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Throughout the 2008 offseason the wide receiver position has been considered one of the biggest needs for the Buccaneers. Looking at the roster of Tampa Bay receivers can give an observer more questions than answers. In the 2007 season the Buccaneers had a mixed bag in terms of production from their receivers.
Joey Galloway had another excellent season for Tampa Bay, and Ike Hilliard was a solid pass catcher. Former first-round pick Michael Clayton was a contributor but did not make a major impact on offense. Maurice Stovall excelled as a special teams player in his second season but was not the weapon on offense that the Buccaneers saw last training camp. In order for Tampa Bay to repeat its success from 2007 the Buccaneers are going to need improved production from this position group.
With another stellar season Galloway became perhaps the best wide receiver in Tampa Bay history. He became the only Buccaneer to ever post three 1,000-yard seasons overall and consecutively. Over that three-year stretch the 36-year-old has caught 202 passes for 3,358 yards and 23 touchdowns. Galloway has averaged 16.6 yards per catch.
Last season Galloway had 57 receptions for 1,014 yards, an average of 17.8 yards per catch and six touchdowns. A shoulder injury limited him down the stretch and required offseason surgery. The Bucs' leading receiver will turn 37 in November of next season, and it may be his last year in the NFL. With his consistency and big time production Tampa Bay's offense is heavily reliant on Galloway. Finding a long-term replacement is a critical need for the Buccaneers.
The other wide out starter has an age concern to go along with good production as well. Hilliard, 32, led the team in receptions with 62. For the season he had 722 yards and one touchdown. He produced 37 first downs from those catches. As the season went on Hilliard's production went down as the veteran battled nagging injuries. In the first half of the season he caught 39 balls. In the second half his receptions fell to 23. While Hilliard proved to still be a reliable receiver for Tampa Bay, ideally he would be the third receiver for the team in 2008.
Statistically the fourth pro season for Clayton looked to be as disappointing as his underwhelming seasons in 2005 and 2006. Clayton caught 22 balls for 301 yards an average of 13.7 yards and no touchdowns. In the past three seasons he has caught only one touchdown.
Despite the meager numbers Clayton still contributed to Tampa Bay's success. He was an excellent blocker on offense and on special teams. The 25-year-old made big catches against Tennessee and Detroit before spraining an ankle. After missing two games Clayton picked up his play down the stretch with 16 receptions for 192 yards in his final four games. In the playoff loss he caught three for 39 yards. The LSU standout has lost weight this offseason and is eager to build on his momentum from the end of the season.
Another receiver with a season of mixed results was Stovall. In his second season the Notre Dame product was barely noticeable on offense but was a monster on special teams. The 2007 offseason seemed to indicate great things for Stovall and Tampa Bay. An awesome showing in offseason workouts and training camp earned Stovall a starting position in the preseason. However, his hard work came to work against him when tired legs kept him from maintaining that production during the regular season.
For the year Stovall made 10 receptions for 86 yards and one touchdown. The 23-year-old was demon as a gunner on punt coverage for Tampa Bay. Using his 6-foot-5, 220-pound frame he beat double teams and was physically dominant. Stovall's season ended early on Dec. 23 at San Francisco when he broke his forearm.
Sources indicated to Pewter Report that the Buccaneers were at times frustrated that Stovall could not carry over his physical play from special teams to offense. For him to earn more playing time and a higher position on the depth chart finding a way to do that is a must.
Another player that had a strong offseason and preseason was Paris Warren. The third-year player out of Utah had earned a roster spot with his strong play but torn ligaments and a dislocated ankle in the preseason finale against Houston led to Warren spending the season on injured reserve.
Both Stovall and Warren are back to participating fully in organized team activities. Tampa Bay has numerous other wide receivers that are competing to make the team. Michael Spurlock, Chad Lucas, Brian Clark, Cortez Hankton, Taye Biddle, and Charles Spiller appear to be on the outside looking in right now.
The only offseason acquisition of note at the wide receiver position was Antonio Bryant. The veteran receiver has displayed incredible talent and playmaking ability in his career, but has also had run-ins off the field and with teammates and coaches. After being unsigned throughout the 2007 offseason, Bryant might be staring at his last shot to have any kind of career in the NFL.
Bryant, 27, last played in 2006 for the San Francisco 49ers. For his career Bryant has 250 receptions for 3,837 yards and 19 touchdowns. His best season came in 2005 for Cleveland when he caught 69 passes for 1,009 yards and four touchdowns. The Pittsburgh product was a teammate of Bucs QB Jeff Garcia in Cleveland in 2004. At 6-foot-2, 188-pounds Bryant has a nice combination of size and speed. If Bryant displays maturation off the field and production on the field the Buccaneers may have found a potential successor to Galloway.
Going into next season, opposing teams will make it their first priority to stop the Buccaneers' 11th ranked rushing attack. Tampa Bay must get more production out of their receivers in 2008 in order to keep opposing defenses from crowding the line of scrimmage to eliminate the run.
Tampa Bay wants to add faster players to the receiver corps. The production that the team has received from the speedy Galloway has been the biggest strength for the Bucs' offense over the past three seasons. Clayton and Stovall may be future starters and producers for Tampa Bay, but they would fill the role as more of a possession receiver and not necessarily a deep threat.
It is highly likely that Tampa Bay will draft a speed receiver in the 2008 NFL Draft. For months Pewter Report has reported the Buccaneers' inclination towards Houston receiver Donnie Avery. The 5-foot-11, 188-pound playmaker is very similar to Galloway in his strengths and weaknesses. Avery's speed is game-breaking and he is an excellent route-runner. His negatives are occasionally dropping a pass and not offering much as a blocker.
Tampa Bay has Avery with a round one grade. Indiana's James Hardy is a big, quick receiver that could be selected by the Bucs at 20. Other first round options include Michigan State's Devin Thomas and California's DeSean Jackson.
In the second round Tampa Bay would consider Kansas State's Jordy Nelson. He's a high character player with a good size-speed combination that also can return punts.
In the third round Tampa Bay-type receivers include Virginia Tech's Eddie Royal and California's Lavelle Hawkins. The fast Royal is small at 5-foot-9, 184-pounds but he has excellent hands, is ultra-competitive and displayed impressive upper-body strength by leading all receivers with 24 reps of 225 pounds at the NFL Combine. Royal is a skilled punt returner and is one of the best return specialists in the draft.
Appalachian State's Dexter Jackson could be a fourth-round selection for Tampa Bay. He's a blazing fast receiver that returns punts as well. Jackson was a hero in the upset victory at Michigan.
The common theme of all of those receivers is speed to stretch the field. Some of them are faster than others but they all have displayed the big play ability that Buccaneers are looking for. Pewter Report is confident that at least one of those prospects will become a Buccaneer on draft weekend.
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