As our training camp preview continues, we now turn to the offense. The Bucs have had one of the more prolific offenses in the NFL since Tom Brady arrived two seasons ago.
And that offense just got better with the signing of Julio Jones. Jones has been one of the most prolific receivers in the NFL over the last ten years.
Jones has been injury prone the last few seasons but still managed 82 catches over the previous two seasons.
He has been a thorn in the side of the Buccaneers throughout his career in Atlanta. However, that changes now that he will wear pewter and white.
The Bucs had been looking for someone to replace the production of Rob Gronkowski, and the Bucs feel that Julio Jones can fill those shoes.
Todd Bowles spoke to the media about the signing on Wednesday, the first day of training camp. “Well, he’s still a good football player. We’ve got to replace Gronk’s catches. We’ve got an extra weapon, especially in the red zone and out in the field, and we’re going to put him to use. It gives us a chance to be more creative in some of the things we do, and we’re happy to have him.”
Jones is the NFL’s active receptions leader with 879.
The big issue with Jones is his health. Can he stay healthy? We don’t know the answer to that, but that will go a long way towards determining how successful he will be filling Gronk’s shoes.
When healthy, the Bucs have the best wide receiver trio in the NFL in Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, and Julio Jones.
Evans has already done enough to earn a gold jacket in Canton, while Godwin is a top ten receiver on his own merits and could join Evans in Canton someday.
Godwin suffered a torn MCL and ACL late last season and is working hard to play in the season opener against the Cowboys on September 11th.
The Bucs signed Russell Gage during the off-season as insurance if Godwin is not ready on opening night. Gage has spent his career with the Atlanta Falcons. Last season Gage had 65 catches for 770 yards and four touchdowns in 14 games.
The Buccaneers have plenty of talent behind the big four of Evans, Godwin, Jones, and Gage, but various factors have prevented them from having that breakout season.
Scotty Miller was bit by the injury bug last season and could barely get on the field.
Miller had a good 2020 season when he had 33 catches and was a clutch receiver for Tom Brady, especially in the playoff win in Green Bay.
Tyler Johnson, who was highly touted as a receiver from Minnesota, came to camp out of shape last season and could never get out of Bruce Arian’s doghouse.
He had his chances, but he did not fully take advantage of those opportunities. As a result, Johnson is a receiver that I believe is on the bubble for making this roster.
Jaelon Darden is another of those receivers with all the physical tools needed to be successful. He just needs to put it all together on the field.
As a rookie from North Texas, Darden was given the opportunity to return kicks and punts and was nothing exceptional, averaging 19.9 yards on 18 kickoffs and 7.5 yards on 19 punt returns.
He was pretty much invisible in the passing game catching six passes for 43 yards.
Breshad Perriman is another journeyman receiver who played in six games with the Bucs last season, catching 18 balls for 167 yards and one touchdown. However, I believe he is another receiver on the bubble with the addition of Julio Jones.
Cyril Grayson is a wide receiver to watch. Grayson was a track star in college and never played a down of football before joining the Buccaneers.
His speed from his track days stood out to the Bucs, and they signed him to the practice squad based on his blazing speed. That gamble paid off later in the season when the Bucs receiving corp was hit hard with injuries.
Grayson made some big catches down the stretch. However, none was more significant than the 45-yard TD pass to secure the win over the Jets at Giants Stadium late in the season.
Deven Thompkins is a free agent to keep an eye on. Thompkins is a favorite of head coach Todd Bowles and will be given every opportunity in camp to showcase his talents.
He is a long shot at making the team but will stick around on the practice squad.
Thompkins had 102 catches his senior year at Utah State for 1704 yards and ten touchdowns.
Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, Julio Jones, and Russell Gage are locked into the top four receiver spots. That leaves Tyler Johnson, Scotty Miller, Jaelon Darden, Cyril Grayson, Breshad Perriman, and rookie Deven Thompkins battling for the final two or three spots on the roster.
I think Darden, Grayson, and Miller will make the team, with Thompkins securing a place on the practice squad.