Can Bucs win without big-time receiver? It's difficult, but possible
Ever since the Bucs let free agent receiver Antonio Bryant walk away, we've spent a lot of time debating what they're going to do at a position that suddenly feels rather thin.
Yes, they're going to make this position a priority in the draft, perhaps taking a player like Golden Tate of Notre Dame in the second round. But I would caution anyone against relying on a rookie walking in and becoming a bonafide No. 1 receiver on Day 1.
So, let's say the Bucs don't acquire anything resembling a franchise receiver? Is the season somehow a total loss months before kickoff?
It can be very difficult, but there are examples of teams that have used a committee approach at receiver and remained competitive. Let's take a look at a few.
The Jets (9-7) are a good example of this. Last season, Jerricho Cotchery was their No. 1 receiver, catching 57 passes for 821 yards. That's a team that advanced to the conference championship without a receiver who was even in the vicinity of 1,000 yards. Behind him was tight end Dustin Keller who caught 45 passes for 522 yards.
Elsewhere, the 49ers (8-8) had receiving numbers very similar to the Bucs. Like Tampa Bay, they were led by a tight end; Vernon Davis caught 78 passes for 965 yards. He was, for all intents and purposes, their No. 1 receiver, just like Kellen Winslow was for the Bucs.
The Titans (8-8) had running back Chris Johnson, of all people, as their leading receiver, with 50 receptions for 503 yards. Nate Washington was next in line with 47 receptions for 569 yards. What's more, in 2008, when the Titans were the AFC's No. 1 seed, they had tight end Bo Scaife as their leading receiver with 58 receptions for 561 yards.
The Bears had a disappointing 7-9 season, but they also showed that the season isn't completely lost without what you might consider a dominant receiver. They were led by tight end Greg Olson who caught 60 passes for 612 yards.
If Winslow has another big year -- and with the inevitable improvement of Josh Freeman, he should -- the Bucs might be able to muster enough from their remaining receivers to get by. It will take much-improved defense and a revived running game, but it can be done.
We'll see how this all eventually works out, but keep all this in mind when lamenting why, oh why won't the Bucs give up key draft picks and make that blockbuster deal for Brandon Marshall.