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Mark Jones vs. Edell Shepherd
The wide receiver position is a crowded one for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who will have 14 players competing for what likely will be six available roster spots.

Most pundits expect Joey Galloway, Michael Clayton, Ike Hilliard and Maurice Stovall to secure 53-man roster spots this season, and word out of One Buc Place is that newcomer David Boston stands a good chance of making the team as well.

Should all of these assumptions actually come to fruition, the rest of the team’s receivers — Mark Jones, Edell Shepherd, Paris Warren, J.R. Russell, Larry Brackins, Derek McCoy, Chas Gessner, Terrence Stubbs and Jonathan Carter — will be competing for just one available roster spot.

Arguably the most crowded and competitive position of any on this year’s team, the wide receiver battle will not be settled until training camp and preseason have concluded.

While the three receivers the Bucs drafted last year – Warren, Russell and Brackins – will push for roster spots, each of them are raw in areas and still are candidates for the practice squad, which means the final spot at this position likely will be between Jones and Shepherd.

The 6-foot-1, 175-pound Shepherd is often referred to as the best route runner on the team, and he had the opportunity to showcase that route-running ability last year when he got himself open in the back of the end zone for a touchdown late in the fourth quarter of Tampa Bay’s 36-35 regular season win over Washington.

Shepherd caught six passes for 103 yards and one score last season. However, his didn’t exactly finish the year off on a great note. Shepherd fumbled a kickoff in overtime in a Week 16 game vs. Atlanta, which set up the Falcons’ potential game-winning field goal attempt. Thanksfully for Shepherd, that kick was blocked by defensive end Dewayne White, and the Bucs went on to win that game.

Two weeks later, Shepherd dropped a potential game-tying touchdown pass from quarterback Chris Simms in the back of the end zone in the Bucs’ 17-10 playoff loss to the ‘Skins.

Although he didn’t see much action on offense, Jones (5-9, 185) solidified Tampa Bay’s punt return position by averaging 9.6 yards per return on 51 attempts, including a 31-yarder.

A 2004 seventh-round draft pick, Jones has been a reliable punt returner, but has failed to work his way into the rotation in Bucs head coach Jon Gruden’s offense.

Both Jones and Shepherd auditioned for Tampa Bay’s kickoff return duties last year, but both players failed to make a positive impact there. Jones averaged just 19 yards per return on five attempts while Shepherd averaged just 20.7 yards per return on 20 attempts.

Since both players are competing for the sixth and likely the last available roster spot at this position, Jones and Shepherd must prove to be versatile. Neither player has shown the ability to cover punts and kickoffs, which certainly won’t help their cause if they fail to make an impact in that area this year.

Since they’ve added more depth to their roster, the Bucs might not be able to afford to dedicate a roster spot to Jones, who has only shown the ability to return punts. Although he’s not as elusive, Hilliard is a player that can return punts and could make Jones expendable.

Shepherd appears to have the edge heading into training camp since he’s proven to be more versatile than Jones, although it hasn’t been by much.

Advantage: Edell Shepherd

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