SR’s Fab 5 is a collection of inside scoop, analysis and insight from yours truly, PewterReport.com publisher and Bucs beat writer Scott Reynolds. Here are a few things that caught my attention this week at One Buc Place and around the NFL:
FAB 1. EVANS WILL BE BUCS’ GREATEST RECEIVER
On Tuesday, the Buccaneers said goodbye to a very good receiver when an MRI revealed that Vincent Jackson had tore his ACL in Tampa Bay’s 17-14 win on Monday Night Football in Carolina. Jackson was placed on injured reserve, and with the team captain in the final year of his contract and at age 33 it’s safe to say that he’s played his last game in red and pewter.
As we say to “goodbye” to one of the better receivers to ever play in Tampa Bay, we say “carry on” to a player who is on a quicker-than-you-would-expect pace to become the greatest receiver in Buccaneers history.
That would be third-year receiver Mike Evans.
Is it too early to heap such praise on receiver who just turned 23?
After all, former Bucs receiver Mike Williams got off to a hot start from 2010-12 and showed great promise in catching 145 passes for 2,067 yards and scoring 17 touchdowns in his first two years and five games before flaming out and caring more about his Caveman Gang rap than football.
Compare those stats to those of Evans, who has hauled in 174 catches for 2,706 yards and 19 TDs, and the Bucs’ first-round pick in 2014 is clearly outperforming Williams.
Evans is no Williams. He’s not even Keyshawn Johnson, Joey Galloway or Jackson.
Evans is better.
And if he stays healthy over the next two and a half years he should become the Buccaneers’ all-time leading receiver. Think about that for a minute.
Assuming Tampa Bay picks up his fifth-year option – if the team doesn’t sign him to an extension first – by the time Evans’ fifth year is up he could have more yards and touchdowns than any other Buccaneer and more catches than any other Tampa Bay receiver.
“That would be great doing it in such a short time,” the modest Evans said. “I just want to get into the playoffs and win, though. That’s my main focus and goal. If that stuff comes along, then great.”
Consider that Jackson likely finished his Bucs career with 268 catches for 4,326 yards and 20 touchdowns, and passed Ring of Honor member Jimmie Giles (4,300 yards) on Monday Night Football for third place in team history for most receiving yards. Jackson, who was signed in 2012 to be the primary receiver for former quarterback Josh Freeman, had a very good Bucs career, but not a great one.
Vincent Jackson’s Bucs Stats 2012 – 72 catches for 1,384 yards (19.2 avg.) with 8 TDs (95 long) 2013 – 78 catches for 1,224 yards (15.7 avg.) with 7 TDs (60 long) 2014 – 70 catches for 1,002 yards (14.3 avg.) with 2 TDs (50 long) 2015 – 33 catches for 543 yards (16.5 avg.) with 3 TDs (36 long) 2016 – 15 catches for 173 yards (11.5 avg.) with 0 TDs (18 long)
After three very productive seasons in Tampa Bay, Jackson’s numbers fell off considerably in 2015 as he missed six games after taking a helmet to his knee. Prior to that injury, Jackson appeared to lose a step at age 32.
Yet Jackson is a step above of Galloway (248 catches for 3,912 yards and 28 TDs) and Johnson (298 catches for 3,828 yards and 17 TDs) on Tampa Bay’s all-time receiving list, but still a few rungs down the ladder from Mark Carrier (321 catches for 5,018 yards and 27 TDs) and Kevin House (286 catches for 4,928 yards and 31 TDs) in team annals.
What’s incredible is that Carrier and House have remained the top two receivers in Bucs history statistically since 1992 and 1986, respectively. Despite Pro Bowl-caliber receivers like Johnson, Galloway and Jackson, coming on the scene in the early 2000s, none of those three could unseat Carrier and House as the two most prolific receivers in franchise history.
