FAB 2. Would The Bucs Draft A Receiver?
I saw Tampa Bay tight ends coach Ben Steele and wide receivers coach Todd Monken sitting in the stands watching one of the East-West Shrine practices in St. Petersburg, Fla. back in September – before Monken was moved to the full-time role of offensive coordinator – and approached them.
“What are you guys doing here? Ben, you’ve got all the tight ends you need, and Todd, you guys are stacked at receiver,” I joked. “Go home or hit the beach.”
They laughed and continued to watch practice, as did I.
Last year, PewterReport.com was among the few media outlets that reported that the Bucs needed another tight end – despite the fact that they had Cameron Brate – but few wanted to believe us. Those fans – and other media outlets – suggested that Brate is the starter and an emerging star. Drafting another tight end, especially early, as we had Tampa Bay drafting O.J. Howard in the first round of PewterReport.com’s second Bucs’ 7-Round Mock Draft, didn’t make sense to them.
But general manager Jason Licht and head coach Dirk Koetter told PewterReport.com on the record that the team would like to get another tight end that could block and catch the ball. So we put Howard in at No. 19 in our mock draft, and a lot of folks howled at the pick. Howard never appeared in our mock draft again because the PR staff believed he would be a top 10-15 pick, which is what the Bucs front office believed, too.
I haven’t had anyone at One Buccaneer Place tell me this year that wide receiver was a need. But then again, no one in the organization gave me a heads up that Tampa Bay was going to draft a strongside linebacker in the third round, as the team traded up to do last year with Kendell Beckwith.
The Bucs ignored some more obvious team needs by drafting Beckwith last year, such as defensive end, running back and cornerback, but Beckwith was a good pick, and Licht was intent on taking the best player available. Tampa Bay had a very high grade on Beckwith, which is why it moved up into the third round after the Bucs drafted wide receiver Chris Godwin earlier in the third.
I’m not stating that Tampa Bay is going to draft a wide receiver this year, but I’m not ruling it out, either. Licht has overlooked more pressing, obvious needs before to take what he believes are the best players available. That approach led to the short-term suffering at defensive end, cornerback and running back last year, but may pay off in the long run as Beckwith is on his way to possibly being an outstanding player, and he’s already shown a knack of playing both strongside and middle linebacker.
To suggest that the Bucs may draft a wide receiver, let’s take a look at the current depth chart at the position.
WR1 Mike Evans
WR2 DeSean Jackson
WR3A Adam Humphries
WR3B Chris Godwin
WR5 Bobo Wilson
WR6 Freddie Martino
WR7 Jake Lampman
WR8 Devin Lucien
The first four look solid, right? With Evans, Jackson, Godwin and Humphries the Bucs have a quartet of experienced receivers in 2018. But what about next year?
Jackson will be 32 and on the books for $10 million during the final year of his contract. And Humphries, the team’s slot receiver, signed a one-year tender as a restricted free agent and will make $2.914 million this season. If the team elects to keep Humphries past this year and sign him to a long-term contract extension it will likely average north of $3 million per year.
Meanwhile, Godwin, who is entering the second year of his four-year rookie deal, will only account for $875,041 in 2019, which is a little less than a third of what Humphries would likely get. The team believes Godwin is ready to take on an even larger role next year and will likely take some snaps away from both Jackson and Humphries in the process.
Now let’s remember that the Bucs will be doing contract extensions for middle linebacker Kwon Alexander, left tackle Donovan Smith and left guard Ali Marpet this summer. Those contracts could cost the Bucs a collective $26-$30 million next year in salary cap room, and Tampa Bay director of football operations Mike Greenberg will need over $23 million in salary cap room for Jameis Winston’s fifth-year option salary in 2019. That’s a combined $49-$53 million in salary cap space that will need to be carved out somehow.
The 2019 salary cap will likely increase by $20 million next year, but that’s only half of what the Bucs will need. The rest will have to come from paring off some high salaries for reserves or aging, high-priced players like Jackson and/or defensive tackle Gerald McCoy, who is slated to earn $13 million in 2019 at age 31.
Something’s got to give in order to keep the team’s nucleus of young, core players like Winston, Alexander, Marpet and Smith with the Bucs. On paper it looks like a safe bet that Jackson will play his final season in Tampa Bay, as we alluded to last week – and perhaps McCoy, too. Signing Humphries, who the team only views as a No. 3 receiver, to a long-term deal at over $3 million per season might be too rich, so there is a chance that he could depart via free agency after 2018.
