With the Bucs set to kick off training camp in a little over two weeks, we’re taking a look at the battles that will be going on in camp. I’ll have a new position group every other day leading up to the start of camp. First up in the series: the wide receivers.
This is the most loaded position on the roster. The top three wide receivers are back in Mike Evans, Chris Godwin and Antonio Brown. Behind the league’s best trio is Scotty Miller, 2020 fifth round pick Tyler Johnson and 2021 fourth round pick Jaelon Darden.
But could the Bucs keep seven wide receivers on the final roster? Who is most likely to earn that spot if they do? First, let’s take a look at the wide receiver group in its entirety, profiling each player to see who is vying for that potential seventh spot.
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Bucs WR Mike Evans – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
Evans managed 1,000 yards and set a new Bucs record for touchdown receptions (13) in a season in 2020. The All-Pro did all of that while dealing with nagging injuries over the course of the season. Meanwhile, Godwin is back in the fold on the franchise tag. After a breakout year, he dealt with a litany of injuries throughout the season. Godwin still managed to finish with over 800 yards and the highest catch percentage of his career.
Brown is back on a one-year deal and looks to build upon an impressive end to his first half-season in Tampa Bay. The receiver reeled in 45 balls in eight games and recorded a touchdown in the Super Bowl. Then there is Miller, who had a strong 2020 campaign, leading the team in receiving yardage at the midway point of the season. Miller finished the year with a team-leading 15.2 yards per catch.
Battle For No. 5
Second-year wide receiver Tyler Johnson should continue to see snaps in 2021. He came up huge against the Saints and Packers in the playoffs, and the coaching staff is very high on his ability. Darden was drafted in the fourth round and should help on special teams as the primary return man right away. He’s already caught the eye of many thanks to his ability to get off the line of scrimmage and move with the ball in his hands. Darden and Johnson should contend for snaps on offense, but Johnson’s versatility gives them an easier path to playing time.
Special Teams Impact
With the top six essentially set, who is vying for a potential seventh spot? Would the Bucs even entertain keeping seven wide receivers? If they did, the main contributions would have to come on special teams. With Darden potentially taking over return duties, that would leave Johnson as the odd man out. Can the team justify keeping a strictly special teams’ wide receiver on the roster?
Bucs WR Justin Watson – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
If they did, Justin Watson would appear to make the most sense. Watson led the team in special teams tackles last season and has been one of the most consistent special teamers on the Bucs. His experience probably makes him the best fit of the rest of the receiver group.
However, if the team is not completely sold on Darden and his return abilities, they could elect to keep Jaydon Mickens around. Mickens was the Bucs main returner last season, averaging nearly 25 yards a return in the regular season to go with some clutch returns in the playoffs. He has experience returning both punts and kickoffs.
The dark horse candidates are led by Cyril Grayson, who has been on and off the roster for the better half of two seasons. John Franklin III, has tremendous talent, but has been a project at multiple positions and has struggled to stay healthy.
Bucs WR John Franklin III – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
Travis Jonsen is a player who recently received praise on the Pewter Report Podcast from Jason Licht as a player he is excited to see in camp. Nevertheless, the former first team All-Big Sky quarterback faces an uphill battle to make the squad out of camp. Franklin is most likely a practice squad candidate. Second-year player Josh Pearson and undrafted free agent T.J Simmons are camp bodies who will try to do enough to earn a practice squad invitation.
It will be interesting to see how the Bucs construct the roster this season and if they see the value in keeping an extra receiver over another position. With such heavy emphasis placed on special teams this offseason, it wouldn’t surprise me if they see value in a role like that. However, if it comes at the expense of making Johnson or Darden a healthy scratch on game days, they may elect to go in a different direction.
While the top spots may be locked up, there should be an intense battle for the inevitable practice squad roles available. With the rules remaining the same as last season with expanded practice squads and veteran spots available, competition should be fierce. If the team chooses to keep a seventh wide receiver, Watson would be my pick to make the roster.
J.C. Allen is one of PewterReport.com’s newest beat writers. As a New England transplant, he has closely followed Tom Brady’s entire career and first fell in love with the game during the Patriots 1996 Super Bowl run. J.C. is in his second year covering the team after spending a year with Bucs Report as a writer, producer and show host. Some of his other interests include barbecuing, being outdoors, and spending time with family and friends. His favorite Buccaneer of all time is Simeon Rice and believes he deserves a spot in Canton. Follow J.C. Allen on Twitter @JCAllenNFL.
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