Going into the final year of his rookie contract, Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide receiver Justin Watson will need to wait at least four months to get back on the field.
Watson had a knee operation and will miss four months after the Bucs moved him to the Physically Unable to Perform (PUP) List on July 24 according to ESPN’s Adam Schefter.
A fifth-round pick by the Bucs in 2018, Watson has been a key player on special teams according to CBS Sports’ Bryan DeArdo. Watson has 20 tackles on special teams per DeArdo, and the former Penn standout has 23 receptions for 258 yards, and two touchdowns in his career.
The Bucs started camp on July 25 with four players, including Watson, on the PUP list according to DeArdo. That included tight end Cameron Brate, cornerback Chris Wilcox, and wide receiver John Franklin. All four players remained on the PUP list through the first week of training camp.
With Brate out, the Bucs signed tight end De’Quan Hampton, who played college football at USC per Greg Auman of The Athletic.
Tampa also started camp with safety Jordan Whitehead to the COVID-19 reserve list per Auman. Whitehead notably didn’t go to the White House celebration on July 20 and the Bucs Super Bowl ring ceremony on July 22. The veteran safety returned to practice on July 31.
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Depth a Concern With Tight Ends, Secondary
Auman noted some PUP list moves may just be a precaution as the Bucs “don’t have a ton of tight end depth.” Brate and Rob Gronkowski played most of the snaps at tight end last season after O.J. Howard went down with a season-ending injury.
Howard didn’t participate fully in training camp practices until July 30. He notably made a catch on a long pass from quarterback Tom Brady during drills on July 31.
Tampa also has Jerell Adams, Tanner Hudson, and Codey McElroy on the training camp roster. Gronkowski led Bucs tight ends with 45 receptions, 623 yards, and seven touchdowns last season. Brate had 28 catches, 282 yards, and two touchdowns. Hudson posted three catches for 41 yards in 2020.
Depth is also an issue in the Bucs secondary, which had its share of injuries in 2020.
Whitehead suffered a shoulder injury last season, which he had surgery for in the offseason. He had a solid 2020 season with 74 tackles, two sacks, two interceptions, a forced fumble, and a fumble recovery.
Other Bucs defensive backs sustaining injuries in 2020 included Antoine Winfield Jr., Carlton Davis III, and Jamel Dean. The Bucs added several defensive backs during the offseason to compete for spots at training camp. Additions notably included former Navy star Cameron Kinley.
Tampa has Ross Cockrell, Nate Brooks, Dee Delaney, Antonio Hamilton, Herb Miller, and Sean Murphy-Bunting at corner back. Safeties include Chris Cooper, Mike Edwards, Raven Green, Javon Hagan, and Lawrence White IV.
Edwards, Murphy-Bunting, and Miller saw significant snaps last season.
What Are COVID-19/Reserve and PUP Lists?
Though Whitehead landed on the COVID-19/Reserve list, it didn’t necessarily mean he tested positive. The NFL started the reserve list for the 2020 season amid the reported surge of COVID-19 cases worldwide, and the list includes players who tested positive and players who had close contact with someone who tested positive according to Sporting News’ Tadd Haislop.
Players can return to the team within 8-10 days depending on further COVID-19 test results per Haislop.
Brate and Watson landing on the PUP list means they won’t practice until medical personnel clear them but can be in team meetings according to Sports Illustrated’s Charlotte Carroll. The players “do not count against the 53-man roster, but do count against the 90-man roster limit” per Carroll.