SOUTH BEND, IN - NOVEMBER 15: Will Fuller #7 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish runs for a touchdown against the Northwestern Wildcats at Notre Dame Stadium on November 15, 2014 in South Bend, Indiana. Northwestern defeated Notre Dame 43-40 in overtime. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
WHAT THE BUCS HAVE AT WIDE RECEIVER
At the NFL Owners Meetings last month, head coach Dirk Koetter went on record to say that he’s comfortable with the Buccaneers’ current depth at the wide receiver position. Koetter attributed his confidence to Vincent Jackson returning from two freak knee injuries, Mike Evans’ improved focus and deep-ball connection with Jameis Winston, and the competition between four young receivers in Adam Humphries, Donteea Dye, Kenny Bell and Evan Spencer. Tampa Bay should also have Louis Murphy, who suffered an ACL tear last October, back in camp to compete for one of the five or six spots. Despite
numerous injuries last season, Tampa Bay finished with the 17 overall passing offense, as undrafted rookies Humphries and Dye stepped up and gained valuable experience. Looking past Evans and Jackson, Tampa Bay values Russell Shepard as a special teams captain and Humphries turned into one of Winston’s favorite targets towards the end of the season. As it stands currently, the last two spots (assuming the Bucs keep six WRs) appear to be up for competition.
WHAT THE BUCS NEED AT WIDE RECEIVER
While Koetter expressed confidence in the current lineup, he did, however, suggest that Tampa Bay could use a speed-threat to compliment the 6-foot-5 targets; though legitimate 4.3 wide receivers don’t exactly grow on trees, he reminded. Still, there are players like Ohio State’s Braxton Miller – SR’s third-round prediction in the latest mock draft – or Notre Dame’s Will Fuller who would be intriguing second- or third-round options if available. Given Tampa Bay’s depth at wide receiver – and Koetter’s system that heavily features tight ends – it’s more likely that the Bucs would take a highly-graded prospect who slipped to the second round, a player they feel could be Jackson’s long-term replacement, than look to add more depth in the later rounds.
BUCS BEST BET AT WR (EARLY 1-4)
Will Fuller – Notre Dame – Junior – 6-0, 186 – 4.32
A two-year starter at Notre Dame, Fuller developed into one of the Irish’s top play-makers in 2014 and 2015, eclipsing 1,000 yards receiving in both years while totaling 30 touchdowns in 29 starts. While there’s some concern over his size and the amount of dropped passes he had in college, his potential and ability to take the top off the defense will likely keep him in the first round.
BUCS BEST BET AT WR (LATE 5-7)
Cody Core – Ole Miss – Senior – 6-3, 205 – 4.47
When Laquon Treadwell, arguably the draft’s top wide receiver, suffered a season ending injury in 2014, Core stepped up for the Rebels with 41 receptions for 558 yards. He followed that up in 2015 with 37 catches for 644 yards along side a healthy Treadwell, earning an invite to the East West Shrine Game where he excelled. Core could be a late-round target for Tampa Bay, as it looks to find Vincent Jackson’s long-term replacement and someone who could compliment the corps in a similar way.
TOP 10 WIDE RECEIVERS
1. Laquon Treadwell – Ole Miss – Junior – 6-2, 221 – NA
After his sophomore season was cut short by a gruesome leg injury, Treadwell returned in 2015 to lead the SEC in receiving, with 82 receptions for 1,153 yards and 11 touchdowns. The All-American wideout isn’t the fastest, but he’s been described as having vacuum hands, meaning a large catching radius and sure hands. Treadwell will likely be the first receiver off the board, a top 15 pick.
2. Corey Coleman – Baylor – Junior – 5-11, 194 – 4.40
Coleman decided to forgo his senior season after a year in which he had 74 receptions for 1,363 yards and 20 touchdowns in Baylor’s high-powered offense. The 2015 Biletnikoff winner, Coleman has also shown ability as a kick returner, averaging 28.4 yards on 17 kickoffs as a redshirt freshman in 2013. Coleman should hear his name called towards the end of the first round.
3. Josh Doctson – TCU – Senior – 6-2, 202 – 4.50
The all-time leading receiver at TCU (2,785), Doctson has all the makings of a great NFL wide receiver, with long arms, superior leaping ability and ball-skills. He finished the 2015 season with 79 receptions for 1,327 yards, up considerably from 2014 when he totaled 1,018 on 65 catches. Although he’s lean and lacks physicality, Doctson will likely be taken in the late first-round.
