Underrated breakout candidate could take Buccaneers offense to the next level

One of the Buccaneers' more underrated pass catchers could be a key difference for Baker Mayfield and Tampa Bay in 2024.
Jacksonville Jaguars v Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Jacksonville Jaguars v Tampa Bay Buccaneers / Mike Carlson/GettyImages

Over the past half-decade, the Buccaneers have held one of the league's best and most consistent wide receiver duos in Mike Evans and Chris Godwin. Evans, who signed a two-year, $52 million contract this offseason, is coming off a season with 79 catches, 1,255 receiving yards, a league-leading 13 touchdown catches, and 15.9 yards per catch, and has posted ten 1,000+ yard seasons to start his career.

Meanwhile, Godwin, the No. 84 pick in the 2017 draft, has proved to become a stout second option to Evans in the passing game. In all 17 games this season, Godwin recorded 83 receptions, 1,024 yards, two touchdowns, and 12.3 yards per catch, and posted 50+ yards in 12 of 17 games. 2023 marked Godwin's fourth 1,000-yard season, just one of 12 active receivers to have four 1,000-yard seasons since 2017.

In the offseason, the Bucs' receiving core got even stronger, starting in the 2024 draft. With their third-round pick, Tampa Bay selected Washington standout receiver Jalen McMillan, who was a premier 1,000-yard receiver alongside first-round pick quarterback Michael Penix. In free agency, the Buccaneers managed to land former Seahawks receiver Cody Thompson and former Giants receiver Sterling Shepard, with the latter reuniting with Baker Mayfield, who was Shepard's teammate at Oklahoma.

With the receiving core of Evans, Godwin, McMillan, Thompson, and Shepard, along with returning receivers Trey Palmer and Rakim Jarrett, Mayfield and new offensive coordinator Liam Coen have a surplus of weapons to work with in 2024. That said, one of Mayfield's weapons may enjoy a breakout season, one that isn't even a wide receiver.

That player is third-year tight end Cade Otton, who will be the presumed starter at tight end for the second straight season.

Buccaneers offense could get a huge boost from Cade Otton in 2024

Otton, the No. 106 pick in the 2022 draft, has shown flashes of stardom thus far in his NFL career. Following a quiet rookie season, Otton broke out in 2023, catching 47 passes for 455 receiving yards and four touchdowns in 17 starts, all career-highs.

In addition, Otton was a key factor in the Bucs' surprising playoff run last year. Otton actually led the team in receiving in the 32-9 Wild Card win over the Eagles, catching eight of his 11 targets for 89 yards (11.1 avg.), with a long of 24 yards. In the Bucs' T season-ending loss to the Lions in the NFC Divisional Round, Otton caught five of his eight targets for 65 yards and a touchdown, finishing the postseason with 13 catches for 154 yards and a touchdown.

Throughout the offseason, Otton has remarked him working toward becoming "an all-around tight end". While part of that is his output in the passing game as a receiver, taking a step forward as a blocker is one of his big focuses heading into 2024. Last season, Otton posted career lows in blocking, with a 47.4 pass block and 51.7 run block grade.

It's worth noting that Otton did play 98% of the team's offensive snaps, an increased sample size from his rookie season with just 70% of snaps played.

All in all, 2024 could mark a major season in Otton's development and future in Tampa Bay, as the tight end's rookie deal is set to expire in 2025, and is eligble for an extension this season.

If Otton can make the jump as a receiver and blocker, he will not only secure his place in Tampa Bay but could also be a key cog in the Bucs' continuing success and even making another deep playoff run.

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