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Despite some guarded optimism emanating from One Buccaneer Place, it is Pewter Report's belief that the wide receiver position is not one of Tampa Bay’s team strengths heading into the 2008 season. The Bucs’ best receiver on the team is Joey Galloway, who despite posting three straight 1,000-yard seasons from 2005-07, will be 37 years old in November. Should he succumb to an injury, the Bucs are in trouble this year. Should Galloway's age start to show in his play, the Bucs are in trouble in the years ahead.
Tampa Bay did little to address this position in the offseason except for using its second-round pick on Dexter Jackson and signing Antonio Bryant and Cortez Hankton in free agency. Unless Jackson, Michael Clayton, Maurice Stovall or someone else has a breakthrough campaign in 2008, the Bucs will have to continue to search for a playmaking receiver in 2009.
Pewter Report detailed the receivers slated to hit free agency in 2009 last week. This week, Pewter Report will give its Pewter Insider subscribers an advanced look at some of the top wide receiver prospects (including juniors and redshirt sophomores) that could be available in the 2009 NFL Draft.
Overall, this group of receivers seems to be a pretty balanced group in terms of speed receivers and big, rangy, West Coast offense-type receivers. The only detriment about the class of 2009 is that there are probably only three clear-cut, first-round caliber wideouts right now – redshirt sophomore Michael Crabtree from Texas Tech, Florida junior Percy Harvin and Missouri redshirt sophomore Jeremy Maclin. This group is certainly better than last year's crop of receivers, which didn't feature a wideout worth drafting in the first round.
1. MICHAEL CRABTREE – Texas Tech Crabtree is blessed with a mix of great speed (likely in the 4.4 range) and size (6-foot-3, 208) and his production will make your eyes pop out of their sockets. As a freshman in 2007, Crabtree caught 134 passes for 1,962 yards and 22 touchdowns in Texas Tech’s pass-happy offense. He posted 100-yard games in 11 of the 13 contests he played in. Crabtree posted monster games against UTEP (15 catches for 188 yards and two TDs), Rice (11 catches for 244 yards and three TDs), Oklahoma State (14 receptions for 237 yards and three scores) and Texas (nine catches for 195 yards and two touchdowns). The nation’s leading receiver and Biletnikoff Award winner had five games with three touchdowns and caught the game-tying touchdown in Texas Tech’s come-from-behind win against Virginia in the Gator Bowl with less than two minutes left. Crabtree has freakish athleticism in the vein of Randy Moss and a great knack for reading downfield blocks. His size makes him a deadly red zone candidate. CRABTREE VIDEO
2. PERCY HARVIN – Florida The 5-foot-11, 184-pound Harvin is used as a running back and a wide receiver in Urban Meyer’s spread offense and is a gifted player with amazing acceleration and cutting ability. In 2007, he averaged 9.2 yards per carry while rushing for 764 yards and six touchdowns. As a receiver, he caught 59 passes for 858 yards and four scores. Harvin had at least six carries over 20 yards last year, including a 66-yarder against Michigan in the Capital One Bowl, and had a reception of 20 yards or more in all 11 games he played in. Against the Wolverines, Harvin had 165 yards and a touchdown on 13 carries (12.7 avg.) and nine catches for 77 yards and a score (8.6 avg.). His open-field playmaking skills are in the class of Joey Galloway and Devin Hester. HARVIN VIDEO
3. JEREMY MACLIN – Missouri Maclin is listed at 6-foot-1, 200 pounds, but that might be about two inches and 10 pounds too generous. Still, Maclin was the most-feared player in the Big 12 not named Michael Crabtree last year. He burst on the scene in Missouri’s come-from-behind season opener against Illinois last year with a 29-yard carry, two catches for 43 yards and a touchdown, a 74-yard punt return touchdown and 81 yards on four kickoff returns. Maclin’s multi-purpose magic continued all season as he amassed 375 yards and four touchdowns on 51 carries (7.4 avg.), caught 80 passes for 1,055 yards (13.2 avg.) and nine touchdowns, returned 25 punts for 307 yards and two scores and returned 43 kickoffs for 1,039 yards and one touchdown. Maclin also threw an interception and a two-point conversion. In all, that’s an NCAA freshman-record 2,776 all-purpose yards and 16 touchdowns from his amazing 2007 season. His best game came against the hapless K-State Wildcats in which he caught nine passes for 143 yards and two scores, in addition to returning a kickoff 96 yards for a touchdown. Maclin has an effortless running style and is blazing fast with a set of sure hands. And he’s only going to get better. MACLIN VIDEO
