Vincent Jackson will be the Buccaneers’ No. 1 wide receiver in 2012. There is no real question there, but there is a bit of uncertainty below him on the depth chart.
Conventional wisdom says Mike Williams will inherit the role of split end receiver, but given his lackluster performance last year, there is no guarantee.
Despite garnering Rookie of the Year consideration in 2010 with his mind-blowing touchdown catches, Williams struggled to get separation from defenders in 2011. And he dropped way too many passes for a guy whose lack of ideal size and speed require him to be sure-handed. There have also been questions regarding his dedication to developing his game beyond his natural talent.
The former Syracuse wide receiver faces competition from two other third-year receivers: Arrelious Benn and Dezmon Briscoe. A second-round draft choice two years ago, Benn is the most physically impressive of the three, but probably the least gifted pass-catcher.
Forced to play second and even third fiddle in Greg Olsen’s offense, Benn has not been featured often and is not high on Josh Freeman’s list of favorite targets, which is puzzling given that he led the team in yards after the catch in 2011 and is easily one of the fastest players on the team.
Dezmon Briscoe would probably be the most obvious choice to supplant Mike Williams at the split end spot, given their similarities. They are nearly identical in size, speed and pass-catching ability, but Briscoe made better use of his limited playing time in 2011. The biggest problem here is that Briscoe may not be the “Buccaneer Man” head coach Greg Schiano is looking for.
Over the course of this offseason, Briscoe became embroiled in a real-life soap opera with the mother of his child and his current girlfriend who stars on Basketball Wives, which unfolded very publicly on Twitter. What’s worse is that this situation is likely what caused Briscoe to miss out on the team’s voluntary mini-camp in April.
Schiano has been adamant about wanting players who love the game and keep their noses clean. While Schiano cannot punish Briscoe for missing voluntary OTAs, this little tiff could not have made a very good impression on the Bucs’ head coach.
It’s impossible to say which of Williams, Benn and Briscoe will be in the starting lineup come September, at least at this point. Mike Sullivan’s offense should even the playing field, at least initially. We likely will not know until training camp which players will thrive and which will struggle in the new system.
The safe bet is that Mike Williams opens the season in the starting lineup, though Benn’s physical prowess makes him an ideal split end. It would not be surprising for Dez Briscoe to find himself off the roster before the start of the season, though he is certainly talented enough to start for the Bucs.
The only thing that is certain is that the arrival of both Mike Sullivan and Vincent Jackson will force each of the other Buccaneer receivers to step up their game, particularly if they want a spot in the starting lineup.