TAMPA, Fla. — When revisiting the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ tight ends and wide receiving corps from last season, the bottom line is simple: Vincent Jackson was good, but there was little else.
Mike Williams? He was placed on injured reserve. Tom Crabtree? The same. Kevin Ogletree? Never panned out. Tiquan Underwood? He was serviceable but not elite. Tim Wright? He was a surprise, but the Bucs needed more like him.
So it should come as little shock that the Bucs were ineffective through the air in 2013. They averaged 176.2 yards passing per game, worst in the league. Paired with an anemic rushing threat, it’s no stunner that points were hard to come by for former coordinator Mike Sullivan’s offense.
Expect new additions to come in the offseason to build around Jackson and Williams as coach Lovie Smith shapes his first Bucs team. New wide receivers coach Andrew Hayes-Stoker likes the mix of young and old within the current corps, which is a start.
"You’ve got guys like Vincent Jackson who are established pros," he said. "Everything I hear about the guy, and from the conversations we’ve had, he’s a great character guy. … Then you have younger guys like Skye Dawson and (Chris) Owusu, guys like that that you are trying to bring along. You get satisfaction out of all those situations."
Here’s a closer look at the Bucs’ tight end and wide receiver situation …
Vincent Jackson, WR — He earned his third consecutive season with at least 1,000 yards receiving, totaling 1,224 with seven touchdowns. Jackson’s 78 catches also were a team-high, and his 159 targets were more than twice anyone else’s figure. There were moments when he made you say "Wow" because of his athleticism, yet there were other times when his lack of breakaway speed showed. Still, for much of the season, Jackson was the Bucs’ only true deep threat.
Mike Williams, WR — He entered training camp on a high point after signing a six-year, $40.25 million extension. But Williams’ season proved short-lived. He was placed on injured reserve in October with a right hamstring ailment that required surgery. His absence hurt Tampa Bay’s ability to stretch defenses as quarterback Mike Glennon acclimated himself to the system. Williams finished with 22 catches for 216 yards and two touchdowns in six games.
A hamstring injury limited Mike Williams to six games in 2013.
Tiquan Underwood, WR — The nomadic Rutgers product had some decent moments for the Bucs. He totaled 24 catches for 440 yards with four touchdowns, his highlight a three-catch, 108-yard effort with two touchdowns in a victory over the Detroit Lions in Week 12. He was never a breakout threat in his seven starts, though.
Tim Wright, TE — He was a converted wide receiver who emerged as one of Tampa Bay’s surest pair of hands. Wright finished with 54 catches for 571 yards with five touchdowns in 16 games. He had obvious chemistry with Glennon, and Wright became one of the quarterback’s most trusted targets late in the season.
Chris Owusu, WR — He was a training camp star who found a home on the roster by a Week 6 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles. He closed with 114 yards on 13 catches in his second year in the league. At 24 years old, he has some promise and could grow into a solid player.
Kevin Ogletree, WR — He was signed in the offseason to be the Bucs’ third wide receiver, but he never filled the role to their liking. He had eight catches for 70 yards in four games with them before he was cut in October. He finished with the Lions and had 13 catches for 199 yards with one touchdown in 12 games in a different jersey.
Skye Dawson, WR — He was promoted from the Bucs’ practice squad in October and finished with two catches for 12 yards.
Tom Crabtree, TE — He had four catches for 21 yards and one touchdown in his first season with the Bucs. He was placed on injured reserve in November with a torn biceps.
POSSIBLE FREE-AGENT TARGETS
There are some intriguing options. It depends how creative the Bucs want to be with their spending. Names like Jeremy Maclin, Darrius Heyward-Bey and Hakeem Nicks could be interesting complements to Jackson and Williams. Kenny Britt and Dexter McCluster are out there too. This is one of the team’s largest offensive needs, so the focus should be heavy.
BEST DRAFT OPTIONS
Like free agency, the draft isn’t short on elite-level talent at wide receiver. Sammy Watkins, Mike Evans, Marqise Lee and Kelvin Benjamin are a few players to watch who should go in the early rounds. Even a prospect like Jared Abbrederis, who might not be snatched off the board until the middle rounds, could be promising. Free agency would be the safer route to take, because the Bucs would secure a known commodity. But there are potential stars and steals in this draft at wide receiver.
The Bucs’ wide receiving corps was thin last season. Jackson carried a load of the production, but there wasn’t much behind him. Sure, Wright turned into a nice surprise, but Tampa Bay needs more sustainable parts here to be a contender within its division and the NFC. Look for free agency and the draft to be crucial times to strengthen the group. Something must happen.