When the Buccaneers unveiled their regular season depth chart yesterday afternoon it revealed a cause for concern for the Bucs: they lack any real depth at the receivers and tight end position.
The answer isn’t much.
Kevin Ogletree will act as the slot receiver this season. Ogletree is a good route runner and has quick feet, but he only has one season in which he was a featured receiver, despite being in the league for four years. However, he did have an impressive pre-season, leading the team in catches (14) and yards (114).
The Bucs are going to rely on Ogletree a lot this season. Jackson will likely draw the opposing teams top corner each game, freeing up Williams. But after Williams big season last year, teams are going to be more aware of him on the field, meaning Ogletree will likely see a lot of balls coming his way from quarterback Josh Freeman.
After Ogletree, the depth chart lists Eric Page and Russell Shepard as the fourth and fifth receivers. However, Page and Russell have never played a regular season NFL game. Page won the Bucs’ return job meaning he will be active on Sundays. But the question remains as to how much action he’ll see as a receiver. He only caught two passes in preseason which went for 25 yards total.
Shepard played for the Eagles in the preseason totaling 42 yards on three catches. While Page and Shepard are raw prospects, and the Bucs are always looking for young talent, it does still come across as surprising the Buccaneers elected to cut Tiquan Underwood to add Shepard, even more so as Underwood is a Greg Schiano “Rutgers guy.”
Similar to Ogletree, Underwood has only been an integral part of an offense once in his career, but his experience not only as an NFL player, but in Mike Sullivan’s offense would have proven important this season. Plus, he’s still only 26-years-old.
The tight end front however could be even more problematic, at least in terms of catching the football.
Crabtree was signed by Mark Dominik this off-season to battle with Stocker for the starting position. However, it’s not a battle presently as Crabtree is out with a high ankle sprain meaning Stocker will likely get the start Sunday.
Stocker has been nothing short of a disappointment since being drafted in the third round out of Tennessee in 2011. He has only caught 28 passes for 257 yards in two seasons with one touchdown and failed to make the starting position his own as the Bucs had hoped.
Crabtree, better known for his blocking skills than his pass catching skills, has 18 career catches over three years for 302 yards and four touchdowns proving that he, like Stocker, has not been heavily featured in the passing game.
Byham, who saw limited playing time last season, has 11 catches for 45 yards in two seasons. Wright has never played an NFL regular season game.
The Bucs have never really implemented a heavy tight end catching system, aside from the Kellen Winslow years. But they could have done with it this year with the lack of depth the team has at in its receiving corps.
Freeman is likely to pass close to 4000 yards again this season. Jackson and Williams will likely combine for around 2500 yards. That still leaves 1500 yards that need picking up. Will Doug Martin pick up a few hundred? Of course. And Brian Leonard as the third down back will likely see a number of passes come his way.
Ogletree will see the football a lot himself, but the Bucs can’t expect the effective duo of Jackson and Williams to catch everything.
The Buccaneers need depth within their receiving corps. The problem is they just don’t have it as week 1 approaches.