Can Bucs rookie Rakim Jarrett create separation in the receiver room?

Tribune Content Agency

TAMPA, Fla. — The undrafted Bucs rookies arrived at AdventHealth Training Center earlier this month with their pride pierced to varying degrees.

For Maryland receiver Rakim Jarrett, the wound ran especially deep. A one-time five-star prospect who received an NFL combine invitation, he seemed a cinch to land somewhere on Day 3 of the draft. Assorted mock-ups had him going between the fourth and sixth rounds. When he wasn’t taken, tabbed him the top receiver to go unselected.

“In no world did I think I was going to go undrafted,” said Jarrett, who declared as an underclassman after totaling 102 catches his final two seasons with the Terrapins.

“It was all third- to fifth-round grades, so the seventh round came around, my agent told me I probably wasn’t going to get drafted, it definitely left a chip. But God works in mysterious ways, and I can only control the things I can control.”

In lieu of a hard landing back to reality, the Bucs offered Jarrett a pewter parachute of sorts. In the draft’s immediate wake, the team reportedly signed him to a deal that includes $225,000 guaranteed. Now, he’s vying with a handful of other newcomers for the fresh vacancies in the receiver room.

As it stands, veterans Mike Evans, Chris Godwin and Russell Gage are the only apparent locks. Jarrett (6-0, 190) finds himself in a logjam for the remaining spots with a group that includes recently signed veteran David Moore, sixth-round pick Trey Palmer, 2022 undrafted holdovers Deven Thompkins and Kaylon Geiger, and undrafted Kansas State standout Kade Warner, among others.

“They all have a lot of speed and they have a lot of effort,” coach Todd Bowles said of the rookies following last Tuesday’s organized team activities. “We’re going to see once the pads come on, once you put it all together. We’ve got talent there. You’d rather make a hard decision than an easy one. We’ve got a lot of depth at that position so it’s going to be a very good preseason.”

Jarrett’s backstory doesn’t contain the poignance of Thompkins’ (the father of a special-needs toddler) or the name-brand appeal of Warner’s (son of Kurt), though he is the great nephew of iconic Vikings defensive tackle and Pro Football Hall of Famer Alan Page.

The youngest of six kids, Jarrett was born in Palmer Park, Maryland, a stark community that also spawned boxer Sugar Ray Leonard and comedian Martin Lawrence. While part of his surroundings were seedy, he called his upbringing

“structured.” His dad, Delano Jarrett, has worked as a barber and now drives a truck. His mom, Angela Jarrett, drives a school bus.

“It was hardscrabble, but I couldn’t really go outside,” Jarrett said. “I had to go to practice after school and do my homework. My brothers, they fell into the nonsense, but I saw it from them and I’m the youngest, so I learned from their mistakes.”

As a senior at St. John’s College High in nearby Washington, D.C., Jarrett totaled 60 receptions and ultimately was deemed the No. 2 wideout for the Class of 2020 in 247Sports’ composite rankings. On the first day of the early signing period in December 2019, he flipped from LSU to Maryland, where he earned honorable mention All-Big Ten honors three consecutive years.

He recorded his best season as a sophomore in 2021, leading the Terrapins in receptions (62), yards (829) and touchdown catches (five). In a 54-10 Pinstripe Bowl annihilation of Virginia Tech, he had six catches for 60 yards.

Yet for all his top-end speed (he ran a 4.4 40-yard dash at the combine) and ability to play in the slot or out wide, draft analysts questioned Jarrett’s route discipline and general ball skills. TruMedia assessed his 2022 drop rate at a hefty 14.1%.

“He could have a very fruitful NFL career, or be out of the league in short order,” NFL analyst Josh Edwards said. “There is a wide range of outcomes for his career.”

Despite the mixed reviews, most mocks still pegged Jarrett as a third-day pick, and the Bucs were among the teams with whom he met virtually. Unwilling to stare at the TV and agonize over every pick on the draft’s final day, he instead hung out at a local mall and waited for his cell phone to buzz.

“I didn’t want to watch it and seem anxious,” Jarrett said. “But as time went on and on, I kind of got nervous and I kept Googling to see how close they were to the end. But it was tough, working your whole life for something and not get picked.”

Early accounts indicate Jarrett has channeled that frustration effectively. New Bucs offensive coordinator Dave Canales recently hailed Jarrett as “big, physical, really intelligent.” Without getting specific, new quarterback Baker Mayfield lauded the overall fleetness of his rookie targets.

“We’ve got a ton of speed, a lot of young speed,” Mayfield said. “I’m just trying to get these guys to find their roles and find their place in this system.”

Meantime, humility keeps applying press coverage. In the wake of being undrafted, Jarrett tried to barter the Bucs’ No. 5 jersey — a number he wore for a time at Maryland — from its current owner, second-year punter Jake Camarda.

“But he said a hefty (price) that I can’t really hit right now,” Jarrett acknowledged.

Make that two piercing wounds to the ego in his first month of NFL life.

“I’m putting my best foot forward. No matter if I was drafted in the first round or undrafted, they were going to get the same person,” Jarrett said. “But (being undrafted) definitely left a chip. I’ve seen both sides of the five-star, the top of the world, and (being) undrafted. So to get back to that mountaintop is what I’m looking forward to most.”