When we think about former University of Pittsburgh wide receivers who had monster seasons in 2008, the first name that comes to mind is Larry Fitzgerald. But he wasn't the lone one-time Panther to roar between the white lines last season.
Bucs' top 5 fantasy players
- Derrick Ward
- Antonio Bryant
- Kellen Winslow
- Earnest Graham
- Bucs defense
Bryant, who won the Fred Biletnikoff Award during his college career in 2000, came out of nowhere last season to produce career bests in catches (83), yards (1,248) and touchdowns (7). And he did it despite not playing a single snap in 2007.
A former second-round pick of the Dallas Cowboys, Bryant failed to meet expectations in Big D and eventually landed in Cleveland.
Despite his talents, Bryant was seen as a trouble child and received no interest around the league before the Buccaneers took a chance on him before the start of the 2008 season. The move paid obvious statistical dividends and earned Bryant a one-year, $9.8 million deal as the team's franchise player.
But was Bryant simply a one-year wonder, or did he finally reach his statistical potential?
Well, it's hard to argue with his skills and abilities. An athletic receiver, Bryant made some of the most spectacular catches in the league last season, including a one-handed grab in the end zone against the Panthers during a 38-23 loss on Monday Night Football. He made a real name for himself in that nationally televised game, catching nine passes for 200 yards and two touchdowns.
That contest was the start of a three-week stretch of dominance. Bryant would next go on to clip the Atlanta Falcons, recording eight receptions for 108 yards and one touchdown. The veteran then shocked the Chargers with six catches, 127 yards and his fourth touchdown in three weeks. Overall, Bryant posted a combined 23 catches for 435 yards and scored four touchdowns during the fantasy football postseason (Week 14-16).
He also finished eighth in fantasy points on NFL.com among wide receivers, ahead of superstars Randy Moss, Terrell Owens, Brandon Marshall and Reggie Wayne.
However, you still won't see Bryant's name called before those four wideouts in 2009 drafts. The Buccaneers will have a much different look this season, from the coaching staff on down to the players. Raheem Morris, 32, takes over as the new head coach. The team also hired Jeff Jagodzinski as the new offensive coordinator. He led the Packers to the eighth-ranked passing offense in the same role in 2006, but that was with Brett Favre under center.
That's one reason to be concerned about Bryant's chances of duplicating his 2008 numbers. Another is the offseason additions of Derrick Ward and Kellen Winslow. Bryant was one of the most targeted receivers in the league last season, with 137 passes thrown his way in an attack that lacked a true complement. After Bryant's 83 receptions, Ike Hilliard and Warrick Dunn tied for the second most catches on the team (47).
Now that the Bucs have upgraded their passing game with Winslow and Ward, who caught 41 passes for the Giants last season, Bryant could see fewer opportunities. And that doesn't figure in the return of Earnest Graham, who caught 49 passes in 2007 and will be back from an injured ankle.
Bryant also required an arthroscopic procedure on his knee during training camp and will miss most or all of the preseason, so that's another reason to have cause for concern.
While he finished last season with the numbers of a No. 1 fantasy wideout, Bryant will find himself in a different situation in 2009 -- one that could make it hard for him to produce the same sort of numbers. That makes him more of a middle-round, low-end No. 2 or high-end No. 3 receiver who will come with a bit of risk.