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Tampa Bay Buccaneers NFL draft: Dissecting the receivers

How did they get here?

Former Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach Jon Gruden admitted the obvious the other day: The Tampa Bay Buccaneers "reached" in the second round last year by taking Appalachian State's Dexter Jackson.

The 5-foot-9 Jackson was a failure as a kickoff and punt returner, did not catch a pass and was inactive for nine games.

"Last year, we were starving to take one and probably reached … in the second round, taking a young guy who might still develop into a player," the ex-Bucs coach said during a conference call for the NFL Network.

Jackson represented the earliest the Tampa Bay Buccaneers drafted a receiver since Michael Clayton 15th overall in 2004. Prior to that, you have to go back to 1998, Jacquez Green in the second round, and 1997, Reidel Anthony 16th overall.

The Bucs have had a little more luck going the free agent route. Last season, Antonio Bryant led them with 83 catches, 1,248 yards and seven touchdowns.

Veterans Ike Hilliard and Joey Galloway were released at the end of last season.

Who's manning the fort?

Clayton re-signed for five years and $26 million. He figures to see more passes under new offensive coordinator Jeff Jagodzinski while still providing his physical style of play.

The Bucs slapped the franchise tag on Bryant, guaranteeing him a $9.3 million salary. It didn't sit well with Bryant, especially after the team extended the contract of tight end Kellen Winslow shortly after trading for him.

No discussion about the Bucs' receivers is complete without Winslow. Although he plays tight end, he figures to catch more than 80 passes if he remains healthy.

A project such as Jackson is hard to rely on. So is Maurice Stovall, whose three-year career has been plagued by injuries.

The Bucs lack a deep threat, somebody who can replace Galloway and play the slot in three-receiver sets.

Who are they looking for?

Simply put, playmakers.

Speed kills in the NFL. The Bucs have plenty of possession guys who can move the chains such as Bryant, Clayton and tight ends Winslow and Jerramy Stevens.

They need a home run hitter. Bryant is effective after the catch, but he's not going to get behind the defense four or five times per game.

There's not much depth. No more projects. Tampa Bay needs a guy used to producing on the big stage.

Who fits the bill?

The Gators' Percy Harvin is dropping like a stone thanks to reports he tested positive for marijuana at the scouting combine. Harvin might be as responsible for the Gators national championship last season as quarterback Tim Tebow. But now there are red flags.

Nobody doubts his ability, and Florida coach Urban Meyer says Harvin is as competitive as any player he has coached.

"Every time he touches the ball, it's downright scary," Gruden said. "If he gets on one of these teams that has an Astroturf field, an indoor facility like a Minnesota, like a New Orleans, good Lord would he bring some excitement to those places.

"You watch him play in the big games that the Gators have had. Percy Harvin is a big reason they're wearing rings in Gainesville."

It's a deep draft for receivers, and the Bucs might find help in later rounds. Harvin's teammate, Louis Murphy, is big and fast and highly regarded by the Bucs. But without a second-round pick, Murphy could be gone. Ole Miss' Mike Wallace will get consideration in the third round.

Rick Stroud can be reached at stroud@sptimes.com.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers NFL draft: Dissecting the receivers 04/22/09 [Last modified: Friday, April 24, 2009 10:54am]
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