The Wideout Race: Lesser Known Commodities

As the latest phase of the offseason comes to a close, accurate evaluations of possible playmakers for the Bucs 2014 Season remain fairly difficult. The flag football section of the offseason provided an early glimpse of some of the names that might be making impressive touchdowns when the time finally comes. The Bucs preseason opener against the Jaguars on Friday, August 8th is now less than two months away.

Preseason may be where everything is made up and the points don’t matter, but it provides a true preview of the players and style of play that can be expected a month later. Training camp is still roughly a month away, but some speculation can be juiced out of the bits and pieces we’ve already seen.

Offensive Coordinator Jeff Tedford is keeping his offense fairly under wraps. The biggest glimpse we’ve gotten is a vague comment from QB Josh McCown: “You come in and bring some plays and you lay them in front of you and you go ‘Okay, I’ve not seen that in a while’ or ‘I haven’t seen that yet at all’. You know this is different, nobody in the NFL may be doing that.” McCown’s words offered food for thought, but not more than a crumb’s worth.

Clearly, Tedford has a massive toy box of weapons to choose from. As training camp (and eventually preseason) progresses, some of those weapons will fall by the wayside en route to the final roster. While the fights at tight end and running back have been well documented, wide receiver seems like a fairly open contest at this point. Evans and Jackson have one and two on lock. Late pick Robert Herron will be making waves in both the offensive and special teams arenas. Holdover Chris Owasu has a chance to vie for a spot as well. However, not much about the wideout race seems concrete.

Among the several other wide receivers vying for a spot, three of these newly-acquired, lesser-known names stuck out to me as key possibilities. So far, all have been drawing looks in the offseason, and each came to the Bucs through a very different path.

Solomon Patton, Undrafted Free Agent, University of Florida

Compared to some of our massive standouts at wideout and tight end, Patton initially sticks out as being… pretty small. At 5’ 8’’ and 179 lbs, Patton drew worries coming into the draft due to his size. One of his biggest weaknesses appeared to be his ability, or lack thereof, to block for the run. To be fair, this is not at all what Patton is built for.

As a Florida Gator, Patton was the obvious number one receiver in his senior year. Clearly a threat in the red zone, Patton’s six touchdowns accounted for over half of the Gator’s receiving touchdowns in the 2013 season. Meanwhile, no other University of Florida receiver finished the season with more than one. Compared to many of the early round standouts, Patton’s numbers aren’t massive.

Patton’s 556 yards for the 2013 season are just ahead of Florida’s number two, Quinton Dunbar, who piled up 548 for the season. What’s perhaps most telling, though, is that Dunbar had only a single touchdown in the year. In a Gator offense that relied heavily on the run game, Patton was relied on for key receiving touchdowns. His ability to finish plays and get key yards made him the definite standout there. Watching film, he also displays an impressive ability to fight for the ball. Patton consistently made tough catches that others might not have managed.

The other major strength for Patton is his return game. Patton’s 27.7 yard career average on kickoff returns set a school record. In his senior year, Patton had 22 kickoff returns for a total of 642 yards (29.2 avg), putting him 7th nationally. On top of solid numbers, Patton had an impressive 100-yard kickoff return for a touchdown to open the second half of Florida’s game against Missouri.

Overall, Patton has a definite opportunity to earn himself a spot on the final roster. Patton’s college highlights are hindered by the fact that he finished his time on an extremely lackluster Florida team that relied on a versatile run game to limp to a 4-8 season. Patton’s speed, accented by his time as a track star in high school, coupled with his ability to fight for tough catches will help him in both the receiving and return game.

Patton’s biggest obstacle may be our sixth round pick Robert Herron. Herron has already been making a name for himself in the same way Patton will need to. In order to make his mark and find a way to the final roster, Patton will need to make himself stand out from Herron and others in comparison. With the right consistency, Patton has a solid shot to be a Buccaneer come the regular season.

Tommy Streeter, Two Years in the NFL, University of Miami

Twenty-five year old Tommy Streeter is technically a two-year veteran, but only in that he entered the league via the 2012 NFL draft. After an impressive junior year as a Miami Hurricane, Streeter chose to forego his senior year and enter the 2012 draft. All signs pointed to him being a valuable pick coming into the draft.

Streeter has all the physical attributes and makes sense when they’re compared to the kind of receivers we have leading the corps. Streeter towers like Evans and Jackson, being 6’ 5’’ and 219 lbs. Streeter also came out of the NFL combine with a head-turning 4.40 time for the 40-yard dash. In comparison, Vincent Jackson ran a 4.46 at his combine, Robert Herron ran a 4.48, and Mike Evans a 4.53. Combine this with Streeter’s 811 receiving yards in his junior season that ended in 8 touchdowns, and Streeter’s upsides seem clear.

This was exactly what the Baltimore Ravens saw when they went after him in the 2012 Draft. The Ravens clearly saw some downside too, otherwise Streeter wouldn’t have slid all the way to the sixth round. Streeter’s raw talent and resume were impressive, but his consistency wasn’t there and routes tended to be sloppy. His technique was just as lackluster. Most of his highlights are a product of him utilizing his size at the right opportunity. Otherwise, there wasn’t much upside in anything I saw.

