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Explosive receiver Jalen McMillan could fire some cannons as Bucs rookie

TAMPA — Jalen McMillan sees himself as an entertainer. Whether he does it physically or aesthetically — he was one of the smoothest route runners at receiver in the draft — he very easily could make the biggest impact of any rookie for the Bucs this fall.

He definitely plans to have the most fun.

“I love it. I feel like I’ve been doing that my whole life, just playing up and having to meet expectations,” McMillan said Friday during rookie minicamp. “I’m excited to put on a show for y’all.”

The Washington receiver would probably not have sunk to the third round had he not sprained the medial collateral ligament in his knee early in the season and missed four games.

When healthy, McMillan led the Huskies with 79 receptions for 1,098 yards (13.9 average) and nine touchdowns in 2022.

McMillan’s last three contests at Washington are a testament to the bigger the game, the better he played.

In the Pac-12 championship game against Oregon, he had nine catches for 131 yards. In the national semifinal, he added five receptions for 58 yards and a touchdown in a win over Texas. Then in the national championship, McMillan had six catches for 33 yards but scored the Huskies’ only touchdown in a 34-13 loss to Michigan.

All this while playing in the shadow of two more highly-drafted receivers: Rome Odunze, who went ninth overall to the Bears, and Ja’Lynn Polk, who went in the second round to the Patriots.

“(Polk) kind of emphasized that to me, to always be ready,” McMillan said. “I was rushing back from the injury and reaggravating it, so he told me to take time off and take care of the knee for a stretch and I really emphasized that. Reading the Bible and praying about it. Just me being able to do that, that was something I manifested.”

Bucs assistant general manager John Spytek said coaches at Washington believed McMillan was capable of playing close to the same level as Odunze and Polk when healthy.

“When you talk to the people in that building, they had a high level of respect for Jalen and thought that he was really similar and close to the level of player that both Rome and the other Ja’Lynn were,” Spytek said.

McMillan will be in a similar situation with the Bucs as he was with the Huskies, playing with more decorated receivers such as Mike Evans and Chris Godwin. New offensive coordinator Liam Coen plans to use McMillan both in the slot and outside.

“He definitely can line up outside, he can spell Mike at X,” Spytek said. “He can run a lot of the routes that we ask for in the slot to spell Chris. We’ll see, we’ll get him in here to compete.

“A lot of times I think that guy can be forgotten about, but his athleticism, the way he naturally runs routes, he plays like the game makes sense to him. There’s a smoothness and easiness to his game that you really appreciate.”

At 6-foot-1, 192 pounds and capable of adding more weight, McMillan should be another big target for quarterback Baker Mayfield. He spoke to both Mayfield and Evans following the draft.

“He told me to get into the playbook and work hard,” McMillan said of Evans. “He really didn’t preach nothing. I kind of know the ropes and understand what I’ve got to do to maintain this level.

“It was dope. We all share the same qualities. We’re all hungry and we’re all ready to go.”

Friday was McMillan’s first time on the field for the Bucs. True to his promise, he ran a deep crossing route during an 11-on-11 period and got open for a pass from Florida A&M tryout quarterback Jeremy Moussa.

“He’s in very good shape. Very athletic guy,” coach Todd Bowles said. “He came in in shape running, so it will be great to see how well he learns the scheme and how fast.”

The Bucs don’t have a lot of proven depth at receiver. Trey Palmer, a sixth-round pick out of Nebraska last season, can run and had a big play or two. Third-year pro Deven Thompkins made more of a mark as a kick returner.

Of course, Bowles knows that how quickly McMillan is able to digest the offense will determine his playing time.

“Physically he can step in and play football but there’s a lot more to the game than that,” Bowles said.

Perhaps, but McMillan says his goal is to entertain. It was that way among the receivers at Washington and he believes he can make a few cannons fire at Raymond James Stadium.

“Throughout Washington, the whole standard in the room was to make the stadium go boom!” McMillan said. “I mean, people come into the stadium with expectations and you’re supposed to meet them and let their expectations soar. So every time we focus on that, whether it’s me or my teammate, that’s just the goal.”

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