The Buccaneers’ wide receiver group received harsh critiques due to last season’s play. Although there have not been many changes to the position, is it yet to be considered a strength?
Last season the Buccaneers’ took the field with a projected great crop of receivers. Mike Evans and Vincent Jackson highlighted that group, and even brought up discussions as one of the best tandems in the league.
Unfortunately V-Jax’s season was plagued with injuries, their slot receiver in Louis Murphy tore his ACL, and their rookie fourth round draft pick Kenny Bell was placed on injured reserve with a hamstring injury. That left the workload strictly focused on Evans. Evans was not alone though with his supporting cast of the undrafted free agents Donteea Dye, Adam Humphries and special-teams ace Russell Shepard.
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Evans and company managed to limp their way through the season, and it was not pretty. Jameis Winston was forced to rely on Evans’ questionable hands, seemingly every time the ball was put in the air. Dye, Humphries, and Shepard all had OK seasons, but none of them really deserved or deserve to be any higher than a number three receiver. With very limited skill sets, Winston and the team had to do everything they could to get Evans the ball in the passing game. If it was not for the great tight end group, or fantastic backfield duo, this offense could’ve been impossible to watch.
This leads to the question, is the Bucs’ 2016 receiver group a strength or a weakness? My simple answer to that is… weakness. Yes, this is probably not the popular answer that everyone would like to hear, but at this moment it is the truth and here is why:
Let’s begin with the former starters. Evans could be one of the top five receivers in the game. Yes, it’s a very high ceiling for a man who can’t seem to grip the ball. Will he manage to find a way to fix is hands and not to mention control his anger? That is yet to be seen, but if he is unable to turn the corner, it could just be another repeat of a diva-esqe year.
V-Jax, the more reliable receiver is back and healthy, which is great, but let us not forget his age. The 33-year old Buc has dealt with a multitude of nagging injuries throughout the past couple seasons, and it is no secret he is not the same receiver as he was his first year in Tampa. Let’s face it Buc fans, V-Jax is coming to the end of his career, but at the moment he is the best number two that we have.
Murphy is coming off an ACL tear and this journeyman may need extra time to get himself back into form. Murph has been the best of the bunch in the supporting cast, but it is no secret that this injury could highly effect his play. He has flashed big play potential since coming to Tampa, so there is hope Murph can keep his roster spot even with his recovering tear.
So what about fan favorites Dye and Humphries? Well, they are still young players, but how high is their limit? For two players to come from undrafted to starting is quite unique, but even in their time in the light, it seemed as if they are no true threat. Yes, they are able to be a great supporting cast, but neither of them truly had that x-factor that first string receivers really need. Neither of these two have reached their full potential, so the hope is these mediocre receivers of last year can take the next step.
Finally, Shepard and Bell. Shepard has consistently been the Bucs’ best special teams player and
that is how he has managed to keep his roster spot. Even though he had his moments last season, Shep will have to continue his special teams play to keep that roster spot for the 2016 season. Shep is, and will always be, just a supporting cast member.
So, what’s the deal with Kenny “Afro-Thunder” Bell? If there is any Buc receiver Bucs’ fans should be excited about, it is Kenny. Kenny, unlike the rest of young Bucs, besides Evans, truly has an x-factor to his game. He’s fast, he can catch bombs, he can block, he can play in the slot; the man can do it all. After his red-shirt rookie season, let’s just hope he can have the big play ability that he had in college. Don’t be surprised if this man has a breakout season… if he stays healthy.
A lot of negatives exist, but there are some positives for the Bucs’ receivers. Evans is elite, V-Jax is reliable, and AfroThunder has big play ability, but from there it is pretty shady. Two years in Coach Koetter’s offense can only help the Bucs. Let us all just hope Evans fixed his hands, V-Jax still has some gas in him, the youngsters continue to grow and most of all EVERYONE STAYS HEALTHY. Last season’s weakness needs to turn into this season’s strength if they want to make a run at the playoffs.