Cover 3 is a weekly feature column written by PewterReport.com’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers beat writer Trevor Sikkema published every Tuesday. The column, as its name suggests, comes in three phases: a statistical observation, an in-depth film breakdown, and a “this or that” segment where the writer asks the reader to chose between two options.
Sikkema’s Stat of the Week
Have y’all ever been to the Seminole Hard Rock Casino in Tampa?
Really, it doesn’t have to be the Hard Rock. Any old casino will do. I wasn’t much of a gambler until after my college years. Even in high school when some friends and I would get together to play Texas Hold ‘Em, my luck was so damn bad that I just never wanted to try to risk real money. Even today, I watch people play blackjack or some from of poker and just feel like they’re throwing their money away.
But, as of now, when someone asks if I want to go to the Hard Rock Casino for one night on a weekend, it’s hard for me to say no. The reason for this is because after college I found a game I liked. I found a game that really go the adrenaline in me pumping, and a game that I’ve had, well, let’s just say moderate success with, over the past few years.
The game is roulette.
I love it. It’s incredibly addicting. Observing the past spins, seeing what percentages of which color or which numbers have been spun, convincing myself that there’s somehow deeply embedded strategy to a game that is nothing more than the flip of a coin – I really only bet red or black, you won’t get better odds than 50 percent at a casino. It’s my bet, my call, all or nothing.
Justin Evans is roulette.
Evans’ career didn’t begin in College Station. Before becoming an Aggie, Evans attended Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College in Perkinston, Mississippi. In his first year (and a starter), he earned first-team all-conference honors with 47 tackle, five interceptions (including two he returned for touchdowns) and seven pass break ups. As a sophomore, Evans made 39 tackles with six passes broken up and an interception. After JUCO, Evans transferred to Texas A&M where he was again a two-year starter. He finished his college career with over 250 tackles, 11 interceptions and 24 passes broken up between the two schools.
Evans has built a reputation that he’s all or nothing; hit or miss; a strikeout or a home run. Or, at least, that’s what he was at Texas A&M. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers, on the other hand, are hoping he’s going to be more consistent than that – with plenty of those all, hit and home run plays week-to-week.
So, here’s the good. In his last nine games with the Aggies, Evans gave up just 19 catches on 32 targets for 107 yards. He also recorded two interceptions and six pass break-ups. In total for 2016, he gave up an average of just 8.3 yards per reception and two touchdowns. However, he did intercept four passes while breaking up another eight. According to Pro Football Focus, Evans had a coverage grade that ranked third-best among FBS safeties in 2016. To top it all off, Evans did not give up a reception longer than 14 yards in the latter half of the season.
The bad for Evans, is, well, where the “all or nothing” risk comes from. Evans missed 38 missed tackles in his final two seasons by PFF’s count (that’s a lot). He also ranked 219th in tackling efficiency among FBS safeties in 2016. He was 210th in run-stop percentage among all FBS safeties, and simply did not put the literally definition of a “safety” to use as much as he probably should have when tackling ball carriers in the last line of defense.
But don’t just take the numbers’ words for it (number can’t talk, idiot), here’s what some of the people at the top thought of Evans after watching his tape.
“He’ll hit you, but he’ll also miss some tackles. He’s a very aggressive guy. It’s all-or-nothing when he comes to tackle and he also has good range on the back end. When you look at Tampa Bay, Justin Evans comes in, competes day one and ends up being their starting free safety.”
– Mike Mayock
“Soft-spoken but carries a walloping stick. Plays the game with an elevated sense of urgency and excitement. He is a little undersized, but has plus speed, is an extremely physical hitter and can play deep or near the line of scrimmage. Athleticism and ball skills might lead a team to test him out as a slot corner. Regardless of where he plays, he has the talent to become a plus NFL starter and a potential Day 2 (Rounds 2-3) draft selection.”
– Lance Zierlein
“His interception against UCLA at the beginning of the year was one of those plays that not many safeties can make. But I’m worried about his missed tackles. Hard hits are great for Sportscenter or YouTube but getting guys to the ground is top priority.”
– Anonymous front-office executive for AFC team
“Soft-spoken but carries a walloping stick.” That sounds eerily familiar. I wonder where I’ve heard that before.
The narrative around Evans seems to be married with the game film people have watched. But, as should always be the case with scouting, getting an opinion form guys in the business is good, but that doesn’t excuse you from watching the tape yourself. Let’s dive into some of Evans’ tape on the next page, really put him under the microscope and see if we can pin-point exactly why the Buccaneers drafted him where they did, and the potential he has under defensive coordinator Mike Smith’s plans.
Trevor Sikkema is the Tampa Bay Buccaneers beat reporter and NFL Draft analyst for PewterReport.com. Sikkema, an alumnus of the University of Florida, has covered both college and professional football for much of his career. As a native of the Sunshine State, when he's not buried in social media, Sikkema can be found out and active, attempting to be the best athlete he never was. Sikkema can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org