4. DARRIUS HEYWARD-BEY – Maryland Heyward-Bey, who is embarking on his junior season in 2008, burst onto the scene in 2006 with a huge game against Miami in which he caught touchdowns of 65 yards and 96 yards in the first half. He finished the game with five catches for 175 yards and two scores in Maryland’s 14-13 victory over Miami. Heyward-Bey tends to show up big in the big games – with touchdowns against Purdue, Miami (two), Florida State (two) in 2006 and Rutgers, Florida State and Oregon State in 2007 – but hasn’t made as many plays against lesser competition. Perhaps that is a reflection on the play-calling, but Heyward-Bey only caught 45 passes for 694 yards (15.4 avg.) and five TDs as a freshman and 51 passes for 786 yards (15.4 avg.) and three scores as a sophomore. This 6-foot-2, 206-pounder needs a breakout season with more touchdowns as a junior to emerge as a first-round pick. HEYWARD-BEY VIDEO
5. KENNY BRITT – Rutgers While Tiquan Underwood is Rutgers’ blazer, Britt is the big-bodied receiver (6-foot-4, 205) who does his damage across the middle. Britt logged 62 catches for 1,232 yards and eight touchdowns in his breakout junior season, including four 100-yard games and three more games with at least 90 yards receiving. He has enough speed to burn, evidenced by catches for 39, 42, 43, 53 and 53 yards last year, but is not as fast as Underwood. Britt’s draft stock as it pertains to the first round will largely depend on how fast he times in the 40-yard dash and if he can duplicate his numbers from a year ago. Britt reminds some of Michael Clayton due to his toughness and his ability to block downfield. BRITT VIDEO
6. DEMETRIUS BYRD – LSU The 6-foot-2, 195-pound senior had a great first season at LSU in 2007, catching 35 passes for 621 yards (17.7 avg.) with seven touchdowns. While Early Doucet was the possession guy, Byrd was the big-play threat and proved it with touchdown catches of 58 yards (Auburn), 61 yards (Alabama) and 62 yards (Middle Tennessee). Now that Doucet is gone, Byrd has a chance to be the focal point of the offense. He was certainly the center of attention last year as he hauled in the game-winning touchdown against Auburn with one second left. If Byrd can double his numbers in 2008, he has a real chance to emerge as a first-round pick. BYRD VIDEO
7. BRENNAN MARION – Tulsa Generously listed at 6-foot-1, 185 pounds, Marion burst onto the scene with a huge junior season for the Golden Hurricane. After not catching a pass in the season opener against Louisiana-Monroe, Marion hauled in three passes for 171 yards, including a 75-yarder, and a touchdown against BYU. By the end of the season, Marion had caught 39 passes for 1,244 yards for an eye-opening and NCAA record-setting 31.9-yard average in addition to 11 touchdowns. Marion was quarterback Paul Smith’s deep threat in 2007, catching passes of 41, 48, 49, 50, 51, 52, 52, 53, 60, 73 and 75. In all, he compiled six games with more than 100 yards receiving and had three more where he eclipsed 90 yards receiving. Marion had a huge game in a 48-43 win over Rice, catching seven passes for 244 yards (34.9 avg.) with two touchdowns. He’s still developing as a receiver, but has speed to burn and a wicked stop-and-go move. Another year of averaging over 30 yards per catch would assure Marion a place in the first two rounds. MARION VIDEO
8. SAMMIE STROUGHTER – Oregon State Stroughter has seven career 100-yard games and a pair of games in which he topped the 90-yard mark. He owns a pair of 80-yard touchdown receptions, including one that came in the 27-17 win over Washington in 2006 in which he caught seven passes for 223 yards (31.9 avg.). After catching 74 passes for 1,293 yards and five touchdowns as a sophomore, Stroughter only played in two games last year after lacerating his kidney against Arizona State. Still, in two games, Stroughter caught 15 passes for 262 yards and two touchdowns. As good as he is as a receiver, Stroughter was awesome as a punt returner, posting a 15.6 avg. and scoring three times in 2006. If the 6-foot, 180-pound Stroughter can bounce back from his kidney injury and get back to his 2006 production during his senior campaign, he could hear his name called early on draft day in 2009. STROUGHTER VIDEO