4. Will Fuller – Notre Dame – Junior – 6-0, 186 – 4.32
As mentioned above, Fuller is known for his speed and ability to take the top of a defense. The Notre Dame product surpassed 1,000 yards receiving in both years as a starter (2014 and 2015), going for 1,258 to finish his career in South Bend. Where he lacks is size and occasional focus issues, but should be a late first or early second-rounder nonetheless.
5. Tyler Boyd – Pittsburgh – Junior – 6-1, 197 – 4.58
Despite playing with three different quarterbacks in three years at Pitt, Boyd remained relatively consistent and leaves as the school’s all-time leading wideout, passing Larry Fitzgerald. Boyd’s receiving yards declined from 2014 to 2015 – 1,261 to 926 – but he caught 13 more passes, indicating an adjustment in route-running to help the new QB. Boyd’s underwhelming size and average speed, however, will probably keep him out of the first round.
6. Michael Thomas – Ohio State – Junior – 6-3, 212 – 4.57
Thomas led the 2014 National Champion Buckeyes with 54 receptions for 799 yards and nine touchdowns. In 2015, he posted a team-best 56 catches for 781 scores and nine TDs, earning third-team All-Big 10 honors. Unlike former teammate Devin Smith, taken 37th overall by the Jets in 2015, Thomas lacks elite speed and isn’t quite the athlete Smith was coming out. He’ll likely be a second-round option.
7. Sterling Shepard – Oklahoma – Senior – 5-10, 194
A semifinalist for the Biletnikoff Award in 2015, Shepard finished his senior year at OU with 86 receptions for 1,288 yards and 11 touchdowns. He was a standout at the Senior Bowl in January, both on and off the field as scouts were said to be particularly impressed by Shepard’s interviews. Although he’s undersized, the 5-10 receiver took offense to the label of “slot wide receiver,” telling PewterReport.com in Mobile that he’s an “everywhere receiver.” Shepard, who seems to be the perfect fit in Tampa, is often projected as a second- or third-round pick.
8. Pharoh Cooper – South Carolina – Junior – 5-11, 203 – 4.65
Cooper left South Carolina a year early after a season in which he tallied 66 receptions for 973 yards and eight touchdowns, proving to be one of the few silver linings on an otherwise disappointing Cock’s team. To put his stats in perspective, his 66 receptions was 10 more than the rest of the receivers combined count – and it wasn’t even his best season. Cooper went for 1,136 yards on 69 catches on 2014, granted on a much better team without a mid-season coaching change. Cooper, who also handled the bulk of returning, will see his stock drop after running very few NFL-type routes in college while in a relatively unorganized system. The jack-of-all-trades receiver is widely projected as a second- or third-round option.
9. Braxton Miller – Ohio State – Senior – 6-1, 201 – 4.46
One of the draft’s most intriguing prospects – and a guy who walked around like a celebrity in Mobile and Indy – Miller caught 26 balls for 341 yards during his first season as a wide receiver at Ohio State. The former quarterback is one of the most athletic players (just ask him) and has a unique understanding of route-running and coverages. Holding him back is experience and relying too much on athleticism, something that has gotten skill position players into trouble at the next level. Miller, who is Pewter Report’s third-round prediction, figures to be a late second or third-round pick next week.
10. Rashard Higgins – Colorado State – Junior – 6-1, 196 – 4.56
Higgins was a consensus All-American and the nation’s leading receiver in 2014, while catching passes from former quarterback Garrett Grayson in then- head coach Jim McElwain’s offense at Colorado State. Understandably, his numbers dropped last season but 1,750 yards and 17 TDs is hard to replicate even with stability. Higgins is said to get overmatched physically at times, and sub-par completion will probably decrease his stock. The late third- or early fourth-round projection is still one to keep an eye on.
BEST OF THE REST
1. Kolby Listenbee – TCU – Senior – 6-0, 197 – 4.39
A two-time All-American track star, Listenbee is one of draft’s fastest players. He caught 30 passes for 597 yards and five touchdowns last seasons as the Robin to Josh Doctson’s Batman. Listenbee, who lacks physicality and route-running experience, is typically seen as a third-round target.
2. Leonte Carroo – Rutgers – Senior – 6-0, 211 – 4.46
Carroo got off to a strong start in 2015 – 7 catches for 181 yards and three TDs – before he was charged with simple assault and suspended two games. He finished the year with 39 receptions for 809 yards and 10 scores, earning an invite to the Senior Bowl. Ordinary height and a checkered off-field past will likely keep Carroo out of the top three rounds.
