At some point in time, Mike Evans’ streak of consecutive 1,000 seasons is going to come to an end.
Is this going to be the year – with the Bucs having even more weapons than ever to spread the ball around to? Or will Evans finish 2021 with eight consecutive 1,000-yard seasons in helping Tampa Bay defend its Super Bowl title?
Last season, Evans broke Randy Moss’ record of six straight years with 1,000 receiving yards to start a career last year to become the only NFL player with seven consecutive 1,000-yard seasons.
Evans set the record with a first quarter catch against Atlanta in the regular season finale to give him 70 receptions for 1,006 yards before spraining his knee on his next target, which was in the end zone.
Bucs WR Mike Evans – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
“It meant the world for him to get that record and then to have an easy touchdown [dropped when he got hurt],” Bucs head coach Bruce Arians said after the Falcons game. “The turf was really slick in the end zones and it was just a freaky thing.”
Evans didn’t return to the game, but valiantly played through the injury in the postseason, catching 11 passes for 204 yards (18.5 avg.) and two touchdowns, including six receptions for 119 yards (19.8 avg.) the next week at Washington in the wild card playoff.
This was not Evans’ first close call with falling short of the record. He caught 71 passes for 1,001 yards (14.1 avg.) and five touchdowns on 135 targets in 2017.
If Evans streak ends this year it will be because of one of two factors – or both combined. The first reason would be injury.
Evans battled through a hamstring injury early in the season. Then he had a badly sprained ankle he suffered in Week 4 that lingered through much of the season before playing through his Week 17 knee injury.
Yet Evans didn’t miss a game and wound up breaking his own single-season record with 13 touchdown catches in 2020.
Evans tore his hamstring late in the 2019 campaign, which caused him to miss the final three and a half games of the season. Yet he still caught 67 passes for 1,157 yards (17.3 avg.) and eight touchdowns on 118 targets in 13 games before that season ended prematurely.
The good news for Evans, who has dealt with hamstring issues in the past, is that he’s in fantastic shape.
“I feel great,” Evans said. “I’m learning how to take care of my body better in the offseason. Working out more, and working out smarter as well. I feel like that’s been key. I definitely feel a lot better than I have in the past in OTAs and mini-camp.”
“Fantastic,” Arians said. “He’s in great shape. Probably the best shape I’ve seen Mike in this time of year.”
Arians marveled at Evans’ toughness and ability to fight through injuries last year.
Bucs WR Mike Evans – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
“If he’s 80 percent, we’d have to fight to keep him off the field,” Arians said after Evans’ knee injury against Atlanta. “Him at 80 percent is better than a lot of guys at 100, so we’ll see what he is and how he feels. His leadership and his toughness – when Chris [Godwin] was down, there was no way he was going to stay out. He went out there on one leg and played about three games on one leg and still performed well.”
If Evans can stay healthy in 2021 he can be even more effective and efficient than he was a year ago while being slowed with injuries.
But with Antonio Brown re-signed, tight end O.J. Howard returning after missing the last 12 games of the regular season and the postseason with a torn Achilles tendon, and the drafting of wide receiver Jaelon Darden, Evans might be targeted even less this year. That would make reaching 1,000 yards even more difficult.
Despite playing in all 16 games, Evans saw the fewest targets in his career in 2020 with just 109. Evans’ best statistical seasons have come with many more opportunities to catch the ball.
He was targeted a career-high 175 times in 2016, catching 96 passes for 1,321 yards (13.8 avg.) and 12 touchdowns. Two years later in 2018, Evans was targeted 139 times, catching 86 passes for 1,524 yards (17.7 avg.) and eight TDs.
Evans is as selfless as they come and doesn’t beg for the football. And he doesn’t mind that Arians and general manager Jason Licht have stocked Tampa Bay’s arsenal with weapons in the passing game – even if it diminishes his statistics for the sake of victories.
“I don’t have a choice,” Evans laughed. “But of course, who wouldn’t want to play with great players and guys that can make plays opposite you? That’s all you want. I thought we complemented each other well last year. We definitely have 10-plus guys that can have a game-breaking game at any time. It feels real good to have that much talent out there.”
Evans will turn 28 in August and is still in the prime of his career. If he is healthy for all 16 games there is no reason to believe that he won’t record an NFL-record eighth season with 1,000 yards or more – even with fewer targets because of the array of weapons that Tom Brady will have to throw to.
The reason is because he’s an elite receiver. That’s what Evans does – produce 1,000-yard seasons.
Bucs WR Mike Evans – Photo by: USA Today
And Arians and Brady know how important the streak is to Evans. They will force-feed him the ball if they can down the stretch to help him make history once again.
Yes, it might be closer to the 1,006-yard mark that he had last year rather than the 1,524-yard season he produced in 2018. That’s when the Bucs had far fewer weapons. But the only thing that will stand in the way of Evans extending his own streak is something he can’t control – injuries. He’s done his part to try to prevent that by being in outstanding shape this offseason.
Evans stated his two goals heading into the 2021 season last Thursday on the final day of Bucs mini-camp.
“Obviously No. 1 is getting back to the postseason and defend our title and win another Super Bowl,” Evans said. “I definitely want to extend the record – the streak of 1,000-yard seasons. And just have fun – have a lot of fun this season. Just stay injury-free as much as possible.”
Evans’ streak will eventually end.
But don’t expect it to happen any time soon.