TAMPA — Tom Brady is known as a generous teammate who will give you the shirt off his back — BRADY brand, of course.
So, when receiver Antonio Brown quit on the Bucs during a comeback win over the Jets in January, stripping off his jersey and dancing bare-chested through the end zone, it was more than an insult to the quarterback who had stuck his neck out for him.
Brown’s release took away one of the Bucs’ receiving threats and may have prevented them from advancing further in the playoffs.
Brady won games last season by throwing touchdown passes to receivers such as street free agent Breshad Perriman and 28-year-old practice-squad player Cyril Grayson.
But neither Brady nor the Bucs want a repeat of that occurrence.
Chris Godwin is recovering from a torn ACL/MCL and may not be ready for the start of the season. Mike Evans is entering his ninth NFL season. Free agent pickup Russell Gage, who had 49 catches in his last eight games with the Falcons, is an upgrade from Tyler Johnson and Scotty Miller, who disappeared in 2021.
If you want to know the value of the receiver position in the NFL, consider the enormous contracts recently signed by Tyreek Hill with the Dolphins (4 years, $120 million) and Davante Adams with the Raiders (5 years, $141.25 million). Even Godwin enjoyed his payday (3 years, $60 million) despite the injuries.
From his first-ever draft pick, general manager Jason Licht and his scouting staff have had a good eye for receiving talent. Clearly, the position is increasing in value.
“You’ve seen the premium this offseason that teams are putting on receivers,” Licht said. “We brought in Russell Gage, and we’re excited. Russell can add to our team. We’ve had some pretty good success with receivers here — developing them, taking the right ones. That’s a tribute to our staffs working together there and the coaching, obviously. It’s always a position you’ll look at.”
This is a very deep draft for quality receivers that can be found well into the first, second and third rounds.
“I don’t think any of these guys have the same grade as (the Eagles’) DeVonta Smith or (the Bengals’) Ja’Marr Chase or (the Dolphins’) Jaylen Waddle,” ESPN NFL draft analyst Mel Kiper said. “Those three last year all had elite grades. (Ohio State’s) Garrett Wilson would be the closest. (USC’s) Drake London, had he gone through the process a little cleaner. Remember, he had the fractured ankle in late October against Arizona and not running the 40(-yard dash) and all that.
“(Ohio State’s) Chris Olave and (Alabama’s) Jameson Williams maybe could’ve been there, but (Williams) had the ACL in the national championship game. So, some things happened to prevent one of these (receivers from grading higher), particularly Jameson. ... I think six or seven could go in the first round. You saw that in the mock draft. It’s a deep, talented group.”
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The Bucs have needs at guard, defensive tackle and tight end. But given that Brady is back for maybe only one more season, receiver may be the way to go at No. 27. Here are a few players who could help the Bucs’ receiving position this year.
Jameson Williams, Alabama
Measurable of note: Williams would be a dream pick for the Bucs and is very unlikely to make it down to No. 27. But he could fall within trade-up range due to tearing his ACL in the national championship game. The transfer from Ohio State put on a show in 2021 with 79 receptions for 1,572 yards and 15 touchdowns.
Like Godwin, he may not be 100 percent by the start of the regular season. Still, he probably won’t make it past No. 21 with New England, where he would be reunited with former Crimson Tide quarterback Mac Jones.
Christian Watson, North Dakota State
Size: 6-4, 208
Measurable of note: The quintessential late bloomer, Watson grew from an undersized 5-feet-8, 152 pounds as a junior at Plant High to a top NFL prospect with size and 4.36 speed in the 40-yard dash.
The Bucs are high on Watson and had him out to their training facility as one of their visits with local prospects. He could play in the slot or outside and provide an immediate deep threat with tons of upside for Brady. But Watson may have trouble getting past Tennessee at No. 26.
Treylon Burks, Arkansas
Measurable of note: Arkansas threw the football for only 2,781 yards, and the Razorbacks’ 314 attempts ranked 85th in the nation in passes thrown per game. But Burks caught 66 for 1,104 yards and 11 TDs, making his production all the more impressive.
Burks has great size and 4.55-speed in the 40-yard dash. A three-sport star at Warren High in Arkansas, he broke his hand as a sophomore. His legend grew when he still managed to catch 12 passes for 282 yards and three scores despite being expected to be used merely as a decoy. Watch out for the Packers at No. 22.
Jahan Dotson, Penn State
Measurable of note: Think of Dotson as a smaller, quicker version of Godwin, another Nittany Lions receiver. He has 4.4 speed but not as much strength. As a senior, Dotson had 91 catches for 1,182 yards and 12 touchdowns. He also is an excellent punt returner who would add immediate value on special teams and displace underperforming Jaelon Darden in that role.
Dotson’s hands are exceptional. He had a 2.2-percent drop rate in 2021 and holds onto the ball through contact despite his small frame. He has been linked to the Cardinals at No. 23.
John Metchie, Alabama
Size: 5-11/ 187
Measurable of note: If you’re looking for a burner, Metchie may be your man. He is reminiscent of some of the other successful Alabama receiving prospects, such as Waddle and Henry Ruggs.
A smooth route runner, Metchie would be a much higher pick had he not torn his ACL in the SEC championship game. That injury could plunge Metchie into the second round. But once he’s recovered, he could be a steal.
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