TAMPA — The best trifecta of receivers — Mike Evans, Chris Godwin and Antonio Brown — may play for the Bucs.
Each offers a different element to the offense. Evans is a tall, physical pass catcher who can get downfield and leap over smaller defenders. Godwin makes combat catches, can run any route from the slot and is a dominant blocker. Brown is a burner who can stretch the defense, is good in tight spaces and makes yards after the catch.
They’re even developing an intuitive connection like triplets. Their closest competition? Look no farther than Thursday’s opponent.
The Cowboys’ Amari Cooper, CeeDee Lamb and Michael Gallup each has the potential of posting 1,000-yard receiving seasons and came close to pulling off the feat a year ago despite losing quarterback Dak Prescott in Week 5 to a leg fracture and dislocated ankle.
“It’s huge. They’re loaded,” Bucs coach Bruce Arians saids. “They all do different things. I think that threesome might be the best. I’ll argue that our guys might be, too. It’s a hell of a challenge when you’ve got that many guys. ...
“Gallup goes deep, Cooper is Cooper, and CeeDee Lamb is a great runner after the catch. They all individually do different things.”
Cooper, 27, is the elder statesman of the group. He was the fourth overall pick of the Raiders in 2015 before his trade to Dallas in 2018. The four-time Pro Bowler led the Cowboys with 92 catches for 1,114 yards and five touchdowns a year ago.
“I think I’m the best wide receiver in the league,” Cooper told the Dallas Morning News. “But it’s a difference between thinking that you’re the best and actually going out there and proving it. Do I think I’m the best? Yes. Have I proven it? I wouldn’t say I have.”
Cooper recently was removed from the physically unable to perform list after recovering from an ankle injury that forced him to miss most of training camp and the preseason.
Gallup, 25, a third-round pick from Colorado State in 2018, has great speed and fell only 157 yards shy of 1,000 yards last season with 59 receptions and five touchdowns.
Lamb, 22, the 17th overall pick out of Oklahoma, had an outstanding rookie season with 79 receptions for 935 yards and five scores.
How will the Bucs’ secondary blanket the Cowboys’ triple threat? Well, they say they’ve had lots of practice.
“We’ve just got so much diversity with our receivers as far as quick, big, possession, strong,” cornerback Carlton Davis said. “Just going up against those guys (in training camp) was great for me because they allowed me to work on my technique and just get some game-like plays and reps in during this time where you’re developing and you’re trying to get back in the groove of the season. Those guys take no plays off. They’re always trying to compete. ...
“It allows me to play fearless because I’ve seen it all with these guys.”
Evans, 28, takes a backseat to almost no receiver in the league with seven straight 1,000-yard seasons to start his career, passing Randy Moss for the NFL record.
While Godwin, 25, is playing under the team’s franchise tag, he does a lot of the grimy work blocking linebackers in the run game.
Who knows if Brown will reclaim the skills that placed him among the best receivers in the league a few years ago? But after minor knee surgery, the 33-year-old looks quicker and is certainly more in tune with the offense than he was after joining the team at midseason in 2020.
“I think it only helps in going against great receivers,” defensive coordinator Todd Bowles said. “All great receivers are different. Dallas’ are different from ours but from a competitive standpoint, it helps get you ready. But you’ve got to study the tendencies from the other guys for that to help you.”
The unknown is how sharp Prescott will be after having sat out the preseason.
“They’re a talented corps, a talented group, knowing what they can do when they get the ball in their hands...,” cornerback Sean Murphy-Bunting said of Dallas.
“Going against our receivers every day is always a blessing. We’re going against potential Hall of Famers every day.”
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