With one regular season game left, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have found themselves with their top two targeted receivers out of the lineup for the rest of the season. Needing bottom of the depth chart receivers to step up isn’t new, last year two of the biggest catches during the postseason were from Scotty Miller and Tyler Johnson. With those guys still in the roster and more gems found, the question mark at receiver is so big. Here’s the rundown of the guys Tom Brady will be throwing too.
This scenario encapsulates Mike Evans’ career perfectly. No matter how much stuff seems to be going on around him, he is always a reliable receiver who will always be there. Going into the last game of the regular season, Mike Evans is 54 receiving yards short of his EIGHTH straight 1000 yard season. Evans is a 6’5 jump ball receiver who specializes in red zone targets. Evans when playing against zone is spectacular at finding soft spots in zones and boxing out defenders. When matching up against man, he’s a jump ball specialist who can be a reliable option on any critical down.
Tyler Johnson flew under the radar all of last year to the naked eye, but the plays he made were nothing short of incredible. Last year, in the divisional round he made a spectacular catch on 3rd and 11 that sparked a run and drove the Buccaneers past their division rival. Johnson’s season hasn’t been amazing with just over 300 yards but, he hasn’t ever been given the role he will have now.
Johnson’s role has completely flipped throughout the season. In the first three quarters of the season, he was primarily lined up out wide when he was on the field. Ever since the Godwin injury, he has seen most of his snaps in the slot. Johnson isn’t the fastest guy, but he shows remarkable body control, ball skills and physicality that could be extremely useful in the “Godwin” role. Johnson is still a question mark, but we have seen Brady make more with less.
In 2019, Breshad Perriman was forced to step into the starting role as injuries plagued the receiver room. That stretch of five games was electric, as he averaged over 100 yards a game and had 5 touchdowns. Perriman was once again thrown into the spotlight this year when he caught the game winning 58 yard touchdown againstthe Bills. This play was improbable on so many levels, not only was he buried in the depth chart, but he was only on the roster due to Covid-19 concerns. Perriman has blazing 4.3 speed and size to go along with that, although his route running is still raw and can struggle with drop issues. There is no doubt that Perriman will be a part of the future game plans, it’s just a question of if he can play well consistently.
We are currently in the midst of an incredible and improbable breakout. Cyril Grayson never played a single snap of college football before stepping into the NFL, and here he is tearing the league up. Grayson is a track guy and has taken over Scotty Millers role as the speedy deep threat. In the last two weeks, Grayson has 9 of his 11 career receptions and has shown some good traits. The role that Grayson will have to step up into is huge and will definitely be challenging.
Since coming back from injury, Miller hasn’t been a part of any game plan even with all the injuries. The week between the Saints game and Panthers game, something changed. Against the Saints, he played 78% of offensive snaps; one week later, he only logged 3 snaps. Grayson has taken over his role and is not looking back. Miller still will hit the field and will probably bring in a couple catches every game, but he’s going to have to take advantage of every opportunity given to him.
How Does This Change The Approach
Defenses will change their approach with the diminishing receiver core. I expect defenses to play more quarters and allow underneath routes, knowing the Buccaneers don’t have a run after catch freak in the slot. Defenses will trust their linebacker versus a guy like Tyler Johnson underneath. When Godwin was in the slot, we saw a lot of bracketing, and it worked. The Saints did this flawlessly, and the Buccaneers couldn’t work inside the hashes and generate electric run after catch opportunities.
The play calling approach will change, and it could provide a spark. The offense might have a new verticality dimension when you take into account Perriman, Grayson and Millers speed. Bruce Arians and Byron Leftwich will probably manage first and second downs instead of taking shots. Brady has been in this position before. In Superbowl LII, Brady had over 500 yards of offense without his top two receivers.
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