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Tampa Bay has several glaring needs heading into the 2007 NFL Draft. At first glance wide receiver doesn’t appear to be one of them.
But after further review, one could make a strong argument for why the Bucs should use the fourth overall pick in the 2007 NFL Draft to select Georgia Tech WR Calvin Johnson, who some believe is the best player at his position and in this draft.
Joey Galloway has hauled in 145 passes and 17 touchdowns over the past two seasons. However, the speedy receiver also turns 36 in November, and the fact that he restructured his contract this offseason suggests the 2007 season could be his last.
That’s why the Bucs plan on moving 2006 third-round pick Maurice Stovall over to the X (split-end) receiver spot to groom behind Galloway. While he doesn’t have Galloway’s speed, Stovall does possess the physical presence and size that head coach Jon Gruden is looking for in his receivers, particularly the split-end wideouts.
This is a big year for WR Michael Clayton, who caught a team-leading 80 passes for 1,193 yards and scored seven touchdowns as a rookie, but has hauled in just 65 passes and one touchdown over the past two seasons. Clayton, a 2004 first-round draft pick, has been hindered by injuries and dropped passes. One of the main reasons the Bucs are considering drafting Johnson is because of Clayton's recent struggles.
Bucs WR Ike Hilliard hasn’t been flashy, but he’s been somewhat productive, particularly on third downs. The possession receiver isn’t a big playmaker and recently turned 31, which means he’s no longer in his prime.
Tampa Bay is giving WR David Boston another opportunity to prove himself and return to the player he was in Arizona and San Diego. Boston has been plagued by knee injuries in recent years, but the Bucs feel he’s made significant progress in terms of regaining the playing speed and form he had earlier in his career. Still, Boston will remain a question mark until he can prove himself again on the football field.
Tampa Bay is obviously talented at the wide receiver position. In fact, it has four former first-round picks playing there. If Johnson is drafted by the Bucs, he will be their fifth former first rounder at the wide receiver position.
While the Bucs appear to have more pressing needs than wide receiver, the team could select Johnson for several reasons.
Johnson, who has a nice combination of size and speed, could serve as a successor to Galloway, an insurance policy for Clayton and initially as a dangerous No. 3 receiver.
The Bucs can easily envision a day where their top three receivers are Johnson, Clayton and Stovall, but the Bucs will have to draft Johnson first.
That appears to be a big question mark right now as several teams have been rumored to be interested in trading up with Oakland, Detroit or Cleveland in an effort to select Johnson. There’s always a chance the Bucs could elect to trade up with one of those teams to draft Johnson as well.
If the Bucs aren’t in a position to draft Johnson and go a different direction in the first round, there’s a good chance the team will not even draft a receiver this year unless the player is a return specialist, like Kansas State’s Yamon Figurs.
If Tampa Bay fails to land a return specialist in the 2007 NFL Draft, the Bucs could become interested in acquiring Kansas City WR/return man Dante Hall, who is on the trading block and could even be released.
The remaining group of Bucs wide receivers will have a difficult time making Tampa Bay’s active roster in 2007.
There are several receivers to keep an eye on in 2007.
Mark Jones is in danger of losing his roster spot because he has only established himself as a serviceable punt returner. Unless he establishes himself as a receiver, Jones could be gone.
If the Bucs do draft Johnson and decide to keep seven receivers, Paris Warren, who made the active roster last year, and Chas Gessner, who had an impressive training camp and remained on the team’s practice squad for the entire 2006 season, could be battling for the final spot on Tampa Bay’s roster.
Chad Owens and Efrem Hill will have to make impacts as return specialists to make Tampa Bay’s roster this year. Chad Lucas, Jovan Bouknight and Levon Thomas appear to be on the outside looking in at this point.
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