JOEY GALLOWAY (Starter)
STATISTICS: 57 catches, 1,014 yards, 6 touchdowns, Pro Bowl alternate.
ANALYSIS: At age 35, there appeared to be no slowing down Galloway. He remained the team's top deep threat and helped stretch out the offense, especially early in the season. He caught two deep touchdown passes against New Orleans that proved that he and Jeff Garcia had some early chemistry on deep routes. He definitely benefited from Garcia's presence on the field, and that was all too clear when Bruce Gradkowski replaced Garcia against Washington and the deep threat disappeared. Luke McCown's arm strength made Galloway a factor until Garcia's return. Galloway did disappear a few times — most notably in the playoff game against the New York Giants — but those disappearances were normally defensive induced.
OUTLOOK FOR 2008: Galloway will count $3.302 million against the salary cap. As long as his body remains healthy, he'll be a vital part of this offense.
IKE HILLIARD (Starter)
STATISTICS: A team-leading 62 receptions for 722 yards and one touchdown.
ANALYSIS: When Michael Clayton and Maurice Stovall couldn't take hold of the No. 2 job, Hilliard stepped in and had his best season since 1999 (72 receptions for the Giants). Hilliard and Garcia quickly gained a rapport, especially on third down. Hilliard became the team's top target when it had to move the chains. He wasn't a deep threat, but he caught plenty of intermediate routes that took advantage of soft zones and double coverage on Galloway. He rarely dropped passes. McCown called him one of the most reliable receivers he has ever played with, saying you always know where Ike will be.
OUTLOOK FOR 2008: He's a bargain at $1.325 million against the salary cap. But he'll be 32 in April and I'm sure the team would like to see one of their young wide receivers push Hilliard for playing time.
MICHAEL CLAYTON (Backup)
STATISTICS: 22 receptions, 301 yards, no touchdowns. Also rushed 5 times for 22 yards.
ANALYSIS: The most enigmatic player in the group. He has incredible talent, but he's inconsistent. Why? That's the big question. Is it preparation? Is it focus? Is it opportunity? Bucs GM expressed faith in Clayton a week ago, saying the team was happy with his intangibles, specifically blocking and special teams. But the point of being a wide receiver is catching the football, and as a former first-round pick Clayton should be catching a lot more than 22 passes. His rookie season of 80 receptions and 1,193 yards will shadow him until he either puts together another fine season or heads to another team. It's clear in how he's used that the head coach — the one who constructs the game plan — has less faith in Clayton than he does Galloway or Hilliard.
OUTLOOK FOR 2008: He'll count $1.831 against the salary cap in 2008, the next to last year of his contract. For a player now perceived as a bust, he's a relative bargain. The Bucs could — and should — explore trade offers if Clayton is not a part of their long-term future. His modest contract and talent could attract a draft pick.
MAURICE STOVALL (Backup, finished on IR)
STATISTICS: 10 catches for 86 yards, 1 touchdown.
ANALYSIS: He was given every opportunity to win the No. 2 job but faded after a sensational first week of training camp. Gruden eventually started calling him "The Magician," a thinly-veiled dig at the fact that he felt Stovall had disappeared during training camp. The fact is that Stovall's season changed when he fumbled against Jacksonville in preseason. From that moment on, it appeared his playing time decreased, as did his role in the offense. It doesn't take much for a young player to end up in Gruden's doghouse, and fumbling away the football in the red zone will do it. That — plus Hilliard's emergence — dramatically affected Stovall's use during the season. He became a huge special teams threat — he made 18 tackles, many of which were big-time plays. He caught one touchdown pass against Detroit, and afterward Gruden said the team needed to use him more. But they never did, which is a waste considering his size (6-foot-5) and hands. He would make a great red zone threat.
OUTLOOK FOR 2008: He'll count $605,000 against the salary cap in 2008. Entering his third year, Stovall enters a make-or-break year in his development. Either he makes the jump to big-time contributor or don't expect him to be around past 2009, the final year of his rookie contract.
