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Bucs to examine many receiver options

Clemson’s Sammy Watkins is quite desirable but might not be available at No. 7.

Clemson’s Sammy Watkins is quite desirable but might not be available at No. 7.

TAMPA

Had the Bucs not been able to trade WR Mike Williams to the Bills, it's a certainty they would've released him before Monday, the first day of the club's offseason workout program.

Coach Lovie Smith puts an emphasis on character when evaluating players. And even before the stabbing incident in which Williams was a victim, although not blameless, the decision had been made to attempt to deal the No. 2 receiver.

The feeling at One Buc Place is that Williams is a good, not great, receiver. He lacks the speed to threaten a defense vertically. He has exceptional hands and can be effective running back-shoulder routes, fades and slants. But he's not a game-breaker, and the talent didn't outweigh the trouble.

The other option would've been to string Williams along and hope another team had a rash of injuries at receiver. But even in that scenario, it's unlikely, given Williams' spate of off-field trouble, the team could've received more than a fifth-round pick, and Tampa Bay needs the extra selection in May, not 2015.

That said, it's fair to say the team's biggest need might be a receiver to jump-start the offense.

It's also the direction the club could decide to go with the No. 7 overall pick.

Vincent Jackson, 31, has been remarkably consistent since joining the team as a free agent in 2012, averaging 75 catches for 1,304 yards and 7.5 touchdowns a season. It's even more impressive when you consider he had a rookie quarterback throwing to him for 13 games last year and Williams missed 12 games with a hamstring injury.

But after Jackson, the cupboard is bare. Louis Murphy (26), Cris Owusu (24), Eric Page (22), Russell Shepard (23) and Tommy Streeter (25) will compete but don't look like an upgrade from Williams. The team worked out Titans WR Lavelle Hawkins and was finalizing a deal with him today.

Fortunately for the Bucs, the NFL draft is loaded with elite receiver talent as deep as the third round.

The names at the top of the draft are Clemson's Sammy Watkins and Texas A&M's Mike Evans.

Watkins (6 feet 1, 205 pounds) most likely will be gone before the Bucs make their first selection, but if he's there, it'd be a great fit. The team needs someone who can take the top off the defense, and Watkins' playmaking ability might be second to none in the draft.

"I think I can run by just about anybody," Watkins said at the combine in February. "That's my objective, that's my motive. Fly route, home run, post, that's the kind of guy I am. I feel like I can score on just about any play on any route when I get the ball, and that's the mentality you have to have as a receiver."

Evans, 6-5, 225 pounds, is a former basketball player with flypaper hands and runs a 4.5-second 40-yard dash. Because of his rare combination of size and speed, some teams might have him rated higher than Watkins, and Evans is definitely a candidate to be a top-10 pick.

"Yeah, you know I get a lot of Vincent Jackson comparisons, and that's a great comparison," Evans said. "But I think Brandon Marshall. He's vicious after the catch: big, physical guy, can go up and get it, blocks real well. So I've modeled my game after him since high school."

It's interesting Evans mentioned Marshall, because that's a receiver Smith had success with when he coached Chicago. In fact, Smith doubled down on big, fast receivers when the Bears drafted South Carolina's Alshon Jeffery in 2012. Last season, he had 89 catches for 1,421 yards and seven touchdowns.

Throwing to big bookends enabled QB Josh McCown to be effective last season in Chicago, passing for 13 touchdowns and only one interception in eight games.

But remember, the Bucs are a 4-12 team undergoing a talent makeover.

Since Williams was never going to be on this team in the first place, his departure doesn't change the Bucs' plan to take the best available player at No. 7 or attempt to trade down to acquire more picks to fill holes at not only receiver but offensive guard, defensive end and linebacker.

WRIGHT STUFF: The signing of Bears free agent S Major Wright on Friday should not be considered a precursor to the Bucs unloading S Dashon Goldson. Although you could argue he's overvalued at $9 million per year, his base salary of $6 million is fully guaranteed. Furthermore, the team believes he can produce more than he did last season now that he will be in Smith's defense.

Bucs to examine many receiver options 04/05/14 [Last modified: Saturday, April 5, 2014 11:49pm]

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