9. AARON KELLY – Clemson Kelly has received a lot of attention as a possible first-round pick in the 2009 NFL Draft, but he’s got to have a rock solid senior season and time well in the 40-yard dash for that to become a reality. After two mediocre years for the Tigers, Kelly had a breakout season in 2007 in which he caught 88 passes for 1,081 yards (12.3 avg.) and 11 touchdowns. At 6-foot-5, 190 pounds, Kelly resembles a skinnier Maurice Stovall. Kelly is a classic West Coast offense big receiver that lacks speed, but has the toughness needed to go across the middle. Kelly lacks the explosive, playmaking ability that some of his potential draft mates possess, but he did record at least 10 receptions that went for over 20 yards, including a 63-yarder against Central Michigan. His claim to fame last year was two big, fourth quarter catches in the last minute of the game to set up a game-winning field goal to beat rival South Carolina 23-21. Kelly is more of a chain-mover on slant passes than he is as a vertical deep threat, but he does have real value as a red zone receiver due to his size. He’s likely a second-round pick in my book right now. In the compilation clip below, Kelly is number 80. KELLY VIDEO
10. JARRETT DILLARD – Rice At 5-foot-11, 185 pounds, there doesn’t appear to be anything extraordinary about Dillard … except for his amazing 42-inch vertical jump and his production. The 2007 season was a disappointing one for both Dillard and Rice, which had won seven games in 2006 and qualified for a bowl for the first time in eons. During his junior season, Dillard only caught 79 passes for 1,057 yards and 14 touchdowns. The reason why those numbers were disappointing was because he tallied 91 catches for 1,247 yards and 21 touchdowns as a sophomore. During the 2006 season, Dillard caught a touchdown pass in every game and had four games in which he posted three scores. Dillard doesn’t have blazing speed, but he can hit the occasional home run. He doesn’t have great size, but can out-leap most defenders. But what Dillard does have is a nice, well-rounded game that will probably make him a mid-round pick in 2009. DILLARD VIDEO
11. TIQUAN UNDERWOOD – Rutgers The 6-foot-2, 180-pound Underwood got off to a strong start in 2007, catching 10 passes for 248 yards (24.8 avg.) and two touchdowns against Buffalo and four straight games of over 100 yards receiving, but he faded down the stretch (due to the emergence of teammate Kenny Britt) with only two 100-yard games over the final eight contests. Still, Underwood has game-breaking speed and logged touchdown catches of 65, 65, 66 and 69 yards last year en route to a 65-catch, 1,100-yard season in which he scored seven times. If he can post another 1,000-yard season and keep racking up the touchdowns, Underwood could be a second- or third-round pick in 2009. UNDERWOOD VIDEO
12. HAKEEM NICKS – North Carolina Nicks burst onto the scene as a true freshman against Notre Dame in 2006 with six catches for 171 yards (28.5 avg.) and two touchdowns, including a 72-yarder. He capped off that year in which he recorded 39 catches for 660 yards and four touchdowns with seven catches for 117 yards against Duke, including an 83-yard touchdown. Nicks improved on his 2006 numbers last year with a North Carolina-record 74 catches for 958 yards (16.1 avg.) and five touchdowns, including a sensational game against Virginia in which he caught seven passes for 113 yards and two scores, including a 53-yarder. The 6-foot-1, 210-pound Nicks has good – but not great – speed, and plays physical like Arizona’s Anquan Boldin. His lack of top-end speed will likely keep him out of the first two rounds of the 2009 draft should he come out after his junior season. NICKS VIDEO
13. GREG CARR – Florida State Carr has tremendous size at 6-foot-6, 210 pounds, but doesn’t always play up to his potential. He caught 30 passes for 618 yards and nine touchdowns as a freshman, followed by 34 receptions for 619 yards and 12 scores as a sophomore, but had a somewhat disappointing junior year, catching 45 passes for 795 yards and four touchdowns. Carr has the athleticism to do so much more and needs a big senior season, which includes better play from Florida State’s quarterbacks, to live up to his full potential. Carr is physical, has good deep speed and the ability to win most jump ball situations, but needs to work on his routes and catching the ball cleanly. CARR VIDEO
14. KENNY McKINLEY – South Carolina After catching 51 passes for 880 yards and five touchdowns as a sophomore in 2006, McKinley emerged as South Carolina’s go-to receiver last year as a junior, catching 77 passes for 968 yards and nine touchdowns. He has six 100-yard games in his career and has a good set of hands. McKinley has good quickness and cutting ability, but does not possess blazing speed. His longest catch is only 48 yards, although McKinley does have seven catches over 30 yards in his career. He needs to become more physical, have a big senior season and show more big-time playmaking potential in 2008 to move from a middle-round pick to a second-round selection. McKINLEY VIDEO
Here are some smaller school receivers to keep an eye on in 2008:
