Mike Williams trade pushes WR to the top of Tampa Bay's 2014 NFL draft board
Even before trading WR Mike Williams to Buffalo for a sixth-round pick Friday, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers figured to consider drafting at receiver at No. 7 overall if one of the top two options -- Sammy Watkins and Mike Evans -- happened to be on the board.
Now, Tampa Bay is an obvious landing spot for either player, with the Williams trade leaving Vincent Jackson and a whole bunch of nothing on the receiver depth chart.
With Williams missing much of 2013 with a hamstring injury, the Buccaneers struggled to find any wideout capable of supporting Jackson. Finishing with the second-most catches on the team behind Jackson's 78 was surprising contributor Tim Wright, a tight end who played heavily out of the slot. Tiquan Underwood, now a member of the Panthers, was next on the list with 24 receptions; the options remaining on the roster (Chris Owusu, Skye Dawson, Eric Page, Russell Shepard, Tommy Streeter and Louis Murphy) had 25 grabs combined, with Murphy's six coming for the Giants.
We're deep into free agency at this point, leaving little in the way of impact players on the market. So, all the signs definitely point toward the Buccaneers heavily considering drafting a receiver in the top 10.
How would that impact what happens both above and below them at No. 7?
Well, the ideal for them might be how Doug Farrar's latest mock draft played out. He had two QBs (Johnny Manziel and Blake Bortles) and two OTs (Jake Matthews and Greg Robinson) in the top four, followed by Jadeveon Clowney and Anthony Barr. That scenario obviously leaves both Watkins and Evans out there for the taking at the seven spot.
Another option, from the last mock posted by yours truly: Watkins is no longer there when Tampa Bay goes on the clock (I have Oakland nabbing him at No. 5), but Evans and the rest of the receiver class remained -- Bortles, Clowney, Teddy Bridgewater, Robinson and Khalil Mack joined Watkins as top-six picks. When that mock ran on March 28, I had the Buccaneers picking TE Eric Ebron for similar reasons -- namely, that they badly need another dangerous vertical threat in their offense.
How far out of their way would the Buccaneers go to find someone who fits that description in Round 1? Let's just assume that Watkins is selected somewhere between picks one through five. At least one of the teams in position rather directly below Tampa Bay, Detroit, could have its eye on Watkins or Evans. The Giants (pick 12), Rams (picks 2 and 13), Steelers (pick 15) and several others might be willing to aggressively chase one of that duo, as well. Buffalo may have moved itself out of the mix by adding Williams, though a TE certainly could be in play for the Bills with the ninth pick.
So, the decision Tampa Bay may face is if it wants to gamble on Watkins/Evans still being around at No. 7, or if it needs to move up to secure one.
As has been much discussed by now, the 2014 draft class includes a loaded group of receivers. Tampa Bay now has six draft choices, counting the sixth-rounder just added from Buffalo, so the Bucs theoretically could wait and hit that position in Round 2 or 3. Heck, they could even use multiple mid-round choices on receiver, rather than going all-out for the "elite" guys.