With Clemson receiver Sammy Watkins off of the board, Tampa Bay decided that adding Evans to replace the recently traded Mike Williams would be in the team’s best interest, selecting him with their seventh overall selection in the first round. The Bucs bypassed Evans’ teammate, quarterback Johnny Manziel, to take the 6-foot-5 target for Josh McCown.
There’s a lot to like about Evans, who is generally regarded as the second-best receiver in the draft, although there are some talent evaluators within NFL teams and the media that have him rated higher than Watkins. For example, 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.”
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, including seven catches for a school-record 279 yards against Alabama 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.
Here is a highlight video of some of Evans’ spectacular catches over the past two years for the Aggies.
There are many reasons why the Buccaneers could have a strong interest in Evans, but at the top of the list is the fact that Smith likes big wide receivers, evidenced by his track record in Chicago. Smith has received criticism for having sub-par offenses and going through multiples quarterbacks – the likes of Kyle Orton, Brian Griese and Rex Grossman – before settling on Jay Cutler after trading for him in 2009.
But it wasn’t just the quarterbacks that were holding back the Bears offense under Smith. It was also the wide receiver position, which lacked a big-time playmaker until the Bears acquired Brandon Marshall in a trade with Miami in 2012. Marshall, a 6-foot-4, 230-pound receiver was a two-time Pro Bowler in Denver where he played with Cutler from 2006-09 and a Pro Bowler in Miami in 2011. He would go on to earn Pro Bowl berths in Chicago in 2012, which was Smith’s last season as the Bears head coach and a year in which Marshall set a new franchise record with 1,508 receiving yards, and 2013.
But Smith didn’t stop with the acquisition of Marshall. He and new general manager Phil Emery selected South Carolina wide receiver Alshon Jeffery in the second round of the 2012 NFL Draft. The 6-foot-3, 216-pound Jeffery developed during an injury-filled rookie season into a Pro Bowler in 2013 catching 89 passes for 1,421 yards and seven touchdowns.
“A quarterback doesn’t have to have that ball right in the perfect spot every time if you have a big body to throw to,” Smith told the Chicago Tribune at the NFL Scouting Combine in 2011. “Most guys would tell you they would like to have big receivers, but as much as anything you would like to have good receivers that can do something with the ball.
“Most of our guys … they are smaller receivers, so to have a little bit of a different flavor wouldn’t be a bad idea.”
After years of playing against big receivers that were 6-foot-4 or taller, such as Randy Moss (Minnesota) and Calvin Johnson (Detroit), Smith finally conceded that his smallish Bears receiving corps of Johnny Knox (5-11), Earl Bennett (5-11) and Devin Hester (5-10) just couldn’t match up in a day and age in which bigger cornerbacks were entering the NFL to contend with the growing trend of larger receivers.
Having Jackson line up opposite his clone in Evans would give the Bucs a towering tandem like Smith had in Chicago with Marshall and Jeffery.
The trend in the NFL is bigger wide receivers. Out of the eight receivers originally selected for the Pro Bowl last year, only one – Pittsburgh’s Antonio Brown – was under 6-foot-2. He is 5-foot-10 and weighs 186 pounds. The next smallest receiver was Dallas’ Dez Bryant, who at 6-foot-2, 222 pounds is hardly small.
The other six Pro Bowl receivers – Cleveland’s Josh Gordon, Cincinnati’s A.J. Green, Houston’s Andre Johnson, Denver’s Demaryius Thomas, Johnson and Marshall – are all 6-foot-3 or taller. And when it came time for an injury replacement in the Pro Bowl for Calvin Johnson, it was the 6-foot-3 Jeffery that filled in.
The NFL is a big man’s game, and Evans is the biggest receiver and one of this draft’s most talented, too. And who does Evans thinks his game resembles?
“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 should be music to Smith’s ears. Drafting Evans, who won’t turn 21 until August 21, gives the Bucs a big, young receiver to develop behind Jackson, whom he will eventually replace. What better player for Evans to learn from than another 6-foot-5, 230-pounder in Jackson?
Drafting Evans also gives Tampa Bay another talented receiver with speed to replace the troubled Mike Williams, who was traded to Buffalo. Evans ran a 4.53 in the 40-yard dash at the NFL Scouting Combine and that’s a respectable time given his massive frame. It’s also a tick slower than the 4.52 time than USC’s Marquis Lee posted. Interestingly, Evans’ 20-yard shuttle time was timed at 4.26, while Watkins’ 20-yard shuttle was actually a bit slower at 4.34. Watkins, who is nearly five inches shorter than Evans and weighs 26 pounds less, ran a 4.43 in the 40-yard dash.
The Galveston, Texas native is a no-nonsense, team player that is willing to block. That type of attitude aligns with the type of player that Smith wants to have in Tampa Bay. Evans is not 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.”
Scott Reynolds is in his 23rd year of covering the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as the vice president, publisher and senior Bucs beat writer for PewterReport.com. Author of the popular SR's Fab 5 column on Fridays, Reynolds oversees web development and forges marketing partnerships for PewterReport.com in addition to his editorial duties. A graduate of Kansas State University in 1995, Reynolds enjoys giving back to the community as the defensive line coach for his sons' Pop Warner team, the South Pasco Predators. Reynolds can be reached at: [email protected]
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