Bucs may catch a top receiver in NFL draft

A likely option for the Bucs is Texas A&M's Mike Evans, a 6-foot-5 talent who had 12 touchdown catches last season.
A likely option for the Bucs is Texas A&M's Mike Evans, a 6-foot-5 talent who had 12 touchdown catches last season.
Published May 3, 2014

Ever since the Bucs traded Mike Williams to the Bills for a sixth-round pick, receiver has been the team's most glaring need, and as such, an easy match in mock draft speculation concerning Tampa Bay's No. 7 overall pick. The dream target for many fans is Clemson's dynamic Sammy Watkins, but a more likely option is Texas A&M's Mike Evans, a 6-foot-5 talent who had 12 touchdown catches last season.

"Both of them are unique in their own way," Bucs general manager Jason Licht said Tuesday in a predraft talk with reporters. "Sammy for his explosive speed and the way he runs with anger when he has the ball in his hands. He can make plays all over the field with his speed and quickness. He's got great hands, too. Mike Evans, great ball skills, size. He can run, too. It's deceptive."

So, too, are NFL general managers in the weeks leading up to the draft, so it's still hard to know which top receiver — if either — will be there at No. 7. NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock gave Bucs fans hope Wednesday when he shared that he had done a mock draft that had Watkins falling to the Bucs at 7.

"They're in a good place to sit and get a playmaker," Mayock said. "From my perspective, what a great pick (Watkins) would be at 7. … If Watkins would fall to them, I think that would be phenomenal."

Williams missed the final 10 games of 2013 with a hamstring injury, so Bucs fans know well the dropoff from top receiver Vincent Jackson to the next-best receiver. Statistically, that dropoff was 54 catches and 784 yards in 2013, ranking in the top five leaguewide in both categories.

The Bucs signed a pair of veteran receivers in Louis Murphy and Lavelle Hawkins, but they combined for six catches last season, so neither is likely a No. 2. The top returning option is Chris Owusu, who had 13 catches but also was cut before the season.

And while the Bucs' need for help at receiver is clear, this is arguably the draft's deepest position, touted by experts as having starter-quality impact even into the third round. Mayock projects six receivers as first-round picks, while ESPN's Mel Kiper Jr. and Todd McShay, conducting a live mock draft on ESPN2 on Wednesday night, were so enamored they had nine go in the first round.

Because of that, there's an argument that the Bucs could address another position with the No. 7 pick — or trade down and add picks — and still land a No. 2 receiver in the second round with the 38th overall pick. That could even be a prospect such as Florida State's Kelvin Benjamin, another 6-5 talent who caught 15 touchdowns last season but wasn't among those nine first-rounders ESPN picked.

Last year's rookie receivers showed value can be found later in the draft: the Chargers' Keenan Allen led all rookies in catches (71), yards (1,046) and touchdowns (8) as a third-round pick. The Cowboys got five touchdowns from third-rounder Terrence Williams, as the Saints did from fifth-rounder Kenny Stills; first-rounder DeAndre Hopkins had just two touchdowns for the Texans.

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Because of their needs at the position, the Bucs will give a long look at No. 7 to receiver, especially if Watkins can fall through the top six picks. He's a rare mix of speed and physical play, dangerous enough to help as a returner as well. They might have a better shot at Evans, whose frame draws comparisons to the Bucs' Jackson.

"Evans, I think, along with Kelvin Benjamin, some of these other (taller) guys, are what today's NFL is all about," Mayock said. "They're outside-the-number guys and red-zone guys. … Any time you get a one-on-one with a defensive back with his back turned, you get a big, superior athlete, the odds favor the wide receiver."