3rd season | 6-3, 215 Tyler Johnson | Age: 21 | NFL Exp.: Rookie | 6-2, 206 Bryant Mitchell | Age: 27 | NFL Exp.: 2nd season | 6-2, 198 Josh Pearson | Age: 23 | NFL Exp.: Rookie | 6-4, 205 John Franklin | Age: 25 | NFL Exp.: 3rd season | 6-1, 186 Cyril Grayson | Age: 26 | NFL Exp.: 4th season | 5-9, 183 Jaydon Mickens | Age: 26 | NFL Exp.: 3rd season | 5-11, 170 John Hurst | Age: 23 | NFL Exp.: Rookie | 6-2, 190
Arguably the best WR tandem in the NFL, Godwin and Evans both burst past the 1,100-yard mark last season despite each missing time due to injuries. Evans missed the fourth, fifth and sixth games of his career with a hamstring concern, while Godwin sat out the final two weeks of the year with the same injury.
Bucs WRs Mike Evans and Chris Godwin – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
Few receivers can offer the combination of abilities that Evans and Godwin, who both made the Pro Bowl last season, provide. The former will be going for his seventh straight 1,000-yard season, which would surpass Hall of Famer Randy Moss for an NFL record. Evans is one of the most uniquely utilized No. 1 wide receivers in the entire league, seeing almost all of his targets in a lower percentage area of the field than most – beyond 10 yards from the line of scrimmage. Over the past two seasons, the Lions’ Kenny Golladay in 2019 was the only wide receiver to get 100 targets and have an average depth of target higher than Evans.
While Evans is one of the game’s elite deep threats and catch point dominators, Godwin is more of a balanced, versatile threat. More capable after the catch and every bit as good at competing for the football in the air, Godwin complements Evans perfectly by being able to move around the formation, work the slot from short-deep and still provide enough speed and ball-tracking ability to make plays vertically as well. Godwin may not have the elite trump card that Evans’ offers, but he’s the more well-rounded of the duo.
Where the real conversation begins is at the No. 3 receiver spot, where the competition will be heated between Miller, Watson and Johnson. Miller, last year’s sixth-round pick, is the fastest of the three, providing 4.3 speed which showed up repeatedly in his limited reps as a rookie. The second-year receiver saw only a handful of snaps as a rookie, but managed 13 catches for 200 yards and a score, averaging a healthy 15.4 yards per reception.
Watson, a former fifth-round pick, enters his third year in Tampa Bay as the underdog to get snaps over Miller or Johnson this season, after failing to really take control of the No. 3 or 4 receiver spot a year ago, when he lost playing time to Breshad Perriman and Miller. Watson is a big bodied receiver who has grown as a route runner and a finisher in tight quarters, but he doesn’t possess any trump cards in his skill set either. In a year where special teams continuity will matter with so little practice time, Watson’s skills in that area should ensure him a roster spot.
The smart money is on Johnson to end up as the team’s eventual No. 3 receiver, after he finished seventh in all of college football in receiving yards a year ago. The knock on Johnson is that he’s just an average athlete without an imposing build, middling traits that might push him to the slot full-time in the NFL. But Johnson’s route-running is top-notch, and nobody won more vertical battles down the field over the course of the Golden Gopher’s college career, largely due to Johnson’s elite ball skills. Johnson recorded 213 catches for 3,305 yards (15.5 avg.) and 33 touchdowns in his Minnesota career.
Bucs WR Tyler Johnson – Photo courtesy of Minnesota Athletics
Those five figure to be locks to make the final roster, with the sixth and likely final spot coming down to a host of unknowns. Bryant Mitchell intrigued the team enough to garner a one-year, $610,000 contract this offseason, making him the early favorite to stick if head coach Bruce Arians continues to carry six wide receivers as he did a year ago. Mitchell has never appeared in an NFL game, but loves to block on the perimeter and is quite good at it.
Watch out for John Franklin however, as the speedy (4.44 in the 40-yard dash) former quarterback has bounced around during his time in the league, playing wide receiver, cornerback and even scout team quarterback. The Bucs are clearly intrigued by his size and athleticism, but the time may be coming for Franklin to finally show development as a receiver, or risk being the odd man out on cut-down day.
