The Bucs have plenty of receivers. Problem is, they lack proven receivers. Maurice Stovall, Sammie Stroughter, Michael Clayton, Reggie Brown and Mark Bradley each fall into one of the following categories: Players with limited experience; players who haven't produced in a long time; or players who never met expectations. From all indications, the Bucs will rely heavily on Stovall, entering his fifth season. Stovall began to emerge late last season, starting seven of the last nine games. He needs to be much more consistent and reliable in getting open downfield. He doesn't have top-end speed, so many plays will come because of his size (6 feet 5). Stroughter has probably earned a more expanded role after serving as the slot receiver in 2009. He is adept at getting open and runs precise routes, but he'll be tested if he plays on the outside because he'll match with better (and probably bigger) cornerbacks. Clayton, Brown and Bradley have a lot to prove. Tight end is a strength. Neither Kellen Winslow nor Jerramy Stevens are gifted blockers, but Winslow was the club's primary offensive weapon last season with a team-leading 884 receiving yards. Blocker John Gilmore returns, too.
What they're looking for
The Bucs lack flat-out speed. They have a lot of receivers whose strengths are running short, underneath routes. If they can get better pass protection, the goal is to take advantage of QB Josh Freeman's strong arm. That means someone has to win some battles against premier cornerbacks. Stretching the field should also help a disappointing running game. The Bucs haven't had a consistent downfield threat since Joey Galloway still had something left, arguably three years ago. Antonio Bryant provided that during the past two seasons, but joined the Bengals after the Bucs didn't bring him back.
Fitting the bill
Georgia Tech WR Demaryius Thomas is a downfield threat, but he's probably going to be scooped up before the Bucs' No. 35 pick. His per-catch average last season: 25.1 yards. Notre Dame's Golden Tate could be available when the Bucs pick in the second round, but he doesn't fit the profile they need. He's lacking as a vertical threat but can outfight defenders for balls. In the middle rounds, the Bucs have closely examined Syracuse speedster Mike Williams, though he has a couple of red flags. Other options in the second and third rounds include Damian Williams (USC), Mardy Gilyard (Cincinnati) and Arrelious Benn (Illinois).
Top 10 prospects
|Player, vital STATS||Comment|
|1. WR DEZ BRYANT Oklahoma State 6-2, 215||Pure talent dogged by character concerns|
|2. WR DEMARYIUS THOMAS Georgia Tech, 6-3, 229||Big target with big-play ability|
|3. TE JERMAINE GRESHAM Oklahoma, 6-6, 258||Missed '09 but has 111 career receptions|
|4. WR GOLDEN TATE Notre Dame, 5-10, 199||Reliable hands; makes catches in traffic|
|5. WR ARRELIOUS BENN Illinois, 6-2, 220||Considered strong and plays physical|
|6. WR DAMIAN WILLIAMS USC, 6-1, 197||First-team All-Pac 10; has return ability|
|7. TE ROB GRONKOWSKI Arizona, 6-6, 264||Compares to Jason Witten; injury concerns|
|8. WR BRANDON LAFELL LSU, 6-3, 221||Caught 11 TDs as a senior|
|9. WR CARLTON MITCHELL USF, 6-2, 215||Greatest attribute is pure speed|
|10. WR MARDY GILYARD Cincinnati, 6-0, 187||Slight build but has great speed|
The Bucs are most likely to go with defense in the first round, but it would be stunning if they didn't address receiver with one of their two second-round picks. Tate, Benn or Williams will be attractive options in that range.
Stephen F. Holder, Times staff writer