With training camp coming fast, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers will have a big competition on the offensive side of the ball. The competition is going to take place in the slot. Who will be the Bucs starting slot receiver? They have Mike Evans and Vincent Jackson set at the one and two spots. Last year, they had Louis Murphy Jr in the slot, but he suffered a gruesome knee injury that ended his season and Kenny Bell was out for the season before the regular season started with a hamstring problem, which he was supposed to be the fourth receiver. They were relying on rookies like Adam Humphries, Donteea Dye, and veteran Russell Shepard. They were all rotating left and right, but it was not good enough when Vincent Jackson went down.
Now, those three journeymen combined for 41 catches for 420 yards and they all found the end zone three times. That is not bad production from a bunch of rookies and one veteran who barely sees time on offense, but it was not good enough to help move the chains when needed. They will be solid backups, but two might be departed when training camp is all said and done. Dye is interesting due to his speed, but that is about it. Humphries is a good chain mover and has value as a return man, if called upon. Russell Shepard has the most value of the three because I think he can produce the same numbers as Dye and Humphries, plus he is the special team’s leader and star. He is our Matthew Slater, who is a star for New England on special teams.
Next, I think Kenny Bell can be a solid slot receiver for us. He has looked good in OTAs and has connected with Winston well. Bell is a sharp route runner with speed to run deep on occasions. The Bucs run the ball a lot and need solid blockers to block on the outside and Kenny Bell can do just that, as the offense at Nebraska was a run heavy, throw later type. Afro Thunder (Bell’s nickname) is the future on the Bucs receiver corps alongside Mike Evans. He has value as a return man too.
In addition, Louis Murphy Jr will start camp out as the starting slot receiver, but I do think Kenny Bell will steal the job from him. Murphy only had caught 10 passes for 198 yards in 6 games (one start) before getting hurt. He has experience, which is an advantage point over Bell. The local kid had a really good 2014 campaign where he was picked up off the streets and produced well in 11 games. In those 11 games, he caught 31 balls for 380 yards and out of those 31 catches, he scored twice. Murphy could do some returning, but it is not his thing anymore, plus he is a major deep threat, but has improved since joining the Bucs on his short game.
Meanwhile, names will be cut during and after camp. One name that could be cut could be Harry Douglas. The 31-year-old receiver could be a cap casualty, as the Titans have young receivers that are ready to explode into young stars. The Titans can save $3 mil and a roster spot for a younger player at that position or for another position. Douglas would reunite with his former Falcons’ offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter. In 2013, Koetter got the ball to Douglas and it allowed him to have a breakout season where he picked up more than 1,000 yards and caught 85 passes for two scores in 16 games (11 starts). If Douglas gets cut and signs with Tampa, he would be the favorite to win the job and I would pick him to do so. He finished last year with 36 passes for 411 yards (11.4 yards per catch) and scoring twice. Interestingly, Harry Douglas is a Tampa native.
Finally, signing Anquan Boldin would be a tremendous addition, but he has not caught onto a team as his speed diminished, but Boldin has great hands and is durable. He is a great player to have in the locker room. Boldin had a really good year for the 49ers, which they had a horrible season. Boldin recorded 69 passes for 789 yards, which he scored 4 times and averaged 11.4 yards per catch. If Boldin came to the Bucs, they could potentially have three receivers reach 1,000 plus yards in a single season, which that has only been accomplished five times in the NFL (Chargers, Redskins, Falcons, Colts, Cardinals). This could be the FSU product’s final year in the NFL (35 years old).