The Bucs were already faced with some tough decisions at receiver heading into training camp and so far, Jaydon Mickens has done nothing to make things any easier.
Mickens was last year’s kick returner until he landed on the Reserve/COVID-19 List during Week 10. He regained his spot once Kenjon Barner was placed on injured reserve after Week 16. Mickens finished the year with 24.3 yards per kick return and 6.2 yards per punt return.
The fifth-year receiver didn’t get much exposure on offense. The Bucs had Mickens play just 7% of offensive snaps in 2020. As a result, he finished with seven receptions for 58 yards on 10 targets. To his credit, six of those seven receptions went for first downs. So, he made the most out of his involvement. But regardless of the situation, he has to show his worth at receiver if he wants to make the final roster.
The Bucs re-signed Mickens earlier this offseason, but his job as the team’s kick returner is far from safe. The Bucs drafted Jaelon Darden in the fourth round of the 2021 NFL Draft, and he returned kicks in college. Mickens is also in the middle of some legal trouble, where he faces two misdemeanor gun charges. Therefore, for Mickens, it’s imperative that he show the Bucs improvement -and a lot of it- at receiver during training camp.
“He just gets better every day, more understanding,” Bruce Arians told reporters after Friday’s practice. “He’s never played that position. He’s never had that much volume of information. Plus all the sight adjustments, everything that goes with it. But when he knows what he’s doing, he plays really fast.”
Arians also confirmed Friday that Mickens will have a role on special teams.
“I would say for sure. He’ll have a role for sure.”
Right now, things are lining up for Mickens, but there is still a long way to go. The Bucs are fortunate to have so many hard decisions to make when it comes to determining the bottom of the wide receiver room. Even the players have taken notice in terms of the competition surrounding the final two or three spots.
“This is the best receiver group I’ve been around from top to bottom,” Mike Evans said after Saturday’s practice. “Some of the guys that don’t make it on this team I’m pretty sure they’ll be somewhere else. I’m having a blast trying to help these young guys get their foot in this game and try to teach them some things that will help them in their careers.”
“We just know that we have ballers all over the place and anybody can make a play at any moment,” Tyler Johnson told reporters after a recent practice. “I’m just happy to be in the same position group with these guys and I love the grind with them as well.”
This is a good problem to have and this is actually what you want to hear each year. Even if it means a certain someone -or certain someones- won’t be on the final 53-man roster heading into the regular season.
But right now, that doesn’t seem to be the case for Mickens. As long as he continues to make life harder for the Bucs coaches (in terms of evaluating the roster), then the easier he makes it for himself to end up on the final roster.