CHAD LUCAS (Backup)
STATISTICS: 5 catches for 82 yards. Played in two games, making one start.
ANALYSIS: His start against Carolina in the season finale was a bit of a surprise, as was his 52-yard reception in the opening minutes of that game. Lucas completely overran the coverage, showing off great speed and surprisingly good hands throughout the game. The contest was his audition for 2008, and he did enough to earn a shot at a permanent gig in 2008.
OUTLOOK FOR 2008: Lucas has no deal in 2008, but with only one year of service time, the Bucs have the right to tender an offer to Lucas or let him go. Given the importance of shoring up the position in 2008, the Bucs will likely take all comers.
BRIAN CLARK (Backup)
STATISTICS: 4 catches for 23 yards (all with Denver).
ANALYSIS: We didn't get to look at Clark all that much. He was active for one game against Carolina and didn't make a catch. He came to Tampa Bay's practice squad after the Broncos released him. At 6-foot-2, 204 pounds, Clark is a big target and a Tampa high school product.
OUTLOOK FOR 2008: Cloudy. Since we saw so little of him, it's difficult to know what the Bucs think of him. He'll probably be invited back, though. Like Lucas, he doesn't have enough service time to entertain other offers.
MICHEAL SPURLOCK (Backup)
STATISTICS: Did not catch a pass, but returned 16 kickoffs for a 27.8-yard average, including a 90-yard touchdown return, the first of its kind in team history.
ANALYSIS: Spurlock has speed that's for sure. Anyone could have identified that after watching him accelerate through the hole on that 90-yard kickoff return. He definitely hit another gear on that play. The question is what else does he have to offer? Can he also return punts (Gruden is adamant about finding a player that can do both)? Can he offer something in the receiving game? Spurlock's limited exposure, kick return notwithstanding, leaves more questions than answers.
OUTLOOK FOR 2008: A first-year pro, the Bucs have the right to tender him a new offer.
TAYE BIDDLE (Backup, finished on practice squad)
STATISTICS: Did not play during regular season. Spent the entire year on the practice squad.
ANALYSIS: When the Bucs signed Biddle in September, there was thought he would be a return man. But two days later he was on the practice squad, never to be heard from again. The Bucs raved about his speed but never felt the need to use it.
OUTLOOK FOR 2008: The Bucs forfeited their rights to Biddle on Monday, so he's a free agent.
PARIS WARREN (Backup, finished on IR)
STATISTICS: Did not play.
ANALYSIS: Warren was on his way to a full-time job when he broke his ankle against Houston in the preseason finale, a gruesome injury that actually galvanized the entire football team. He spent the entire season rehabbing the injury.
OUTLOOK FOR 2008: Unclear. According to NFLPA.org, Warren is unsigned. He has three years of experience in the NFL, which would make him a restricted free agent. The Bucs made no announcement during the season regarding Warren's contract status. So his future in Tampa Bay is cloudy at best.
MARK JONES (Backup, finished on IR)
STATISTICS: Returned 10 kickoffs for a 28.6-yard average; Returned 12 punts for an 11.9-yard average.
ANALYSIS: Before Jones blew out the patellar tendon in his knee he was on his way to a Pro Bowl level season. Jones spent four seasons bouncing around the NFL and was finally having the type of season he needed to earn a new contract before the injury. He had solidified the return positions, something Gruden had long sought to do. His injury threw the situation into flux the rest of the season.
OUTLOOK FOR 2008: He is an unrestricted free agent. His progress from his injury will have an impact on whether the Bucs — or any other team — signs him for 2008.
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Matthew Postins covers the Buccaneers for Bucsblitz.com and the Charlotte (Fla.) Sun-Herald. He is a member of the Pro Football Writers Association, and his coverage of the Buccaneers has won numerous state and national awards.