If Jackson is cut or traded in a salary cap move, and Humphries walks in free agency, the 2019 depth chart at wide receiver would feature Evans, Godwin, Wilson and Martino based on the existing players on today’s Bucs roster. That’s not nearly as strong of a group as the wide receivers that are slated to take the field this year wearing red and pewter.
So who are some receivers that the Bucs could draft? I’ve got three names for you. The first of which is Penn State’s DaeSean Hamilton, who set records for the most catches in a game (14) and the most receptions in a career (214). At 6-foot-1, 205 pounds, Hamilton is a big slot receiver that played opposite of Tampa Bay’s Chris Godwin for several years with the Nittany Lions.
Hamilton ran a 4.55 in the 40-yard dash at his pro day, and is a good, but not great athlete. However, Hamilton is a very good route runner, and he uses precision rather than speed or quickness to create separation. Because of his frame, Hamilton has the size to play outside, but lacks experience doing so.
Hamilton, who was a team captain, never produced a 1,000-yard season at Penn State, but did amass 2,842 yards on his 214 catches (13.3 avg.) and scored 18 touchdowns. He had a great week of practice in the East-West Shrine Game and was called up to the Senior Bowl the next week as an injury replacement were he also performed well. Hamilton showed that he was the most polished route runner in Mobile, Ala.
The fact that almost 80 percent of Hamilton’s catches went for a first down last year speaks to his production and efficiency, but scouts ding him for being a one-speed player without a second gear. As a result, Hamilton is likely a third- or fourth-round pick. Bucs receivers coach Skyler Fulton met with Hamilton after his pro day workout to watch film, according to Tony Pauline of DraftAnalyst.com.
Another mid-round draft prospect is Washington’s Dante Pettis. He’s slender at 6-foot, 186 pounds, but runs well with a 4.48 times in the 40-yard dash. With a 36-inch vertical, Pettis is a better athlete than Hamilton is, but he lacks some of Hamilton’s polish.
Like Hamilton, Pettis never had a 1,000-yard season for the Huskies, but he too had a productive career with 163 receptions for 2,256 yards (13.8 avg.) and 24 touchdowns. Pettis’ best year came in 2016 when he caught 53 passes for 822 yards (15.5 avg.) and 15 touchdowns during the Huskies’ playoff run playing opposite John Ross. Pettis caught more passes last year (63), but for fewer yards (761) and touchdowns (seven).
An ankle injury he suffered against Washington State in November forced him to miss his pro day and the drills at the NFL Scouting Combine. Yet he met with the Bucs in Seattle in mid-March, presumably with Fulton.
Pettis is more quick than fast, and runs crisp routes and has a good work ethic. He has experience both in the slot and outside and has good hands. Pettis shows great awareness and makes the right adjustments on scramble drills, either by coming back to the quarterback or going deep. Because of his slight frame he can pushed around, and reminds me of former Bucs Karl Williams in more ways than one.
Not only is Pettis a good receiver, he’s a very accomplished punt returner with an NCAA record nine returns for touchdowns, while averaging 14.2 yards per return. Pettis returned one punt for a score during his freshman year, then two TDs in each of his sophomore and junior seasons and then four more TDs as a senior while averaging 20.4 yards per return.
The third receiver is a player PewterReport.com recently featured as a seventh-round pick in our latest Bucs’ 7-Round Mock Draft, Penn’s Justin Watson. But after his pro day, where the 6-foot-3, 215-pound ran a 4.39 in the 40-yard dash, repped 225 pounds 20 times and posted a 40-inch vertical. Had he been invited to the NFL Scouting Combine, those numbers would have made him one of the top performers among wide receivers.
But Watson is not just a great athlete. He has the production to back it up, too. Watson had three consecutive 1,000-yard seasons at Penn, and left the school holding records for career receiving TDs (33), career receptions (286), career receiving yards (3,777) and all-purpose yards (4,116), and he scored a touchdown in one out of every 6.5 times he touched the ball.
The Penn star also set several Ivy League records with the most consecutive games with a receiving touchdown (10), most consecutive games with a catch (40), most career record for receiving yards in Ivy League games (2,675) and most career 100-yard games (19). Watson totaled 286 receptions for 3,777 yards and 33 touchdowns for the Quakers.
At 6-foot-3, Watson would add some much needed size to a wide receiving corps that only has one player taller than 6-foot-2, and that’s the 6-foot-5 Evans. With quarterback Jameis Winston not being the most accurate downfield thrower he could use another big receiver like Watson with a wide catch radius.
I’m not necessarily forecasting that the Bucs will draft a wide receiver. I’m just saying don’t be surprised if it happens.