Buccaneers: Full Position Breakdown and Depth Chart Analysis at Wide Receiver
Like many other units on the team, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' receiving corps will look strikingly different in 2014 than it did last season.
Gone are two of last year's top pass-catchers in Mike Williams and Tiquan Underwood, replaced by the likes of first-round pick Mike Evans and free-agent acquisition Louis Murphy, among others.
Vincent Jackson returns as the Bucs' top target and younger options such as Chris Owusu have moved up the pecking order to compete for significant playing time.
Here's how the Bucs' depth chart looks at wide receiver for the time being.
12. Solomon Patton
The Florida Gators' leading receiver in 2013, Solomon Patton was signed by the Bucs as an undrafted free agent.
Patton was a team captain who was voted team MVP in his senior season at Florida, hauling in 44 passes for 556 yards and six touchdowns. According to Mark Heim of AL.com, the Mobile, Alabama, native also posted impressive results at his pro day, running an unofficial 4.31 40-yard dash.
Though he possesses a solid combination of speed and quickness, Patton faces an uphill battle to make the Bucs' final 53-man roster.
Even as a return specialist, where Patton has significant experience, the line looks simply too long for him to make an impact.
11. Quintin Payton
Another target with impressive size, Quintin Payton joined the Bucs nearly a month ago after he went undrafted.
Scott Smith of Buccaneers.com writes that the 6'4", 212-pound Payton was the favorite target of current Bucs quarterback Mike Glennon in 2012 at North Carolina State, catching a career-high 51 passes for 798 yards and a pair of touchdowns.
Though he caught fewer passes as a senior, Payton averaged a stellar 20.9 yards per catch in 2013. According to NFL Draft Scout, the redshirt senior is a jump-ball specialist who has better-than-average speed for his size.
His rapport with Glennon might help him shine in certain situations, but Payton will be a long shot to make the final roster cuts this fall.
10. Tommy Streeter
NFL.com indicates that he's a tall receiver with exceptional speed for his frame, as the 6'5", 215-pound Streeter ran a 4.40 40-yard dash at the scouting combine in 2012.
However, he has yet to translate that athleticism into success at the NFL level.
Streeter seems to fit the mold of big receivers who can also stretch the field, which the new Bucs regime appears to be looking for. However, barring multiple injuries ahead of him, it's unlikely that he'll make the final roster—though a return trip to the practice squad might not be out of the question.
9. Lavelle Hawkins
A speedster who offers value both as a receiver and return man, Lavelle Hawkins was signed as a free agent this offseason to help bring veteran presence to the receiver position.
Hawkins should be familiar with the Bucs' new offensive scheme, having played for new offensive coordinator Jeff Tedford at Cal. Hawkins' best season came in 2011, when he snagged 47 passes for 470 yards and a score for the Titans.
A diminutive target who has struggled to make a huge impact at the pro level, Hawkins' best chance to stick in Tampa Bay will be to separate himself as either a slot receiver or return specialist.
However, with the addition of younger players who could excel in those same areas such as 2014 sixth-round pick Robert Herron, it doesn't look like Hawkins will be able to have a huge impact in Tampa Bay—even if he does manage to make the team.
8. Russell Shepard
After spending most of his snaps on special teams in his rookie season, Shepard was placed on injured reserve in December with a toe injury. The Houston native was a versatile athlete during his college career at LSU, seeing time at quarterback, running back and wide receiver.
Despite 247Sports.com considering him the top dual-threat QB in the 2009 recruiting class, Shepard switched positions and only made five starts over his final two seasons in Baton Rouge.
Shepard has value as a special teamer, but the Bucs have plenty of players jockeying to return punts and kicks. Shepard will have to stay healthy and rise above the rest of the crop as both a returner and receiver to stick around when the roster cuts come around.
7. Eric Page
The Bucs' primary return man for both kickoffs and punts in 2013, Eric Page was brought back on a one-year contract this offseason.
Page will face stiffer competition for the return man job in 2014, thanks to a healthy Jeff Demps and draft picks Robert Herron and Charles Sims.
Though Page led the team in both return categories last season, he also had three fumbles as a return man and Rick Brown of The Ledger reported that he fumbled another during last week's mandatory minicamp, which won't help him retain the job.
Page will have to seriously set himself apart on special teams or as a potential slot receiver in order to lock up a roster spot.
6. Skye Dawson
Another rookie free agent who was originally signed by another team, Skye Dawson was signed to the Bucs' practice squad before moving to the active roster on October 16th of last year.
Dawson is yet another in a long line of Tampa Bay receivers who could try to use their experience in the return game to earn a roster spot in 2014. The TCU product earned All-Big 12 honors as a return man after his senior campaign.
Dawson appeared in seven games for the Bucs last season, catching two passes for 12 yards and carrying the ball twice for 15 yards.