3. Kenny Lawler – California – Junior – 6-2, 203 – 4.64
A favorite target of Jared Goff, potentially the drafts No. 1 overall pick, Lawler hauled in 52 passes for 658 yards and 13 touchdowns in 2015, earning first-team All-Pac 12. Lawler has been described easy to bring down, though, even being said to look like a “stiff breeze.” He’s likely a third- or fourth-round option.
4. Jordan Payton – UCLA – Senior – 6-1, 207 – 4.43
Payton showed great durability in college, starting in 33 consecutive games for UCLA. He owns the school record for receptions with 201, and improved his numbers every year from 2013-2015. Two of his biggest assets in college – exceptional quarterbacks Bret Hundley and Josh Rosen – could ultimately hinder his draft stock, as he looked pedestrian in Mobile with less talented QBs. Payton is widely projected as a third- or fourth-round pick.
5. Keyarris Garrett – Tulsa – Senior – 6-3, 220 – 4.40
Garrett has been riddled with injuries in college, missing the majority of 2013 with a compound fracture, and two more games in 2014. However, Garrett stormed back in 2015, catching 96 passes for 1,588 yards and eight touchdowns, including two games of over 200 yards. Many believe his production was inflated in the spread offense, but he’ll likely be taken no later than the fourth round.
WHAT THE BUCS HAVE AT TIGHT END
Tight end may quietly be one of Tampa Bay’s deeper positions heading into the 2016 season. While Dirk Koetter was honest in his assessment of the oft-injured Austin Seferian-Jenkins – “The best ability is availability,” the head coach said at the NFL Meetings – Koetter spoke of the former second-round pick’s potential, when healthy.
The player to keep an eye on in camp, however, is third-year pro Cameron Brate. After breaking into the lineup last season and catching 23 passes, 17 of which in the last seven games, for 288 yards, the Harvard grad went from practice squad tight end to a legitimate target in Koetter’s offense. Both Jason Licht and Koetter have praised Brate this offseason, the latter referring to him as an “ascending player” last month. And for what it’s worth, a source that witnessed a Jameis Winston-led practice from afar told PewterReport.com that Brate, who is in top condition, was the go-to target during the portion the source was present.
So while Seferian-Jenkins – who got off to a strong start in 2015 before a serious shoulder injury in Week 3 – comes in with higher expectations, it could be Brate who ultimately becomes the featured tight end. Of course in Koetter’s tight end-heavy offense, both players should have an opportunity to make an impact.
Moving down the roster, the Bucs have their talented and often overlooked blocking tight end in Luke Stocker, and two more players – undrafted pro from Florida, Tevin Westbrook, and nine-year veteran Brandon Myers – who will likely battle it out for the final tight end spot, assuming Tampa Bay keeps four. Myers, 30, hasn’t been the receiving target in Tampa Bay that he was in New York and Oakland – just 12 catches in 2015 – but he did some good things in the running game and has a cap hit of less than $2 million. Westbrook, meanwhile, signed in late September and drew rave reviews as a member of the practice squad. Former head coach Lovie Smith suggested once that the 6-foot-5 tight end might have flown under the radar at UF, as he was Jordan Reed’s backup.
WHAT THE BUCS NEED AT TIGHT END
In all, the Bucs appear to be set at tight end. From former second-round pick Seferian-Jenkins returning healthy, to Brate’s ascendance, to Stocker’s reliability, to solid competition for the fourth spot, all signs point to Tampa Bay addressing other needs through all seven rounds next week. And after hearing what the analysts have to say about the draft’s tight end class, that’s a good thing. Nonetheless, here’s a look at who PR believes would fit the Bucs’ system the best in a hypothetical situation.
BUCS’ BEST BET AT TE (EARLY 2-5)
Tyler Higbee – Western Kentucky – Senior – 6-6, 249 – 4.77
A Clearwater native, Higbee initially committed to Western Kentucky as a wide receiver before leaving as a first-team All-Conference USA tight end in 2015. Higbee improved his numbers all four years, capping off his senior campaign with 38 catches for 563 yards and eight scores, tied for the nation’s best. But as a one-year starter at a small school who lacks elite athleticism, Higbee is considered a fifth-round prospect.
