Despite question marks behind Mike Evans and Vincent Jackson, it’s not yet time to worry about the Buccaneers wide receiver core.
Since the end of the 2015 season there has been a lot of concern among Buccaneers’ media and fans alike in regards to the wide receiver depth chart. Whether it be the hands of Mike Evans, the age of Vincent Jackson, the knee of Louis Murphy, the development of Kenny Bell, or the limitations of Russell Shepard, there are plenty of legitimate concerns about Bucs’ receivers. I’m here to say: rest easy, Bucs’ fans. It’s all going to be alright.
The major point of contention is in regards to the depth of the receiver group. Most people agree that the team’s top two receivers, Evans and Jackson, are pretty solid players despite their known weaknesses (more on that later). It’s south of them on the depth chart where the conflict resides. Kenny Bell, Donteea Dye, Jonathan Krause, Evan Spencer, and Bernard Reedy
have all been part of an ill-fated training camp competition that has essentially come down to who can do less terrible than the other guys. This development is understandably concerning – particularly the collapse of Kenny Bell – but here’s the thing: it’s really not that big of a deal. The Bucs, in my view, have five capable receivers once Louis Murphy returns, and barring injury, that’s plenty to make-do with this season.
When analyzing the prospects of the Bucs’ passing game it’s important to remember what style of offense the Bucs want to execute this season. The Bucs want to run the ball, plain and simple. To do that they’re going to follow a trend started last season and regularly bring in multiple tight ends, an H-back, or even an extra offensive lineman (no team last season brought in extra linemen more often than the Bucs). This means that they’ll have minimal use for a fifth and sixth and seventh receivers in the way that teams like the Packers or Giants or Colts do.
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Louis Murphy, Russell Shepard, and whoever survives the training camp battle will be the teams fourth, fifth, and sixth wide receivers respectively, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that they’ll be in that order as actual pass-catchers. As a result of the Bucs’ desired style of play, it’ll be the backs like Charles Sims and tight ends like Cameron Brate that get the lions share of targets behind Evans, Jackson and Humphries. Put it this way: no matter what, the Bucs will almost always have at least three reliable passing targets on the field at one time, and that’s without assuming tight end Austin Sefarian-Jenkins ever sheds the hot-and-cold reputation that he currently has.
Many decry the lack of speed that Mike Evans and Vincent Jackson bring to the table, which has in turn made them into underrated commodities. Speed is a wonderful thing to have on offense, but what a Buccaneer offense helmed by Jameis Winston needs is targets with large catch radii, capable of reeling in the occasional high throw. Winston has developed much quicker than many expected, but his accuracy at this stage remains scatter-shot from time to time, and it’s likely to remain that way at least for this season. In this way, the Bucs’ receivers are a really good fit with their quarterback and offense.
All things considered, one could argue that the Bucs’ pass-catchers are a team strength, not a weakness, despite the concerns over the bottom portion of the receiver depth chart. My advice to Buccaneer fans is to take solace in the strengths of Evans, Jackson and Humphries and the teams superb pass-catching back, Charles Sims, as well as their two tight ends, Brate and Sefarian-Jenkins. Should their overall health hold up, there’s little reason to believe this group can’t be extremely effective this season and among the best in the NFC South.