Speaking of athletes, the Bucs hope they are getting a more developed version of Franklin in Pearson, an undrafted rookie from Jacksonville State. He’ll compete with Mitchell, Franklin and long shots like Mickens, Grayson and Hurst, another undrafted free agent, for the final receiver spot. Mickens has some return ability and the most NFL experience of the tier 3 group, while Grayson is a former college track athlete who has bounced around practice squads for three years thanks to a 4.33 pre-draft 40, despite never having played college football. Hurst is the longest of long shots, after managing just over 650 yards receiving during his senior year at West Georgia last season.
One more thing to think about: with the Bucs likely to keep four tight ends and at least four running backs, there may only be five wide receiver spots available this season. That could make the competition for WR6 a moot point by the time September rolls around.
Camp Battle To Watch: WR3 – Miller vs. Watson vs. Johnson
Bucs WR Scotty Miller – Photo by: Getty Images
Many believed Watson would be the likely No. 3 receiver in 11 personnel this season, but after studying the most recent tape of all three, the inside track for the job should go to Miller. He simply offers a more difficult-to-defend skill set with the speed and ball-tracking ability to make defenses pay if and when they make him their lowest priority as a coverage unit.
I might give Johnson the advantage if this were a normal season, but with the rookie destined to be behind the eight ball when camp does open up full bore without the benefit of a rookie mini-camp, OTAs or the preseason, he could have a lot of ground to make up. Johnson’s game is already exceptionally developed for a fifth-round pick, which could help his transition considerably if he is able to pick up the offense schematically. The rookie could be ready to make a splash around midseason if he’s able to get enough reps in practice.
Watson, who caught 15 passes for 159 yards (10.6 avg.) and two touchdowns late last year, is an adequate depth receiver with a decent skill set, I just don’t know if that’s enough to see playing time over the more explosive Miller or the more dominant pass catcher in Johnson. His value will come as a depth piece that can play a few receiver spots, and as one of the teams better cover guys on special teams.
The Sleeper: Pearson
Pearson blew the doors off his pro day workout this spring, running a 4.49 40 and jumping 41.5 inches at 6-foot-3, 205 pounds. The Jacksonville State product averaged over 16 yards per catch each of the past two seasons in college, while snatching 30 touchdowns over the same span.
Even at the FCS level, those are monster end zone numbers, another indication that Pearson fits the exact mold general manager Jason Licht prefers in his pass catchers. Big, fast, leaping receiver have made a name for themselves in Tampa Bay, and Pearson will have every opportunity to make a splash during training camp. The Bucs’ sixth receiver spot is wide open, and Pearson might have the best combination of talent and upside of any pass catcher competing for the final roster spot.
Bucs WR Josh Pearson – Photo courtesy of Jacksonville State
PewterReport.com’s Scott Reynolds interviewed Bucs director of player personnel John Spytek and director of college scouting Mike Biehl directly following the draft in April, and the Bucs front office personnel sang Pearson’s praises:
“The Jacksonville State guy was one of those non-Combine guys that was fortunate to have a pro day early. Our area scout Tony Hardy went there early and reported back and said this kid blew up the pro day, running high 4.4s at 6-3, 205 I think. He had a 41.5-inch vertical and a 10-9 or a 10-11 broad jump. When you put the tape on he’s a good athlete and a good route runner. He really stood out at that level of competition. He was physically dominant, and a tough-minded, hard-playing kid. I think we need to get him a little bit bigger and a little bit stronger on that frame, but I would expect our strength guys would be on that. That’s what you try to add in free agency – some good kids with some talent and potential and they are going to come and compete. They’re not going to back down because they’re undrafted and they’re not ‘supposed to make it.’”
As a junior, Pearson had 67 catches for 1,123 yards and scored 17 touchdowns. Last season, he recorded 59 receptions for 943 yards with 13 more TDs.
“He was a guy we had a draftable grade on from our scouts,” Biehl said. “This year, the receiving group as a whole was pretty deep, so you benefit with guys like this, who get pushed down because there were so many receivers in this draft. He was a height-weight-speed guy that we would have targeted in a late round. We’re just fortunate that he dropped this far and we were able to get him as an undrafted free agent. He does a lot of good things on the field. Now it’s just a matter of getting him here and seeing how he transitions to our league.”
Jon Ledyard is PewterReport.com's newest Bucs beat writer and has experience covering the Pittsburgh Steelers as a beat writer and analyzing the NFL Draft for several draft websites, including The Draft Network. Follow Ledyard on Twitter at @LedyardNFLDraft
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