Johnson and Galloway were acquired via trades and Jackson was one of the Bucs’ best free agent signings in team history, yet Johnson was only in Tampa Bay for four years and Galloway five. Carrier spent six years with the Bucs, while House had seven seasons in Tampa Bay.
Evans is going to break all their records in just five seasons if he continues to stay healthy and productive.
Evans has recorded 174 catches for 2,706 yards and 19 TDs from 2014 through the Bucs’ win at Carolina last Monday night. With 32 catches for 449 yards and four touchdowns this year, Evans is on pace for 102 receptions for 1,436 yards, which would be career-highs, and 12 touchdowns, which would tie his career high and the franchise record for single season receiving TDs that he set as a rookie in 2014.
Factoring in what he’s projected to do in 2016 and what he accomplished statistically from 2014-15, Evans’ career average would be 81 catches for 1,231 yards and nine touchdowns. If he were to only maintain that average – and not the monster 102-catch, 1,436-yard, 12-TD pace he’s on – Evans would have 325 career catches for 4,924 yards and 36 touchdowns through the end of the 2017 season.
That would mean that Evans would surpass Jackson as the Bucs’ third-leading receiver in terms of yards by next year, and he would move ahead of Carrier’s 321 career catches to be Tampa Bay’s second-leading all-time receiver behind James Wilder’s 430 receptions. Evans’ projected 36 touchdowns from 2014-17 would make him the Bucs’ all-time leading touchdown receptions leader, surpassing Giles’ mark of 34.
In just his fifth season in Tampa Bay, Evans would be on pace for 406 catches for 6,155 yards and 45 touchdowns if he continued on course, easily surpassing Carrier’s career yardage mark, with only Wilder’s 430 career catch record left. He would likely do that at the beginning of his sixth season with the Bucs if he were to be re-signed.
The key to Evans’ success this season has been maintaining his focus and working on his consistency catching the ball. Evans got married in the offseason and dropped 10 pounds to improve his speed, quickness and stamina.
“I’m creating more separation and I’m getting in and out of my cuts easier for being a big guy,” Evans said. “I’m not as athletic as you might think. I have a little bit of athleticism, but I’m not much of an athlete. Coach [Todd] Monken is working with me before and after practice and I like having a guy like that who can push me to where I’m uncomfortable. I think he’s doing that, and it’s showing.
“That’s what helped me a lot in college. My position coach, David Beatty, who is now the head coach at Kansas, helped me out a lot. We spent a lot of extra time at practice before and after and in meetings. I didn’t know how to read coverages and things like that. It hasn’t been too difficult a transition. I just missed three years of high school and only played two years of college.”
Evans only played football during his senior year in high school and left Texas A&M after his redshirt sophomore year. When you include not even two and a half years in the NFL, Evans is just scratching the surface on how great he can become.
“To accomplish what he’s already accomplished and be on that pace, that’s just a testament to the athlete he is and the amount of hard work we’ve put in,” Bucs wide receiver Adam Humphries said. “Obviously he’s a freak athlete at 6-foot-5. He’s the type of receiver you want on your team. For him to be like that consistently say a lot about him.”
Evans led the NFL in dropped passes last year with 11, including six in a loss to the New York Giants. This year, Evans has become more reliable with just two drops through five games.
He’s also improved his game by keeping his cool and not complaining to refs about being called for offensive pass interference, which has happened just once this year, and for missed calls about defensive pass interference.
“Mike has really made it a point of emphasis,” Bucs head coach Dirk Koetter said. “He’s had a couple chances, whether you call it lose his cool or frustration, I think Mike’s really turned a corner. I’m not going to say it’s never going to happen again because shoot, all of us have our meltdowns from time to time. But I think Mike’s turned a corner.”
As Tampa Bay’s records fall, Evans will continue to get notoriety. Playing for a team like the Bucs that have averaged four wins per season over the last three years doesn’t help Evans get Pro Bowl consideration, but that’s not what he wants.
