What wide receivers does Josh Freeman have to throw to this season?
Fourth-round pick Mike Williams has looked sharp in minicamps.
As it was with its defensive tackle weakness, Tampa Bay was very proactive on draft day bolstering its wide receiver corps. Before the draft, the Buccaneers may have had the worst set of wideouts in the NFL. While this wideout group grows up with a very promising second-year quarterback in Freeman, there will be a learning curve, but the future is pretty bright at this position. I commend Tampa Bay for acquiring talent for Freeman to develop with. Too many teams select a quarterback in the first round but don’t do enough to help him be successful in a difficult transition to the NFL.
Fourth-round pick Mike Williams and second-round selection Arrelious Benn are obviously the players to watch. Rarely does a situation present itself so well for a pair of rookies to come in and make an immediate impact. While it wouldn’t necessarily be reason for concern if it didn’t occur, Tampa Bay would love to see Williams and Benn establish themselves as the starting wideouts. By most accounts, and obviously it is extremely early in the process -- Williams is ahead of Benn and has been very impressive. Benn also has battled an ankle injury. Williams probably offers more big-play vertical ability. Neither player is afraid of contact, but Benn is the more physical wideout in all areas of his game. These two hold the fate of the Bucs’ receiving corps in their hands. That is pretty exciting, and I can’t wait to watch them work with Freeman during the preseason.
The two talented rookies stand apart from the pack at this position, but Tampa Bay does have another youngster to pay attention to in Sammie Stroughter. I like this second-year receiver’s game. He is a pure slot guy, but he is quick, tough and reliable. His skill set probably will never translate into a starting role, but he is perfect for the slot and with Williams and Benn in the fold, Tampa should be set with their top three wideouts for years to come.
If the youngsters hit stumbling blocks, Reggie Brown would most likely pick up the slack in 2010. Brown isn’t real dynamic and quickly fell out of favor in Philadelphia, but he has been productive and can be a bridge player for the short term.
Michael Clayton and Maurice Stovall are two more big-bodied wideouts who could surprise. Everyone knows Clayton’s story -- a one year wonder right out of college who hasn’t done a thing since. But now, there isn’t any pressure. Will he step up and make an impact? I doubt it, as I see little explosion and he struggles to get consistent separation. But is it possible? Sure, why not? Stovall also is talented, but has never put it all together. Injuries have played a factor, but he just hasn’t shown any level of consistency.
This season might not be pretty and surely the Bucs will feature a ball-control approach in the passing game. I also expect a lot of throws in the middle of the field to Benn, Williams, Stroughter and Kellen Winslow -- whom I also expect to be a factor in a wideout role detached from the formation. But the future is bright here and the young players will get every opportunity to succeed.