His lack of size (5'9", 183 lbs) could likely limit him to a slot role, where he would compete with Page and Herron for snaps or even a roster spot.
5. Robert Herron
A sixth-round pick out of Wyoming, Herron might represent one of the biggest steals from the 2014 draft.
What he lacks in size, he makes up for with speed, quickness and technique. Projected by CBSSports.com as a fourth-rounder, Herron reportedly wasted no time putting his skills on display at the Bucs' rookie minicamp.
PewterReport.com wrote about his showing:
Herron was very quick with his hands and released with ease multiple times.
Robert Herron made a tremendous leaping catch over Eastern Michigan safety Mycal Swaim by contorting his body and catching the ball at its highest point. The 5-foot-9 receiver plays much bigger than his size and was easily the second-best receiver behind Evans on Friday.
According to Mike Vorel of the Casper Star-Tribune, Herron drew rave reviews from scouts and analysts at the Senior Bowl and has been just as impressive in workouts so far.
He should be the favorite to win the starting job in the slot and could also have an immediate impact in the return game.
4. Chris Owusu
If anyone has capitalized on the hamstring injuries that have kept Vincent Jackson and Mike Evans on the sideline during workouts, it's been Chris Owusu.
According to The Tampa Tribune's Roy Cummings, the Stanford product has impressed head coach Lovie Smith throughout the entire offseason.
"All of the guys are having their moments right now, but Chris Owusu has been pretty good from day one. He’s one that has caught my attention from the first minicamp all the way through," he said.
Though he only has 14 career receptions in 14 games, Owusu could be more heavily involved in 2014. He's clearly excited to be working with new quarterback Josh McCown. He told the Tampa Bay Times' Greg Auman that the signal-caller brings a new level of leadership to the offense:
You have a great leader in Josh McCown. He's always in the receiving meeting room, coming in to check on us, making sure we're on the right page. I think that's something we were missing in the past. To see him so excited to come early on days you don't have to come early, to see him be the last one to leave, that's what's helping this offense flow.
Owusu is saying and doing all the right things at the moment, and it should be safe to assume that he'll not only make the roster, but get significant playing time when the season rolls around.
3. Louis Murphy
Another veteran addition to the receiving corps, Louis Murphy was signed to a one-year deal in free agency this offseason.
A former prep standout at Lakewood High School in nearby St. Petersburg Florida, the former Gator was a fourth-round draft pick by the Oakland Raiders in 2009. Murphy spent time with both the Carolina Panthers and New York Giants before joining the Bucs, where he'll provide depth on the outside behind Vincent Jackson and Mike Evans.
A lifelong Bucs fan who has dreamed of playing for the team since he was five years old, Murphy has impressed new head coach Lovie Smith, according to the Tampa Bay Times' Rick Stroud:
That's what we're looking for; guys that don't blend in. Like Louis Murphy. Local guy. Louis had a couple of big plays (Wednesday). Louis has been here all the time. He hasn't missed anything and has just made play after play. We have a lot of that type of competition going on of players that were in the background when I first got here that we're taking notice of.
Murphy is one of the most experienced receivers on the Bucs' roster, having appeared in 71 NFL games, with 24 starts.
Combine that with the amount of praise he's already gotten from the new regime, and you have a recipe for Murphy seeing the field plenty in 2014.
2. Mike Evans
One half of the team's new "Twin Towers", Mike Evans was chosen by the Bucs with the seventh overall pick in the 2014 NFL draft.
A massive target, Evans was a matchup nightmare at Texas A&M, constantly abusing smaller defensive backs when left against one-on-one coverage.
It didn't take long for him to put his athleticism and exceptional hands on display during the Bucs' rookie minicamp, though a hamstring injury has kept him on the sidelines for most of the team's workouts since.
A plug-and-play starter, Evans will team up with Vincent Jackson and rookie tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins to give the Bucs three athletic targets who are 6'5", have sure hands and the ability to win in jump-ball situations.
1. Vincent Jackson
The veteran leader of the unit, Vincent Jackson returns as the Bucs' No. 1 target in 2014.
In his two seasons so far with the Buccaneers, Jackson has caught at least 70 passes for more than 1,200 yards and seven touchdowns.
There's no reason to believe he won't be able to meet those same benchmarks in 2014—especially with new weapons in Mike Evans and Austin Seferian-Jenkins to take pressure and attention away from him.
Along with a veteran quarterback and a creative offensive scheme, Jackson should thrive in his third season in Tampa Bay.
A hamstring injury has kept him on the sidelines for a portion of the team's offseason workouts, but it's nothing fans should be too worried about for the time being.
Doug Farrar of SI.com suggests that Jackson and Evans could enjoy a similar season to what Chicago Bears receivers Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery enjoyed last year while catching passes from Josh McCown, who is now under center for the Bucs.