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FAB 1. Watson “Ready To Explode” For Bucs
The first two wide receivers will start this year for the Bucs, and Perriman will get plenty of playing time, especially outside with Godwin seeing a lot of time in the slot in the Larry Fitzgerald role in Bruce Arians’ offense.
But what about the depth chart at wide receiver in Tampa Bay past those three veterans?
Speedy Scotty Miller, the team’s sixth-round draft pick, generated some buzz during the OTAs and the mini-camp due to his ability to get vertical and then rack up yards after the catch. Bobo Wilson, who caught his first touchdown last year in spot duty, had some bright spots during the spring, and could be a factor in the Bucs’ return game.
But the one guy that some are sleeping on is second-year wide receiver Justin Watson, Tampa Bay’s fifth-round pick in 2018.
Because of his draft status from a year ago, Watson isn’t a real “sleeper” in the truest sense of the word. He’s more known than other receivers on the roster like K.J. Brent, Bryant Mitchell and Xavier Ubosi among others.
But Watson isn’t being talked about enough heading into training camp where he expects to have a breakout year after spending the majority of his rookie season covering kicks and punts on special teams.
“For sure – last year I got the good base line on special teams and I’ve shown that I can play that, and I got to learn from four really good receivers – two of which are still here,” Watson said. “Last year was a good development year for me, and I’m ready to explode this year.”
Former Bucs head coach Dirk Koetter was impressed with Watson’s development as a receiver last year in practice, but noted that the depth chart and the transition from the Ivy League where he was a star at Penn to the NFL was a big jump.
“Justin’s biggest issue right now is he’s just behind a lot of talented guys,” Koetter said in December. “He works his tail off in practice – a very hard-working guy. It’s just tough to get him game time because of the four guys that he’s behind. Bobo Wilson has kind of emerged here late in the year as a return guy. Justin has gotten most of his work on special teams. He’s working hard on the scout team. I do think that he’s got a future, but [receiver] is just one of our deepest positions.
“He’s doing a good job. He’s doing good. He’s fifth [or] sixth on the totem pole right now. When you draft a guy where he was drafted, we think he’s got a future. I would look at this as somewhat of a developmental year for him. I’d say he’s right on track. He’s playing more on special teams learning a lot of positions. Coming from the Ivy League to going out there and covering kickoffs in the NFL and making a tackle inside the 10 [yard line] last week, there’s kind of a big adjustment.”
Watson’s game is similar to that of former Buccaneer Adam Humphries, who departed for Tennessee in free agency, in that both receivers are considered to be “steady Eddies” rather than some of the splashier players like Evans, Perriman or even Miller. The biggest difference is that Humphries is 5-foot-10, 195 pounds whereas the 24-year old Watson is 6-foot-3, 215 pounds and is a much bigger target for Jameis Winston to hit.
Out of the 12 receivers on the roster, eight are at least 6-foot-2, with Watson, Ubosi and Brent tied for being the second-tallest receiver behind the 6-foot-5 Evans. At 215 pounds, Watson, Ubosi and Perriman are tied for being the second-biggest receiver behind the 231-pound Evans.
“I hope that size translates in the red zone,” Watson said. “That’s something we didn’t do too well in last year – score enough in the red zone. We’ve made an emphasis in finishing with touchdowns. We have a fast group and it’s a big group – and that’s a great recipe for success here at receiver.”
New Bucs head coach Bruce Arians has been impressed with Watson, who has cross-trained at the split end, flanker and slot receiver positions this offseason.
“Very, very position-flexible,” Arians said. “He’s got a great feel for especially zone defense and he’s won a bunch against man-to-man. So he’s shown me he can play.”
Watson’s intelligence, Ivy League pedigree and football I.Q. has aided him in quickly learning Arians’ playbook, and his position flexibility will help him earn a roster spot and playing time if he can work his way up to the No. 4 spot on the depth chart behind Evans, Godwin and Perriman.
“I’m kind of playing a little bit of everything,” Watson said. “I take pride in knowing the whole playbook and whether they stick me at flanker or they stick me in the slot, I’m going to make sure that I know how to do both and that I can do both. It’s a new system, but with some of the same terminology, so it’s helpful that there is some carryover.”
Watson has been spending some time working in the slot as a backup to Godwin. The slot receiver position featured the smaller Humphries in Koetter’s offense. In Arians’ scheme, the role of the slot calls for a bigger, more physical receiver due to the blocking demands, in addition to matching up against linebackers and safeties on seam routes down the middle.
“Larry Fitzgerald played the slot in this offense and obviously he has a different body type,” Watson said. “That’s not the typical body type in the slot that we’ve had here in Tampa. I think they are looking for bigger guys that can always win down the field. Speed is everything they preach, and making those big body catches over the middle.”
Watson saw action in 12 games last year during the regular season but only caught one pass for five yards at Cincinnati while seeing the field mostly on special teams. Yet in the preseason, Watson had 12 catches for 130 yards (10.8 avg.) and two touchdowns, with his best game coming at Tennessee where he had four catches for 54 yards, including a 21-yard touchdown from Winston.
The fact that Winston was relegated to the second team last year during training camp and the preseason due to his looming three-game suspension prior to the 2018 campaign allowed Watson to develop a rapport with Tampa Bay’s starting quarterback that will ultimately serve him well in 2019.
“I think you hit the nail right on the head,” Watson said. “In camp and when Jameis came back [from his suspension] we got a ton of work in together. Anytime he wanted to throw extra routes we were doing it. I have a really good comfort level with Jameis and I think he’s looking really good so far. He’s making a lot of plays and he looks really comfortable in this offense. I’m really excited about improving that connection as time goes on. I’m looking forward to this season in general.”