15. CASEY FITZGERALD – North Texas Fitzgerald might be the sleeper in this year’s wide receiver class. The 5-foot-11, 195-pound senior is coming off a fantastic season as a full-fledged starter in which he caught 111 passes for 1,322 yards and 12 touchdowns. After starting the season with a bang with seven catches for 126 yards (18 avg.) against Oklahoma, including a 69-yard touchdown, Fitzgerald caught 18 passes for 327 yards and two touchdowns, including a 66-yarder, against SMU. Against Louisiana-Monroe, Fitzgerald had a tackle-breaking 99-yard touchdown and finished with 118 yards on six catches (19.7 avg.). Against Navy, Fitzgerald caught 13 passes for 134 yards and scored a school-record five touchdowns. Fitzgerald has a solid build, good speed and instant acceleration. It will be interesting to see how fast he times in the 40-yard dash and how he fares in 2008 as his first three games are at Kansas State, against Tulsa and at LSU. FITZGERALD VIDEO
16. RAMSES BARDEN – Cal Poly At 6-foot-6 and weighing 228 pounds, Barden’s size creates natural mismatches against his opponents. After a freshman season in which he caught 40 passes for 655 yards (16.4 avg.) and nine touchdowns, Barden had 42 receptions for 824 yards (19.6 avg.) and five scores as a sophomore. But it wasn’t until 2007 that Barden really became a dominant receiver, catching 56 passes for 1,467 yards (25.7 avg.) and 18 touchdowns. NFL scouts question his speed (believed to be in the 4.5 range) and the level of competition he’s faced, but Barden has ripped off several big plays in his three-year career at Cal Poly, including gains of 42, 44, 44, 45, 48, 48, 48, 56, 59, 61, 62, 67, 67 and 85 yards. He has 12 games in which he has posted 100 yards receiving, including four contests in which he has gone over 200 yards. NFL scouts are anxious to see Barden and the Mustangs play against top competition when Cal Poly plays at San Diego State and at Wisconsin in 2008. As of right now, Barden is viewed as a mid-round draft pick.
17. BRYAN ANDERSON – Central Michigan After catching 73 passes for 867 yards and five touchdowns as a sophomore in 2006, the 6-foot-5, 204-pound Anderson had a great junior year with 90 receptions for 1,132 yards and 10 touchdowns last year. Aiding Anderson’s cause in 2008 is the fact that the Chippewas’ junior quarterback, Dan LeFevour, has landed on NFL radar screens after throwing for 27 touchdowns and rushing for 1,122 and 19 touchdowns in 2007. Anderson is coming off a fine performance in the Motor City Bowl against Purdue in which he caught seven passes for 129 yards and a career-high three touchdowns. He has nine 100-yard games in his career and will certainly add to that total in 2008. Anderson is a possession receiver as he is not terribly fast. He has only had three catches over 40 yards and no reception longer than 50 yards. Anderson could be a mid- to late-round draft pick depending on how he fares during his senior season.
18. JAMARKO SIMMONS – Western Michigan Simmons capped off a productive sophomore season in which he caught 61 passes for 688 yards and two touchdowns with a 13-catch, 172-yard, one-touchdown outing against Cincinnati in the International Bowl at the end of 2006. As a junior, the big-bodied, 6-foot-2, 234-pound receiver caught 84 passes for 980 yards and six touchdowns, including a 14-catch, 144-yard day against West Virginia in which he hauled in two touchdowns. He became a more consistent receiver in 2007 and must have the consistency to continue in 2008. In his Broncos career, Simmons has posted six 100-yard games and has four more contests in which he has racked up at least 90 receiving yards. Simmons had come through with big games against the likes of West Virginia, Indiana, Florida State, Cincinnati, Iowa and Missouri over the past two years, but has not been nearly as productive against lesser competition. Although he has touchdown catches of 72 yards and 52 yards on his resume`, Simmons is not known for his speed and is more of a possession receiver in a West Coast offense. He is currently considered a late-round draft pick.
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Scott Reynolds is in his 25th year of covering the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as the vice president, publisher and senior Bucs beat writer for PewterReport.com. Author of the popular SR's Fab 5 column on Fridays, Reynolds oversees web development and forges marketing partnerships for PewterReport.com in addition to his editorial duties. A graduate of Kansas State University in 1995, Reynolds spent six years giving back to the community as the defensive line coach for his sons' Pop Warner team, the South Pasco Predators. Reynolds can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org
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