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Tampa Bay Buccaneers pass on available wide receivers heading into draft

TAMPA — Quarterback Josh Freeman saw a lot of wide receivers come open during the offseason.

The Bucs just about missed 'em all.

Donte Stallworth signed with the Baltimore Ravens after serving a one-year suspension for DUI manslaughter.

Santonio Holmes, coming off a career-best 1,248 yards receiving and five touchdowns, was traded from the Steelers to the Jets for a fifth-round pick. He's suspended for the first four games for violating the substance abuse policy and is in the final year of his contract.

Brandon Marshall, with three consecutive 100-catch seasons, was shipped from Denver to Miami for two second-round picks, including one in 2011. He signed a five-year, $50 million contract.

Ted Ginn, who became expendable with the Marshall deal, was traded to the 49ers for a fifth-round pick.

Presumably, Bucs general manager Mark Dominik and coach Raheem Morris had discussions about all of these receivers. But in the end, they decided each had either too much off-field baggage, required too much compensation in terms of salary and draft picks, or both.

After letting Antonio Bryant leave via free agency to the Bengals, the only deal the Bucs pulled the trigger on was trading a sixth-round pick to Philadelphia for Reggie Brown, who has 27 receptions the past two seasons.

But Dominik keeps singing a familiar refrain to Bucs fans. Like all other positions, he prefers to address receiver in the draft.

"I think it's how you get more weapons around Josh Freeman and let him be as successful as possible," Dominik said. "So there's a blend that I think is in this draft."

The Bucs have a pair of second-round picks, Nos. 35 and 42 (acquired from the Bears for Gaines Adams). And because of the depth of this draft — and the expected run on defensive players and offensive linemen in the middle of the first round — it's very likely some elite receivers will be pushed into the second round.

There are a few to watch: Oklahoma State's Dez Bryant, Georgia Tech's Demaryius Thomas, Notre Dame's Golden Tate and Syracuse's Mike Williams.

The Bucs have interviewed all and each would add much to the team.

Bad fortune in the draft would be good fortune for the Bucs. Bryant, for example, could plummet because of character issues. He was suspended after three games last season after lying to NCAA investigators about his relationship with Deion Sanders. He also has been late to practice and games.

"It was a bad mistake. But I'm a great person," Bryant said. "I enjoy the opportunity to make people smile. I'm good at making people smile. People that know me, they know it was a mistake. They know I'm a fun type of person and I love to have fun.

"I see myself as a person on the field just trying to make something happen. I feel in my mind, I can make a play anywhere on the field. Kick return, punt return, anywhere the coach puts me, wherever."

Thomas, at 6 feet 3, 229 pounds, is a vertical wideout despite playing in an option offense. He and Bryant are likely to go in the first round. Tate has blazing speed and was productive in a pro-style offense, catching 93 passes for 1,496 yards and 15 touchdowns.

The Bucs' returning wideouts lack the ability to stretch the field.

"Speed. I went back and looked through a seven-year period of receivers who didn't succeed. At the end of the day, they weren't fast enough," former Texans GM Charlie Casserly said. "They couldn't separate. If you can't get open, you can't be successful."

The Bucs' history of drafting receivers is not good. Michael Clayton led all rookies in 2004 but hasn't been productive since. Dexter Jackson was taken in the second round in '08 and couldn't even make the team his second season. Florida's Reidel Anthony (first round in '97) and Jacquez Green (second round in '98) were also not very productive.

Dominik is confident they will get it right this year.

"Receiver is a tough position to evaluate, because of the scrutiny that is put onto it," Dominik said. "I think every fan that comes to our stadium sees a guy who drops a ball, and how does that parlay and how does a guy handle it in such a big stage? We've taken this draft class and turned it inside out, and worked with it for the last 12 months to make sure we can utilize the picks that we have with this team."

Tampa Bay Buccaneers pass on available wide receivers heading into draft 04/20/10 [Last modified: Thursday, April 22, 2010 7:37pm]
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