TAMPA — Tom Brady made a career out of throwing to quick, diminutive slot receivers. From Wes Welker to Danny Amendola to Julian Edelman.
Then he arrived in Tampa Bay where a big body like Chris Godwin worked the middle of the field.
Godwin eventually will return from a knee injury. But there are plenty of candidates to play the role of Wes, Danny and Jules.
After the NFL draft ended Saturday night, the Bucs front office was busy signing 13 undrafted free agents.
Three of them were highly productive receivers at the collegiate level but had one reason that caused their stock to fall: they are small.
The Bucs roster sits at 89 for now, leaving one spot available (Rob Gronkowski?) although there will be many changes before training camp.
Tampa Bay shored up some positions for training camp that weren’t addressed heavily in the draft, such as receiver, defensive back and linebacker.
Let’s take a look at the undrafted free agents, starting with the receivers:
Jerreth Sterns, WR, Western Kentucky
It’s not easy to lead the nation in receptions, yards and touchdowns. Only three players have done it in the past 20 years: Michael Crabtree at Texas Tech in 2007, DeVonta Smith at Alabama in 2020 and Sterns this past season for Western Kentucky. He finished with an eye-popping 150 catches for 1,902 yards and 17 touchdowns.
So why wasn’t he drafted? He is only 5 feet 7, which is why he began his college career at Houston Baptist. Sterns could have run better at his pro day; the 4.58 40-yard dash didn’t wow anyone. His 40-inch vertical, however, did.
Deven Thompkins, WR, Utah State
Thompkins is listed at just under 5-7 and is 167 pounds. But like Sterns, he put up ridiculous numbers in a fairly reputable program at Utah State. The Fort Myers native had 102 catches for 1,704 yards and 10 touchdowns last season. Thompkins ran the 40-yard dash in 4.35 seconds and had a vertical leap of 38.5 inches. He is the ultimate deep threat, leading the nation in deep receptions and yardage off of those catches.
Kaylon Geiger, WR, Texas Tech
Stay updated on the Buccaneers
Subscribe to our free Bucs RedZone newsletter
You’re all signed up!
Want more of our free, weekly newsletters in your inbox? Let’s get started.Explore all your options
Geiger is a little bigger than Sterns and Thompkins at 5-foot-9, 172 pounds. He played in a better league in the Big 12 with the Red Raiders, which may account for the lesser production: 44 receptions for 533 yards and one touchdown. Geiger spent his first two seasons at Troy, so his career numbers after three collegiate seasons are 184 receptions for 2,158 yards and nine touchdowns. Geiger will have to out-perform veterans such as Tyler Johnson, Scotty Miller, Breshad Perriman and/or Jaelon Darden for a roster spot. Special teams will play a big role in this.
Nolan Turner, S, Clemson
The Bucs may regret passing on Georgia safety Lewis Cine, moving down from No. 27 in the draft to No. 33 after a trade with the Jaguars. Tampa Bay is pretty secure at the position with Antoine Winfield Jr., Mike Edwards, Logan Ryan and Keanu Neal. But Edwards will be a free agent next season while Ryan and Neal signed one-year deals.
That’s why Turner has a shot of making this roster. He burst onto the national season when he made the game-sealing interception vs. Ohio State in the Fiesta Bowl in 2019 to propel the Tigers to the national championship.
He ran a 4.37 40-yard dash at the NFL combine and could help immediately covering kicks on special teams as a gunner. His versatility is evident (seven career interceptions and 13.5 tackles for loss). He is the son of Kevin Turner, the former Eagles and Patriots fullback who had ALS and died in 2016.
J.J. Russell, LB, Memphis
He was highly productive with 123 tackles, which led the American Athletic Conference last season. Russell started all four years with the Tigers but his lack of speed (4.70 in the 40-yard dash) likely will limit his NFL career to special teams duty.
Olakunle Fatukasi, LB, Rutgers
If you trust former Bucs head coach Greg Schiano to develop an NFL linebacker, Fatukasi is your guy, He played under Schiano at Rutgers and racked up 302 career tackles (28 for losses). Leadership is no problem for this team captain, whose brother, Foley, is a defensive tackle for the Jets. But the NFL doesn’t reward linebackers who can’t run, and his 4.78 40-yard dash kept him off the draft boards.
Don Gardner, CB, South Dakota State
When you play at the Football Championship Subdivision level, NFL scouts want to see you dominate, and Gardner did that. He was an All-American player for the Jackrabbits and a two-year starter. Gardner, who ran 4.46 at his pro day, could help immediately on special teams if he can win a job as a gunner.
Kyler McMichael, CB, North Carolina
He started two seasons with the Tar Heels after transferring from Clemson. McMichael projected as a safety at the next level with good speed (4.48 40-yard dash at his pro day). He recorded 44 tackles, seven pass breakups and one interception at North Carolina.
Ben Beise, TE, Wisconsin-River Falls
The Bucs love discovering Division III players. They only have four tight ends on the roster as they await the decision by Rob Gronkowski. Beise has the size at 6-foot-5, 255 pounds as an in-line blocker and also caught 38 passes.
Dylan Cook, OT, Montana
Cook began his career as a quarterback at Montana State-Northern back when he was a svelte 6-foot-6, 290 pounds. He was an offensive tackle by the time he walked on at Montana and started 23 games at right tackle.
Curtis Blackwell, G, Ball State
This versatile offensive lineman can swing between guard and tackle. That’s always a valuable skill when fighting for the final spot on the offensive line.
Joe (JoJo) Ozougwu, OLB, Arkansas State
Ozougwu is a transfer from North Texas State, where he was a teammate with Bucs WR/KR Jaelon Darden. Undersized at 6-1, 228-pounds, Ozougwu has some pass rush abilities with 7.5 sacks during his only season with the Red Wolves.
Jordan Young, OLB, Old Dominion
This four-year starter had 450 career tackles for the Monarchs, including 104 last season. In his final collegiate game, the Myrtle Beach Bowl against Tulsa, Young had 10 tackles, three tackles for loss and a sack.
Aqeel Glass, QB, Alabama A&M
The Bucs need a quarterback to get them through rookie minicamp, and Glass is the perfect fit. It is unlikely he could earn a roster spot with Brady, Blaine Gabbert and Ryan Griffin returning. But Glass had a prolific career with more than 12,000 career passing yards as a five-year starter. He tossed 36 touchdowns and only seven interceptions last season.
Bralon Robinson, track, Alcorn State
The Bucs had some success helping Cyril Grayson transition from a track star who never played football at LSU to a functional NFL receiver who had a game-winning TD against the Jets last season. Robinson played some receiver in high school but would have to make the team as a kick returner. He ran 4.28 at Jackson State’s pro day.
Other tryout players include Florida State tackle Devontay Love-Taylor, Coastal Carolina receiver Kameron Brown, Iowa guard Kyler Schott, Washington defensive lineman Ryan Bowman and Pittsburgh defensive lineman Keyshon Camp.
• • •
Sign up for the Bucs RedZone newsletter to get updates and analysis on the latest team and NFL news from Bucs beat writer Joey Knight.