Time is now for Bucs to find successors to Mike Evans, Chris Godwin

TAMPA — When Mike Evans arrived as a fresh-faced, first-round pick of the Bucs in 2014, Vincent Jackson was 31 years old.

Jackson would enjoy his fourth consecutive 1,000-yard season and his sixth in seven years.

To this day, Evans credits a big part of development to the mentoring he received from Jackson.

Flash forward a decade and it’s Evans who will be 31 by the start of training camp. He signed a two-year contract worth $41 million in March. His receiving mate, Chris Godwin, is 28 and in the final year of his contract.

When will the Bucs draft their next tandem of Pro Bowl receivers?

Sure, the Bucs have Trey Palmer, but he was a sixth-round pick from Nebraska last season who contributed only 39 receptions for 385 yards and three touchdowns. Third-year receiver Deven Thompkins has been used primarily as a kick returner and has only 22 receptions for 115 yards and one TD the past two seasons.

Both Evans and Godwin have a lot to contribute in terms of setting an example for a young receiver.

In a pass-first league (to say nothing of the Bucs being last in rushing offense the past two years), the Bucs know they have to continue stockpiling receivers and are in a position to do so even with the 26th overall selection in Thursday’s draft.

“It’s another position that you can’t have too many of those,” general manager Jason Licht said recently. “I think (offensive coordinator) Liam (Coen) can find a way to use a lot of very good receivers and playmakers. ... We really like (Palmer) and we like what (Rakim Jarrett) was showing before he got injured last year. Like I said, it’s another position that I would consider a need and you can’t fill them all right now in the draft, but we’d love to get one.”

The question is which one? We’ll get to that in a minute, but first, why is having another starting-caliber receiver so important?

Remember that the Bucs have a new offensive coordinator in Kentucky’s Coen, their third in as many seasons under head coach Todd Bowles.

While there is some carryover from the scheme implemented last season by Dave Canales, now the Panthers’ head coach, there is a significant difference.

Coen favors what is known as 11 personnel, which simply means one tight end, one running back and three receivers.

Canales deployed more 12-personnel schemes, or one running back, two tight ends and two receivers.

The Bucs already get plenty of work from tight end Cade Otton.

“Cade Otton is a guy that if you look at his body of work in such a short time playing in the NFL, you take for granted that he played (96%) of the snaps last year,” Coen said. “That’s something we need to take off his plate a little bit, but you gain more of an appreciation for a guy that is playing (that percentage of) the snaps in this weather, in this league.”

But Otton, Evans and Godwin will need help.

Among the Bucs’ top 30 visits by draft prospects is Florida State receiver Keon Coleman. A transfer from Michigan State, Coleman has the size (6-4, 215) and body control that is somewhat reminiscent of Evans.

Last season, he caught 50 passes for 658 yards and 11 touchdowns, including one-handed, highlight-reel catches.

“I think I’m a very competitive guy,” Coleman said at the NFL scouting combine. “High-personality guy, good locker room guy. I’m a guy who is going to come into work every day and give his all in practice. I’m to going compete, dominate, do what I need to do, and just come in as a sponge, ready to learn.”

With Godwin expected to move back inside to the slot, the Bucs need another outside receiver. Having another big target in the red zone can only benefit quarterback Baker Mayfield.

Another receiver who has been linked to the Bucs is Georgia receiver Ladd McConkey, an exceptional route runner.

While he has not visited the Bucs’ facility, that’s not unusual. Neither did defensive tackle Calijah Kancey, their first-round pick a year ago.

Plus, the Bucs already have plenty of information on McConkey, having hired his former Bulldogs receivers coach, Bryan McClendon, in the offseason. McConkey (6-foot, 185-pounds) had 1,687 yards and 14 career touchdowns.

Another receiver that McClendon coached for one year at Georgia is Adonai Mitchell (he eventually transferred to Texas). The 6-foot-2, 205-pounder runs a 4.35 40-yard dash and finished his junior season with the Longhorns with 55 receptions for 845 yards and 11 touchdowns.

“I try to model my game after a lot of guys,” Mitchell said. “There’s a lot of guys out there doing a lot of great things. Just trying to take every little nugget that I can out of a person’s game and trying to add it to my game. If you ain’t cheating, you ain’t trying.”

The Bucs also had an in-house visit with Western Kentucky’s Malachi Corley, a likely second- or third-day pick.

Evans and Godwin would roll out the welcome mat for any of these players. And sooner rather than later, the Bucs have to find their eventual replacements.

NFL draft

Thursday-Saturday, Detroit TV: ESPN, ABC, NFL Network

Round 1, 8 p.m. Thursday; Rounds 2-3, 7 p.m. Friday; Rounds 4-7, noon Saturday

Bucs picks: Nos. 26 (Round 1); 57 (Round 2); 89 and 92 (Round 3); 125 (Round 4); 220 (Round 6); 246 (Round 7)

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