After being drafted by the Ravens, Streeter’s combine speed didn’t translate onto the field as they had hoped. He looked largely slow and sloppy, not at all the ‘speed-demon’ his combine speed indicated. Streeter suffered a foot injury during the Raven’s third preseason game and was subsequently placed on injured reserve. He remained there until healing and left just enough of an impression to be waived by the Ravens and dropped before the next season began. Streeter found himself on the Buccaneers practice squad in September of 2013, but didn’t have the time or the opportunity to make it count last year.

Two years into the league, Streeter is without a single regular season snap. In order to change that, his level of commitment and play will have to make a dramatic turn. The choice to pick up Streeter for the offseason makes sense, as his size will help depth in training. If Glennon can throw well to Streeter, he can absolutely throw well to Evans and Jackson. Unfortunately, I see very little chance for Streeter to make it to the final roster. Unless he spent the last year becoming the football player everyone thought he could be, his chances are slim.

Louis Murphy, Five Year Veteran, University of Florida

To be fair, Louis Murphy is the most well-known commodity of these three. Murphy has received buzz over the last few weeks from Pewter Report and Tampa Bay Times, among others. While his play has been mixed, one of the biggest things Murphy has going for him is his league experience. Over the last several years, Murphy has amassed regular season playing time with the Oakland Raiders, Carolina Panthers, and most recently, the New York Giants.

Murphy carved out his college time as a Florida Gator. Murphy boasted the most receiving yards on the team in his final season, but did so with very interesting company in hindsight. In Murphy’s senior season, he was a significant piece to the puzzle that garnered the Gators a National Championship that season. Second in command to Murphy in the receiving corps with only 11 less receiving yards and the same amount of touchdowns was Junior Percy Harvin. The same Super Bowl Champion Percy Harvin who returned the second half kickoff of last year’s Super Bowl for a touchdown.

The man consistently delivering the ball to Murphy was former SportsCenter Hype Hall of Famer Tim Tebow. Interestingly, the third string quarterback that year at Florida happened to be current Carolina Panther Cam Newton, who later transferred to Auburn with perfect timing for his own National Championship. Murphy also played alongside current Bucs running back and Olympic Silver Medalist Jeff Demps. The receiving corps also had current Eagles wide receiver Riley Cooper, and even former Patriots tight end turned alleged murderer Aaron Hernandez.

One thing is certain, Murphy is no stranger to talented teammates or success. Unfortunately, Murphy was picked up in the fourth round of the 2009 NFL draft by the Oakland Raiders. Murphy showed solid production early on, but he ultimately had to face the fact that he played for the Oakland Raiders. In 2012, Murphy went to the Carolina Panthers and played a solid season. His numbers weren’t spectacular, but he remained fairly consistent as an option. Most recently, Murphy spent the 2013 season with the New York Giants. Murphy played 14 of 16 games for the season, but he only recorded six receptions while witnessing the fall of Eli Manning.

Since being signed by the Bucs on March 26th, Murphy has turned heads and made his desire to be here very clear. Murphy attended Lakewood High School in St. Petersburg and has said himself that he is a longtime Bucs fan. Murphy summed things up nicely in claiming this opportunity was most simply “a dream come true.” A tough start to his journey in the NFL has finally landed him back home, putting him closer to his charity work as well.

On the field, Murphy may not have the height of the “Twin Towers,” but his 6’ 2’’ frame boasts impressive speed. Back at his combine, Murphy clocked a 4.32 in the 40 yard dash, just behind Demps’ 4.26 time. Murphy is confident in his speed, even boasting during a radio interview in late April that he could beat Jeff Demps in a race. Murphy’s speed, use of his arms to draw separation in plays, and ability to make tough catches are his major strengths.

Murphy’s technique needs cleaned up, and he needs to gain some aggressiveness and physicality in his play, especially when blocking. His flaws are there, but they are very coachable. With Murphy’s desire and appreciation for where he is, I believe he’ll be plenty willing and motivated to get even better than he already is. Freshly drafted wide receiver Robert Herron will be competition for Murphy, but may end up largely relegated to special teams by the time the season begins. Unless Chris Owasu steps up, and fast, Murphy has a very good chance of earning a spot as the third option in Tedford’s offense.

Training camp hasn’t even arrived, and the race to solidify a spot at wide receiver is heating up. Many of the lower-tier players will have to show their usefulness in the return game to help hold a spot. Much of this will eventually depend on just how each player fits in Jeff Tedford’s Mystery Offense Extravaganza. The intrigue at tight end and running back will play an equal part. If players like Charles Sims show enough of a threat in the passing game, some of the less impressive wideout options could be pushed out of a roster spot. Just the same, if some of our options at tight end show enough blocking ability, the less impressive blocking wideouts might lose out.

There is some speculation that Mike Glennon might be our starter early or midway through the season. While I appreciate the faith in Glennon, something that I’ve had since he started last season, I think it makes little sense. Barring disaster, I think Glennon will spend the year honing his skills behind the superior Josh McCown. McCown’s chemistry with these receiving options will play a part in things, but I think it’ll end up having more to do with Tedford than McCown. So for right now, everything’s made up and the points don’t matter. Any number of variables could change in the coming weeks, but given the snippets we’ve heard and crumbs we’ve caught so far, I think the wide receiver depth chart will look a little something like this in the regular season.

Buccaneers Wide Receivers

1. Vincent Jackson
2. Mike Evans
3. Louis Murphy
4. Robert Herron
5. Solomon Patton
6a. Chris Owasu
6b. Charles Sims