From Billy “White Shoes” Johnson and Michael Irvin to Chad Johnson and Terrell Owens, NFL wide receivers have developed a reputation as prima donnas. Often times their personas off the field over shadow their accomplishments on the field. In the case of Mike Williams, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have had enough of his antics. A six round draft pick is all it took for Tampa Bay to cut ties with one of the most productive NFL wide outs over the last three seasons. Williams has accumulated 23 touchdowns and more than 2700 receiving yards in just 48 games, but that type of production could not mask the off the field turmoil surrounding the former Syracuse receiver. Williams has been exiled to Buffalo and his NFL career hangs in the balance. But for the Buccaneers, this “addition by subtraction” move leaves some mighty big shoes to fill. Who will emerge as 2014’s next man up?
Tight End Timothy Wright: In 2013 Bucs fans saw a breakout season by the rookie out of Rutgers. Wright’s 571 receiving yards and five touchdowns ranked him second on the team in both categories. Based on the sabermetrics, Wright turned in the sixth best TE performance of the 2013 season, and his sheer athleticism could not be over looked. Despite Tampa Bay bringing in free agent Brandon Myers from the New York Giants, Wright’s 2013, coupled with the absence of Williams, should mean an increase in production across the board for the former Scarlet Knight.
Tight End Brandon Myers: Myers burst on scene in 2012 by tallying 806 receiving yards in Oakland. Last season saw a dip in Myers’ receiving yards in New York. However that can mostly be attributed to it being his first year in the system and that 2013 was one of the worst seasons of Eli Manning’s career. Myers is a tough guy Tight End who blocks well and makes the most out of his opportunities to catch the ball. He will likely serve as the security blanket for Josh McCown this season.
Wide Receiver Louis Murphy: The bottom line on Mike Williams is that he got in the end zone. In the NFL, receptions and receiving yards are great, but they are rarely a substitute for finding pay dirt. Murphy, one of the additions this offseason, finds himself in a position to challenge for Williams’ old job opposite Vincent Jackson. The problem is that Murphy has been an ancillary role player at best throughout his NFL career. The knock on Murphy has always been that he doesn’t have great hands and he struggles to create separation coming out of his breaks. Jeff Tedford will have his work cut out if he is to make Murphy in to a suitable replacement for Williams.
Running Back Doug Martin: Obviously this is a list about which pass catchers will help to ease the burden of replacing Mike Williams’ production this season, but Martin just might be the most important cog in this re-tooled Buccaneers offense. No. 22 will see a decrease in carries this season, more because of the other viable options in the Bucs backfield, than a lack of effectiveness. However his responsibility in the pass game is almost sure to increase with Tedford and Lovie Smith at the helm. Martin caught 49 balls for almost 500 yards as a rookie in 2012, and has garnered comparisons to Matt Forte on a regular basis. The Lovie Smith/Matt Forte connection is self explanatory, but look for Martin to demand more pass catching opportunities in the redzone this year.
Wide Receiver Vincent Jackson: It is hard to imagine that V-Jax can be asked to do any more with what has to work with in 2014. Jackson’s 17.4 yards per catch average is the 2nd highest among active players, and he is coming off of his third straight 1000 yard season. For the record, that makes five out of the last six seasons in which Jackson has eclipsed quadruple digits in receiving yards. The former Northern Colorado stand out is a bonafide superstar in today’s NFL, but 2014 could be his best year as a pro. Despite the obvious weaknesses of both Josh McCown and Mike Glennon, Jackson stands to benefit. McCown spent last season developing a sixth sense to know where Brandon Marshall was going to be. The result was that Marshall found the end zone 12 times. McCown would be wise to forge the same bond with Jackson if he wants to remain the starting QB in Tampa Bay. On the flip side of that coin however, if Glennon wins the starting job out of camp, he will do so by showcasing the type of chemistry with Jackson that led to the two hooking up for over 1200 yards and seven touchdowns in 2013. Either way, Jackson will have to be at his absolute best in 2014, as the absence of Williams will only lead to more double teams for V-Jax until a clear No. 2 option is found.
It is hard to argue with the moves Tampa Bay’s front office has made this offseason. However decisions like cutting Williams, though undoubtedly necessary and in the best interests of the organization, make it clear that rebuilding is a process. The 2014 Buccaneers are assuredly trending in a positive direction, but the journey has only begun – and the seas will get rougher before they calm.