Tampa Bay Buccaneers Taking a position by position look at the Buccaneers heading into the 2021 season, this time with the wide receivers. Carmen Vitali
Position Group: Wide Receivers
2020 Players (as of Feb. 7): Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, Scotty Miller, Antonio Brown, Tyler Johnson, Jaydon Mickens, Justin Watson
2020 Evaluation: If you were to name the deepest and perhaps strongest position group on the team, you'd have quite the argument for this group. Both Evans and Godwin were 2019 Pro Bowlers coming into the season while Miller had come into his role in the last few games of his rookie year and was looking to make an impact in 2020. The Bucs added Johnson in the 2020 draft, brought Jaydon Mickens back from the 2019 practice squad and then halfway through the season, tacked on Antonio Brown to an already productive unit.
By the time Brown entered the picture in Week 9, the Buccaneers had the sixth-most receiving yards in the league with 2,189 and were tied for the third-most receiving touchdowns with the Green Bay Packers. Tampa Bay finished the year with the fourth-ranked passing offense, averaging 298.5 yards per game through the air. That was all due in large part to the wideout group. Tight end Rob Gronkowski was the only non-wide receiver on the Bucs roster that cracked the top five in receiving yards on the team. The Buccaneers had 3,096 total receiving yards come from wide receivers and accounted for 29 of quarterback Tom Brady's 40 passing touchdowns. That was the second-most of any wide receiver group in the league, behind only Pittsburgh, whose wideouts had 30 touchdowns on the year.
The top spot in both yardage and production belonged to Evans, who registered his seventh-straight 1,000-yard season to start his career, giving him sole possession of a new NFL record. He surpassed his idol Randy Moss, who had six to begin his, and it took until the last game of the season for Evans to eclipse the mark. In fact, with three games left in the season, Evans had only 669 yards to his name, due in large part to Brady's affinity for spreading the ball out. But then Evans went off in back-to-back games, catching six passes for 110 yards in Week 14 against Atlanta and then 10 passes for 181 yards in Detroit the following week. He needed just 46 yards by the time the regular season finale rolled around. He got the record by nabbing a 20-yard catch that set the Bucs up at the 11-yard line in the first quarter. The very next pass went to Evans again in the end zone but it was dropped as he suffered a hyperextended knee (though at the time it looked a lot worse). Talk about dramatic fashion. Evans also had the most receiving touchdowns on the team, grabbing a career-high and very fitting 13 in the regular season.
Behind him was Godwin, who finished the regular season with 840 receiving yards and seven touchdowns, along with the best catch rate on the team at 77.4%. That was the fourth-best rate in the NFL among qualified wide receivers. Godwin then tacked on 232 more receiving yards in the postseason, putting him over 1,000 for the entirety of 2020, while adding another touchdown. As impressive as Godwin's stats were, it was even more impressive the way he acquired them. Godwin was all over the field, even given the fact he aligned in the slot 60% of the time. But he was one of the league's best route runners from that position. According to Next Gen Stats, Godwin has gained over 150 yards on nine different routes since 2019, which is the most in the NFL.
Miller and Brown round out the top five in receiving yards for the Buccaneers, with Miller recording a career-high 501 yards on 33 receptions, along with three receiving touchdowns. His most memorable in the regular season came against the Raiders in Las Vegas, where he caught what was technically a 48-yard touchdown pass but in terms of air yards was well over 50. Miller then dazzled again in the postseason, catching maybe the most memorable playoff touchdown period as he snagged a 36-yarder right before the half expired that truly set the tone for the game and perhaps the Bucs' postseason overall.
2021 Outlook: The man dominating the free agency headlines for the Buccaneers is in fact, Godwin, who is an absolutely integral part to the Buccaneers' offensive efforts.
"He brings so much more than targets," said Head Coach Bruce Arians during media availability on Wednesday. "When you look at what he does as an outside receiver and a slot receiver, he's so unique in that regard, and then you put the blocking in there. He's a huge part of what we do offensively. It's more than stats. It's also what the guy brings to the huddle. I think with all these guys, each and every one is so different because of what they bring into the huddle, but Chris is very, very unique."
With limited cap space and a deep wide receiver room, is it possible that a guy as important as Godwin could be a cap casualty? That's unfortunately so, though both Arians and General Manager Jason Licht have expressed their desire to keep Godwin, whom Licht drafted in the third round of the 2017 draft.
The Buccaneers will also have a decision to make on whether to bring Brown back or not. Brown joined the team on a one-year contract following his eight-game suspension imposed by the league last season. Brown caught 45 receptions for 283 yards and scored four touchdowns in the eight games he was active for the Buccaneers in the regular season. He had 81 yards and two touchdowns in three postseason games, missing the NFC Championship with injury. Mickens is also a free agent and proved to be a very viable kick returner, especially in the postseason.
How many of the aforementioned three receivers the Bucs end up retaining will affect again, how aggressive they are for another offensive playmaker in the draft. Tampa Bay's track record with drafting receiver leans more toward the later rounds, save for Licht's first draft pick as general manager, which was Mike Evans at seventh overall in 2014. If the Bucs do decide to add to their embarrassment of riches in the wideout room, it might wait to the later rounds with more pressing needs on the other side of the ball come end of April.