TAMPA, Fla. -- The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are enjoying rare depth at the wide receiver position, creating one of the more intriguing battles of training camp and giving quarterback Jameis Winston options he's never had in the passing game.
Mike Evans was the most targeted receiver in the league last year, with 171 passes thrown his way. While his Pro Bowl talent certainly warranted a lot of attention, it meant defenses would key in on and double-team him because there was no considerable threat on the other side.
That's not ideal for an offense trying to grow under a third-year quarterback, one that's averaged 20-22 points a game in the last two seasons.
Insert DeSean Jackson and all that has changed, with his top-flight speed bringing another dimension to the offense. While Evans' size creates a lot of physical mismatches, Jackson can stretch the field and take the top off of a defense.
"He's a beast," Evans said of Jackson. "He's one of the best deep-ball threats this league has seen. Behind guys like Randy Moss. D-Jack is one of the most explosive players to ever play. He's so small, but he just gets the job done because he beats you down the field."
The respect is mutual.
"He's definitely a physical receiver," Jackson said of Evans. "He is big, huge guy so he is able to go up and make some crazy plays."
Rookie Chris Godwin, a third-round draft pick out of Penn State, gives them another option on the outside. He's got soft hands and, like Evans, has the leaping ability and body control to win in jump-ball situations. He's been one of the most consistent performers in camp.
"I've watched him a little bit at Penn State -- a good deep-ball threat," Evans said. "He's bigger than people think; he's close to my height. He's a big guy, he can catch the ball real well, and he's smooth in his route running. [Wide receivers] Coach [Todd] Monken is going to just enhance his game and take it to the next level."
Added Winston: "The sky is the limit for Chris Godwin. He is a great player."
Donteea Dye has also been impressing on the outside during camp. He continues to play with more confidence after being pressed into action for 10 games last season, including five starts. Like Godwin, he gets a lot of work in with the second-team offense but has also worked with the first team. What separates him is his speed -- he said he's been clocked as fast as 4.2 seconds in the 40-yard dash.
Slot receiver Adam Humphries, who primarily lines up in the slot, has been one of the most consistent performers in camp. He played in 15 games last year, with five starts. He can contribute in the short to intermediate passing game but also downfield, as he made one of the more impressive catches in camp on a deep ball from Winston.
"[He's] solid," Bucs head coach Dirk Koetter said. "Everyone tries to beat Adam down, [saying] 'He's not a quality player.' Adam's been a quality player since he got here and continues to be. He's a little bit underappreciated, maybe. That guy's a good football player."
Josh Huff is also in the mix, as is Bernard Reedy. Both can also contribute in the return game on special teams. Huff has 51 games under his belt, including six career starts. There's also Freddie Martino, who played in 13 games last year and caught a touchdown pass in Week 10.
Having more depth at receiver won't just increase the level of competition and spread the wealth -- it will give the Bucs added formation flexibility. They ran just seven plays last year in four-receiver sets – 24th in the league. It happened just twice in 2015.
While that’s certainly no measuring stick to the success of an NFL offense -- although the Green Bay Packers and Arizona Cardinals have used it with much success in recent years -- it's still a lesser-used personnel grouping for most teams. However, a creative play-caller such as Koetter might appreciate the flexibility to do it.
Koetter seldom used that personnel grouping in his first two years with the Atlanta Falcons, and used it the fewest of any offensive coordinator in the league in his five seasons with the Jacksonville Jaguars. However, he used it 116 times in 2014, second-most in the league. Four receivers gained more than 500 yards that year. That might have had something to do with the retirement of Tony Gonzalez and the arrival of Devin Hester, and the fact that the Falcons' ground game wasn’t thriving with Steven Jackson (3.7-yard average per rush).
Imagine if the "run-first" Bucs went five-wide with an empty backfield -- that's a look they haven't shown since 2007. What if they utilized a combination of their three-best wideouts and what's shaping up to be an outstanding duo of tight ends in Cameron Brate and O.J. Howard? They've run that formation four times since 2008.
Bottom line: Having more quality options can only help the Bucs' passing game.