Devin Hester, WR/KR Chicago Bears
Hester already told NFL Network he wants to reunite with Bucs new head coach Lovie Smith, so this one’s rather obvious. “I look at Lovie as my number one coach right now,” Hester told NFL Network Wednesday. “He’s the one that took a chance on me coming out of the draft. He has all of my respect so if he’s a guy who is going to shoot at me and want me to come play with him again, my arms are open.”
The feeling seems mutual. During his introductory press conference with the Bucs, Smith the importance of having a game-changer on special teams, and no one has done that more than Hester, aside from Deion Sanders, whose NFL return record he tied last season with an 81-yard punt return for a touchdown.
Ideally, Hester’s speed would be an asset inside the numbers too, but that hasn’t worked out so well throughout his career. He’s excelled when focusing solely on returns and would be an upgrade over Eric Page, who averaged 24.9 yards on kickoff returns last season and 10.9 yards on punt returns, both 10th in the league last season. If you also remember Page had a muffed punt against the Carolina Panthers last year, setting up a Panthers’ touchdown.
Even at 31, Hester was still among the top five in the league in kickoff return average (27.7) and punt returns (14.2). Considering he made $2.1 million last season, it’s doable.
Dexter McCluster, WR Kansas City Chiefs
Folks in the Tampa Bay area should remember McCluster, a former Largo High School standout, who’s probably the most attractive player on this list in terms of what he can do in the slot, on special teams and in terms of his age. He’s only 25, meaning there’s a lot of life left in his career.
McCluster possesses the elite level speed the Bucs have coveted, having run a 4.25 at the NFL Scouting Combine. And in McCluster’s case, this speed does translate onto the field. He led the league last season with 686 yards on 58 punt returns and two touchdowns, earning a trip to the Pro Bowl for his stellar efforts.
As a receiver, he’s coming off his best season ever, catching 53 passes for 511 yards and two touchdowns. He can be an asset in the short passing game, utilized in quick slants and crossing routes, taking a pitch out of the backfield and even as a third-down back, if needed. Just give him a little bit of space and watch him go.
Andre Roberts, WR Arizona Cardinals
With the emergence of big-bodied Michael Floyd, who finished with over 1,000 yards receiving, the former third-round pick out of the Citadel didn’t see his usual production last year. But in 2012, Roberts caught 64 passes for 759 receiving yards and 5 touchdowns, and has the speed the Bucs are looking for in a slot receiver.
At 5-foot-11, 195 pounds, he is capable of lining up on the outside too, if needed. During his four years with the Cardinals he only missed two total games, so he’s highly-durable. Plus, he can line up as a kick returner and a punt returner, although he’s no Hester. But at 26, there is still plenty of gas left in the tank. His familiarity with Bucs new GM Jason Licht helps.
Lance Moore, WR New Orleans Saints
It was one of the more surprising moves this offseason, but the New Orleans Saints released Lance Moore, who has been a Buc-killer the last few years. Moore had more success against the Bucs than any other team last season. And who can forget the 121 receiving yards he had in the teams’ first meeting of 2012?
My only concern with Moore is that he may be a product of the offense he played in, with all those quick throws and play-action passes from Drew Brees fitting perfectly with his role as a slot receiver. I have concerns that Moore will suffer the same fate as others who left New Orleans, like Devery Henderson and Robert Meachem, and not have the same success.