Yardbarker Horiz

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Replacing Antonio Bryant

Antionio Bryant became an Unrestricted Free Agent on March 5th, 2010.  Five days later he signed with the Cincinnati Bengals.  He takes two years of experience, 122 catches, and 1848 recieving yards with him.  Even hobbled by injury for a good part of 2009, Bryant still contributed 600 yards to the Tampa Bay offense. While he was the #1 wide receiver, he was not #1 in production in the passing game during the 2009 season -- that honor goes to tight end Kellen Winslow.

Offensive Coordinator Greg Olsen showed late last year that the Buccaneers will utilize a base package consisting of the quarterback, one fullback, one halfback, two tackles, two guards, a center, one tight end and two receivers.  The fullback position transitions in and out for an extra tight end as a jumbo package or for an extra wide receiver as a 3-wide package.  Expecting this package to carry over to 2010 means Tampa Bay needs two starting wide recievers, a productive third, and enough depth to overcome injuries.  Antonio Bryant was one of those starting wide receivers in 2009.

How will the Buccaneers replace him? 

With Existing players?

The only wide receivers to catch a pass in each game last year were Sammie Stroughter and Maurice Stoval.  Three of the wide recievers currenly on the Buccaneers roster did not catch a single pass in 2009.

Maurice Stovall is currently a restricted free agent with a 3rd round tender, meaning a team would have to give up a pick in that round of the draft this year to get his services.  He is coming off his best year of NFL football with 24 catches for 366 yards.  In two of the three games Bryant missed in 2009, Stovall started in his place (against Green Bay and Miami) while the third game started with a two tight end set.  Stovall will likely enter the preseason as the favorite to take over Bryant's starting position.

Sammie Stroughter, a 7th round pick of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the 2009 NFL draft, had a phenomenal first year in the NFL considering his draft position.  He finished 2009 as the #16 rookie WR by yards and tied for #15 by number of catches.  For comparison, Percy Harvin (MIN) and Jeremy Maclin (PHI) had 55+ catches and 700+ yards.  The top rookie wide receiver in 2009 was 4th rounder Austin Collie (IND); Maclin and Harvin were 1st rounders.  Brian Hartline had 31 catches (tied with Stroughter in the rookie rankings) for 506 yards (no TDs) as a 4th Round pick of the Dolphins.  Stroughter's year also stands out stubstantially against the season of the other 7th round recievers:
#15, #224, Demetrius Byrd (SD), no regualr season stats
#20, #229, Manuel Johnson (DAL), no regular season stats
#24, #233, Sammie Stroughter (TB), 31Receptions for 334 Yards
#28, #237, Jake O'Connell (KC),  2 Receptions for 7 Yards
#34, #243, Marko Mitchell (WAS), 4 Receptions for 32 Yards
#42, #251, Derek Kinder (CHI), preseason cut
#43, #252, Freddie Brown (CIN), no regular season stats
#44, #253, Tiquan Underwood (JAX), no regular season stats
The Buccaneers know they got a player with talent much higher than his draft placement.  Stroughter should be a key piece in the replacement of Antonio Bryant.

Micheal Clayton was not able to take a big step forward for the Buccaneers passing game last season.  Clayton caught 16 passes for 230 yards in 2009, both career lows.  It is not clear if Clayton will be the player to make up for the loss of Bryant, but one thing is certain:  Clayton is now the most experienced player among the Tampa Bay wide receivers.  He truly needs to make his mark this year by becoming a consistant player on the starting unit.  This could be his final year to get things figured out.

Mark Bradley was a 2009 waiver pickup from the Kansas City Chiefs.  While he did not see any game action for the Buccaneers in 2009 he did produce 54 receptions and 700 yards in two years for the Chiefs.  Although he is a virtual unknown to Buccaneers fans, the team obviously thought enough about him to claim him from waivers so I expect he will be called on to produce during the 2010 season.  Physically, Bradley (6'1", 201lbs) is a clone of Antonio Bryant (6'1", 205lbs).

Terrance Nunn (2nd year) was picked up on November 24, 2009, after being waived by the New England Patriots.  He has seen preseason action but no regular season action.  That could certainly change in 2010.

Micheal Spurlock is known to Tampa Bay fans as the player who first returned a kickoff for a touchdown for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.  While he is an outstanding return man he has not been a very productive player with high water marks of 4 receptions for 31 yards for the Arizona Cardinals in 2006.  He was signed to the roster when Clifton Smith (also an excellent kick returner) went onto IR in 2009.  What is noteable about Spurlock is that Smith has returned to the roster but Spurlock has remained.

Mario Urrita, a 6' 6" 2nd year player with big upside, spent the 2009 season on the practice squad and remains an unknown quantity.  It is not a stretch to say this is a pivotal year for the youngster's career.

Through Free Agency?
Antonio Bryant was the 2nd highest paid wide reciever in the NFL last year (behind Randy Moss in New England).  His 600 total yards placed him 66th among wide receivers in the NFL in 2009.

During free agency the Tampa Bay Buccaneers sent a 2011 draft pick to Philadelphia for wide receiver Reggie Brown.  During the 2006 season, Brown caught 46 pases for 816 yards and 8 touchdowns, his high water mark since entering the league in 2005.  Last year in a diminished role he caught nine passes for 155 yards.

The Buccaneers have stated they will not be big participants in the free agent market in 2010 so I do not believe a replacement for Antonio Bryant will come from free agency.

Through the Draft?
The wide receiver crop in the draft this year seems very typical.  The question is:  What priority does the Buccaneers front office put on this position?  Coach Raheem Morris has stated, and backed up, the intent to be a power running team.  The fact is the offense returns Freeman, Williams, Trueblood, Joseph, Faine, Zuttah, Penn, and Winslow as incumbent starters for the 2010 season.  Wide reciever appears to be the only position of flux on the offensive side of the ball this offseason, so from that perspective it appears wide receiver is a priority.  However, is it a bigger priority than the needs on the defensive side of the ball?  The early picks will most likely be on the defensive side of the ball as it seems that unit needs more help (last in the NFL against the run in 2009, for starters).  Will there be starting talent capable of contributing this season from the mid- to late-round picks this season?

I do expect the Buccaneers to pick at least one wide reciever during the 2010 draft.  We'll certainly revisit this topic once we see who the player or players chosen in April are and what they bring to the table.  For now, however, it does not appear the draft will replace Antonio Bryant.

Certainly replacing Antonio Bryant is important for the long term success of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.  A case could be made for the starting pair of Stovall and Clayton with Stroughter as the slot when three wideouts are needed.  But there are questions regarding depth.  Unfortunately, we fans will only get pieces of the answer to look at between now and the preseason.  Once the players get into camp we'll know if there is any measurable loss with Bryant leaving.  At this point, I'm not sure we'll find a gap worth measuring.

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