The Tampa Bay Buccaneers selected Texas A&M wide receiver Mike Evans with the seventh overall pick in the 2014 NFL Draft. Here are five things you need to know about the Bucs' interest in Evans and why they had a laser focus on the 6-foot-5, 232-pounder.1. Smith Wanted Twin Towers At The Bucs' WR Position
After years of watching the likes of Chicago’s offense struggle with Earl Bennett, Johnny Knox and Devin Hester – receivers that stand under 6-feet tall – Lovie Smith had seen enough. The defensive-minded Bears head coach had grown tired of seeing 6-foot-4, 235-pound Calvin Johnson dominate in Detroit. He had become weary of watching the likes of 6-foot-4 Sidney Rice and 6-foot-4 Randy Moss catch touchdowns in Minnesota.
So Smith traded for 6-foot-4, 230-pound Brandon Marshall in 2012 and drafted 6-foot-4, 216-pound Alshon Jeffery in the second round that year. Although Marshall had a Pro Bowl season with 118 catches for a career-high 1,508 yards and 11 touchdowns, it was too little too late for Smith, who was fired after the Bears underachieved with a 10-6 record in 2012.
While he wasn’t able to enjoy the Bears’ twin tower receiving tandem for long – especially after Jeffery became a Pro Bowler last year in Chicago during Smith’s year out of the league – the new Buccaneers head coach was destined to create his own version of the twin towers in Tampa Bay by drafting the 6-foot-5, 232-pound Mike Evans out of Texas A&M and pairing him with 6-foot-5, 235-pound Vincent Jackson, who has averaged over 1,200 yards the past two years as the Bucs’ leading receiver.
“If you look at the league last year, and of course I had a lot of time to look at the league last year, I saw what two big receivers can do,” Smith said. “It’s a tough matchup. If you just look at the average height of most corners on the league, you might have a 6-foot corner. You normally don’t have two big guys that can match up like that. We want to score points in any way we can and this is a combination that look pretty attractive to us.
“Of course having a player like Josh McCown here, he’s been in that situation. To say Josh has been in our ear quite a bit is an understatement. Two guys that live fairly close to one another back in Texas, so seeing that work like that was attractive to us. But more than anything, we saw a playmaker on the offensive side of the ball that wee felt like can help us.”
Evan is capable of putting up Jackson-type numbers, which is why the Bucs targeted him with the seventh overall pick. After a redshirt season in 2011, Evans caught 82 passes for 1,105 yards and five touchdowns in 2012. He then caught 69 passes for 1,394 yards and 12 touchdowns.
As a former defensive coordinator, Smith knows the stress that having two 6-foot-5 wide receivers with leaping ability put on opposing cornerbacks.
“For defenses it’s just tough matchups,” Smith said. It’s as simple as that. The whole game is about matchups – one-on-one. And Tampa 2 is our defense, you can’t play two deep always. There comes a time when it’s one-on-one on the outside and I like having a 6-foot-5 guy against a 5-foot-10 corner and throwing the ball up. Sometimes you don’t have to be that accurate. Jump up and see who can play basketball with it. You see that week in and week out. And for us here in Tampa, we know what one big receiver can do. How about taking on two of those guys? We got a lot better today.”
Bucs general manager Jason Licht agrees and knows the NFL is all about creating mismatches.
“We have two big guys, so you’re going need two corners that can handle two big guys,” Licht said. 2. Evans’ Hands And Speed Are Overshadowed Due To His Size
While the big-bodied Evans is known for using his 6-foot-5 frame to out-leap and overpower smaller defensive backs for jump balls from Johnny Manziel over the past two years at Texas A&M, Smith and Licht thought just as highly of Evans’ hands and speed.
“Vincent’s a very tough guy that has good speed for a big guy, but Mike is younger guy that also has deceptive speed,” Licht said. “He is an incredibly strong receiver with great hands. He’s got speed. He’s made some plays in space, and he catches just about everything that comes his way.”
Gil Brandt of NFL.com tweeted about Evans’ hands after his pro day:
“Mike Evans has the best hands I’ve seen since Calvin Johnson.”
Evans is so highly thought of by some NFL scouts that those scouts have even downgraded Aggies quarterback Johnny Manziel because so many of his throws were jump balls to the 6-foot-5, 231-pound Evans.
“In my opinion, he made Johnny Manziel, not the other way around,” an unnamed scout told NJ.com. “A lot of times, Manziel just ran around and threw it up for grabs, and (Evans) came down with it.”
With touchdown catches covering 64 yards, 75 yards (twice) and 95 yards, Evans showed off his “deceptive speed” to the Bucs on tape. Interestingly, Evans’ 20-yard shuttle time was timed at 4.26, while Sammy Watkins’ 20-yard shuttle was actually a bit slower at 4.34. Watkins, this year’s top-rated receiver who is nearly five inches shorter than Evans and weighs 26 pounds less, ran a 4.43 in the 40-yard dash.
“I’ve never been caught from behind,” Evans said.
Evans, who timed 4.53 at the NFL Scouting Combine, had seven catches for a school-record 279 yards against Alabama, including that 95-yarder, as a redshirt sophomore. Against Auburn last year, he beat his own records by catching 11 passes for 287 yards and four touchdowns against the SEC champions before foregoing his junior season and declaring for the 2014 NFL Draft.