“The Pro Bowl is the fan vote – I want All-Pro,” Evans said. “To be an All-Pro would be great. That’s where the respect is. I want to be great, of course. The numbers don’t show everything. I think I can be playing a lot better. A lot of guys have big number days, but sometimes it is just smoke. Getting numbers when you’re down late in games in garbage time.
“Winning is what it’s all about and I would sacrifice numbers for wins every Sunday. There’s no greater feeling than winning. Winning the other day on Monday Night Football on prime time. We got the ‘W’ with a dramatic ending – although we didn’t have to do that. But it was a win and it felt great and everybody was happy.”
Catching a key touchdown pass on Monday Night Football to cap off a six-catch, 89-yard performance, certainly helped Evans’ profile around the league. His peers are taking notice.
“He’s a talented guy,” Denver Pro Bowl cornerback Aqib Talib said prior to facing Evans three weeks ago. “Big, fast, he goes in that ‘Calvin Johnson category, that Julio Jones’ category. The big, fast guys [with] the big catch radius. His quarterback definitely trusts him. His quarterback gives him opportunities to make plays.”
Here is how Evans stacks up with the other receivers that were drafted in the first round in 2014:
Buffalo WR Sammy Watkins – 4th overall 2016: Six catches for 63 yards and no touchdowns in two games Career: 131 catches for 2,092 yards and 15 touchdowns
Tampa Bay WR Mike Evans – 7th overall 2016: 32 catches for 449 yards and four touchdowns in five games Career: 174 catches for 2,706 yards and 19 touchdowns
New York Giants WR Odell Beckham, Jr. – 12th overall 2016: 35 catches for 581 yards and three touchdowns in six games Career: 222 catches for 3,336 yards and 28 touchdowns
New Orleans WR Brandin Cooks – 20th overall 2016: 25 catches for 428 yards and three touchdowns in five games Career: 162 catches for 2,116 yards and 15 touchdowns
Carolina WR Kelvin Benjamin – 28th overall 2016: 29 catches for 394 yards and four touchdowns in six games Career: 102 catches for 1,402 yards and 13 touchdowns
Evans is putting up better numbers than the other four receivers except for Beckham, Jr., but it should be noted that the Giants Pro Bowl receiver has played in six games, while Evans has only played in five due to the Bucs’ bye week.
Will the loss of Jackson mean extra attention by defenses for Evans for the rest of the season, making it harder for him to get open and take over games?
“I wouldn’t say harder,” Koetter said. “Again, if you’re on the 53-[man roster], you’re on the practice squad, you get up on the 46-[man roster] on game day, shoot, you’ve got to be ready to play. Jacquizz Rodgers is a good example of that last week, when we played Carolina in the Monday Night game. No one knew anything about Jacquizz, he went in there and got 30 touches in one game. No, I don’t think there’s a receiver that’s going to get 30 touches, but whoever’s out there has got to step up and play.”
Evans saw more double coverage last year when Jackson missed six games due to injury and has that experience to draw from to help him this year.
“We’re probably going to do some different things, but it will be just like last year,” Evans said. “I’m just going to make my plays when they come my way.”
Don’t expect the pressures of being “the receiver” in Tampa Bay to stymie Evans’ production down the stretch. He’s too good of a receiver to let that happen. On fact, he’s on the edge of greatness and in the same conversation as players like Julio Jones, A.J. Green and Beckham, Jr.
“When you’re drafted where he’s drafted – that’s why you draft a guy at [number seven],” Monken said. “That’s why you draft him there and we’ve said many times, Mike wants to be great, so those are the guys you’re going to be compared to. So yeah, I think he can be.
“I’ve mentioned a number of times, just him being healthy and competing, he wants to soak it all in. He’s a young man that hasn’t played a lot of football. Starting with high school and then college and here, and so I just think he’s made a commitment to himself in continuing to get better and it’s a byproduct of what you see on the field.”
Scott Reynolds is in his 25th 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 spent six years 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@example.com