BUCS’ BEST BET AT TE (LATE 6-7)
David Morgan – Texas-San Antonio – Senior – 6-4, 262 – 5.02
Morgan is another prospect from a small school (UTSA has only had a football program for five years), who went for over 500 yards receiving in 2015, a rare feat for college tight ends last year. He was named to the All-American and All-Conference USA second-team, a respectable achievement considering he spent much of his junior year injured. As you can tell by his 40-time, however, Morgan is very slow. He also had an issue with holding penalties and heavy feet last year, all contributing to his Day 3 draft projection.
TOP 5 TIGHT ENDS
1. Hunter Henry – Arkansas – Junior – 6-5, 250 – 4.68
Considered by most as the draft’s top tight end, Henry left a year early after catching 51 passes for 739 yards and three touchdowns. Henry earned first-team All SEC along with winning the 2015 John Mackey Award in 2015. Due to his sub-par blocking ability, Henry is seen as a second-round pick.
2. Austin Hooper – Stanford – Sophomore – 6-4, 254 – 4.69
In two seasons with the Cardinal, Hooper caught 74 passes for 937 yards and eight touchdowns. The Stanford grad, described as athletic yet lanky, may get a few harder looks due to his school and its success at tight end, but he’s projected as a late second- or third-round pick.
3. Nick Vannett – Ohio State – Senior – 6-6, 257 – 4.89
Vannett caught 36 passes for 423 yards and six scores over 40 games in three seasons in Columbus. The big tight end caught a TD pass in their National Championship win in 2014 and started every game in 2015, with the goal of improving his blocking. Described as a good all-around prospect, Vannett was somewhat lost in the shuffle at OSU and didn’t see a ton of action in the passing game. He’s seen as a third-round option.
4. Jerell Adams – South Carolina – Senior – 6-5, 247 – 4.59
Adams finished his senior year at South Carolina with 28 receptions for 421 yards and three TDs, second in receiving to Pharoh Cooper. Adams’ production increased all four seasons, where he started in a total of 47 games. Despite his size, some scouts believe he’s weak in the blocking game and doesn’t make up for it as a pass-catcher, ultimately making him a fourth-round projection.
5. Thomas Duarte – UCLA – Junior – 6-2, 231 – 4.65
Duarte led the Bruins with 10 TDs, while earning second-team All-Pac 12 with 53 receptions for 872 yards in 2015. His decision to forgo his senior year was in large part due to his offensive coordinator leaving UCLA for Texas A&M. Duarte has been said to have heavy feet and below average quickness and agility. He’s projected as a fourth-round pick.
Zach is entering his 3rd year covering the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as a writer for PewterReport.com. Since 2014, he’s handled a large part of the beat reporting responsibilities at PR, attending all media gatherings and publishing and promoting content daily. Zach is a native of Sarasota, FL, and a graduate of the University of Tampa. He has also covered high school football for the Tampa Tribune and the NFL for Pro Player Insiders.
Contact him at: [email protected]
Rico Gathers is an interesting TE project out of Baylor that is a basketball player turn TE… Worth think about in the later rounds.
Reason for Fuller’s drops are small hands. PASS.
Braxton Miller types hardly ever pan out. PASS.
Somehow 6-3 with 4.40 in the 4th round sounds like a value pick in Keyarris Garrett
Lets just stick to defensive draft. Maybe one of the 6yh rounders on a speedy returner.
Coleman over Fuller all day long. Fuller has blazing speed and zero toughness. Coleman has both and better hands. Fuller lacks physicality.
Don’t see us going for WR in this draft and we’ll rely on free agents after the draft. TE is a different story and I could see us picking one in the later rounds.
I don’t see a big need in either of these departments for the team to waste a 1 thru 4 draft pick on unless someone slips back in a big way.
The team is packed with TE talent, especially with Stocker the blocker being like a tackle.
The Buc also have some TE from Florida who is supposed to be a diamond in the rough.
If Brate come in at 10 pounds more and Jenkins can stay healthy for a whole season the team is set at this position.
The Bucs have Kenny Bell waiting in wings and Humphries showed great hands and field presence last year on the short and intermediate routes.
if Murphy returns healthy and hasn’t lost more than a step due to his knee injury, the team is desperate for WR’s either.
Like I said, unless someone slips in either of these categories like Alexander did last year, there is no reason to waste a 1 thru 4 on these positions.
I agree with you completely. Since I’m a BPA proponent, I typically would want to consider all positions options except QB since thankfully we finally have one. This year I don’t see any WR or TE prospects that are any better than the collection of each already on the roster. There’s always priority free agents and veteran free agents to consider. Next year a wide receiver to replace VJax might be a target.
The Gator TE you mentioned is Tevin Westbrook.
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