“People talk a lot about football speed,” Smith said. “Mike ran under 4.5. He’s a 4.4-type receiver. That’s good speed. That’s definitely good enough speed to be a speed receiver. To be able to score long touchdowns – which he’s done – I don’t think that’s an issue. I think you’d be hard-pressed to find a guy with great speed like Mike has with the great vertical. It’s not just the speed, it’s the (37-inch) vertical – all those numbers were very good for him.”3. The Buccaneers Loved Evans’ Character And Selflessness
The Buccaneers loved Evans so much they didn’t even bring him in for a private visit at One Buccaneer Place so the team wouldn’t seem overly interested. In fact, they just talked to him at the NFL Scouting Combine. Smith talked to Evans’ college coach, Kevin Sumlin, and of course the Bucs got a lot of intel from new Bucs strength and conditioning coach Dave Kennedy, who held the same position at Texas A&M over the past five years.
“At the combine you get a chance to talk with him, meet him, and do the research and talk to all the people that you trust, as I was able to do in Texas, everyone says the same thing,” Smith said. “Then you look at the video, and you like him as a player, and you know how he would fit into our locker room here.”
Evans is from Galveston, Texas, and that’s music to Smith’s ears as he hails from Big Sandy, Texas and loves players from the Lonestar State. Smith also loves that Evans is a no-nonsense, team player that prides himself on his run-blocking ability.
“Growing up I was a big fan of Randy Moss,” Evans said. “As a player I think my game is similar to Brandon Marshall. I like to be an aggressive, physical type of player.”
That type of attitude aligns with the type of player that Smith wants to have in Tampa Bay. Evans is all blue-collar and far from being a prima donna. He’s a hard worker with a big incentive to drive him towards success, as Evans became a father at the age of 19.
“It’s great. It changes your life,” Evans said. “I’m more mature now, and I have something to play for now. I have a high ceiling. I think I’m one of the best players in this draft and I think I can just keep getting better.”
When asked if he thinks a 1,000-yard season in Tampa Bay is possible during his rookie season, Evans replied, “Anything is possible, but wins come first.”4. Evans Will Learn From Jackson, Then Replace Him
Having a 6-foot-5, 235-pound receiver like Jackson to learn from will be invaluable for Evans as he enters the NFL. Big receivers are a different breed and what better player to study than someone with a similar body type.
While the idea of the twin tower receivers that Jackson and Evans bring to Tampa Bay’s offense presents a nightmare for opposing cornerbacks in the NFC South and the rest of the NFL, it might not last long. Jackson turned 31 and isn’t as quick and fast as he used to be, and doesn’t separate like he used to.
With a salary cap charge of $13,040,000 in 2014 and $12,817,777 in 2015, Jackson needs to continue to produce 1,200 yards a year or he will be deemed too expensive by the Bucs’ front office. Jackson struggled with some dropped passes last year, perhaps as a result of trying to do too much being the lone playmaker in Tampa Bay’s putrid offense in 2013.
As Evans develops into a number-one receiver in Tampa Bay over the next year or two his value will increase and cause Jackson’s value to decrease as a result.5. Tampa Bay Only Had Eyes For Evans
The Buccaneers never obviously considered drafting Manziel. It was all a smokescreen, evidenced by the fact that Tampa Bay passed on Manziel with the seventh overall pick. Licht and Smith had targeted Evans all the way, hoping the 6-foot-5 Texas A&M receiver would still be on the draft board when the Bucs were on the clock.
“Jason and I and the rest of the staff, our scouting department, we all did a lot of work to look at as much video as we possible could and we looked at a lot of players and we liked Mike right away, early on,” Smith said. “We wanted to add a playmaker, a guy that we thought would give us a different dimension than what we had right know to add with a big prototype receiver in Vincent Jackson. We wanted to get another weapon to help out Josh and the rest of the crew. So you come into a day like today and you have a way that you would like for it to pan out. Of course this is one of the scenarios that we wanted. I should say – this is the one we’re pretty excited about.”
Not only did the Bucs not draft Manziel in the first round, Smith made it sound like the team isn’t interested in drafting a quarterback at all – despite bringing in the likes of Manziel, Fresno State’s Derek Carr, Louisville’s Teddy Bridgewater, Eastern Illinois’ Jimmy Garoppolo, SMU’s Garrett Gilbert and Clemson’s Tajh Boyd.
“There are a lot of good players, but it’s about what’s best for us,” Smith said. “Just talking about our quarterback position, our quarterback position is as strong as, to me, any quarterback position that I’ve had as a head coach. You know how much I like Josh McCown as our starter here, but I love Mike Glennon. Mike Glennon is our quarterback of the future here. So why would we want to add a third quarterback to the mix? We needed other positions, and forget just the quarterback position. We thought this was the best available player for us. It was an easy decision for us. Jason and I, we don’t have a lot of vertical, but we high-fived it pretty high in there when we were able to make this pick.”
Licht said that he wasn’t concerned about taking any heat from Bucs fans for passing on Manziel.
“Well, were going off our opinions and we felt like he wasn’t,” Licht said. “The draft isn’t over; I’ll start with saying that. Today is Mike’s day and you know there’s still quite a bit of time left in today’s draft. Today’s Mike’s day and we couldn’t be happier with Mike.
“We got the twin towers now. He’s a big guy that can run, very physical, very tough, not just good hands, phenomenal hands. He’s makes big plays in big games. He had all those explosive plays at Texas A&M this year, he was on the receiving end of most of them. We thought it was an added dimension to our offensive that it was going to make us better obviously. It was about the right fit, I mentioned that at our press conference and we feel that he was a perfect fit.”
So perfect was the fit for Tampa Bay that the Bucs supposedly turned down some trade discussion from other teams to select Evans.
“We were receiving phone calls all night, but in our mind we knew that we wanted to pick Mike Evans.”
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