Fab 2. Evans On The Verge Of A Breakout Game
The fact that the Buccaneers have four receivers with 200 yards receiving through four games reveals quite a bit. First, let’s set the table for this discussion by revealing the amount of targets, catches, yards and touchdowns each of Jameis Winston’s favorite weapons has heading into this week’s game at Arizona.
WR Mike Evans
40 targets, 24 catches for 276 yards (11.5 avg.), long of 31, 2 TDs
WR DeSean Jackson
29 targets, 14 catches for 249 yards (17.8 avg.), long of 41, 1 TD
WR Adam Humphries
25 targets, 17 catches for 207 yards (12.2 avg.), long of 38
TE Cameron Brate
22 targets, 15 catches for 205 yards (13.6 avg.), long of 35, 3 TDs
Let’s first look at the start that Evans – Tampa Bay’s primary weapon in the passing game – has had this season. While it’s no surprise that he’s been targeted 11 times more than the closest Bucs receiver, Evans is averaging just 69 yards per game and is on pace to hit only 1,104 receiving yards, which would be the fewest receiving yards since his rookie season (1,051), and 217 yards shy of last year’s career high of 1,321 yards.
Evans hasn’t posted a 100-yard game this season, although he came close in the season opener against Chicago with seven catches for 93 yards and a touchdown. Since then he hasn’t posted 70 yards receiving in the last three games. Evans had four 100-yard games last year along with three others in which he had at least 95 yards.
Through the first four games in 2016, Evans had 26 catches for 360 yards (13.8 avg.) with three touchdowns and a long of 45 yards, so he’s behind those numbers thus far in 2017.
Evans is due for a breakout game soon, although that might be tough to do at Arizona against perennial Pro Bowl cornerback Patrick Peterson. In last year’s loss to the Cardinals, Evans was targeted 18 times, but only had six catches for 70 yards and a touchdown.
“It’s surprising he hasn’t had that yet,” Humphries said. “He is capable of coming out and doing that (going off) every game. Also, he’s a big target and I think opposing defenses know that. Every game they come in preparing for Mike Evans. The Patriots doubled him a lot. That is something a big target like him has to expect. It’s only a matter of time for him to come in and have an eight-catch, 150-yard game. I expect him to do it.”
Despite the emergence of Brate at tight end last year and the acquisition of Jackson at wide receiver this season, Evans is still drawing double teams. While teams are doubling him and aren’t letting him get deep – evidenced by his 11.5 average, which is the lowest among Tampa Bay’s top for receivers – Evans is an unselfish team player that puts winning ahead of statistics.
“We have a lot of weapons,” Evans said. “Hopefully we can all keep up the good pace and do well at the end of the year. Hopefully it translates to a lot of wins. You know, keep the defense on their heels. They can’t double team just one guy now.”
Bucs wide receivers coach and offensive coordinator Todd Monken said that the team’s added weapons has helped simplify things for Evans this year.
“I think the more weapons you have, I think the more readily capable you are of designing things for others,” Monken said. “When you add in O.J. Howard to the mix, you get Doug back, you add DeSean, so you’re not constantly designing where can we put Mike. In the past that’s what you did. You said, ‘Okay, we need to move Mike over here and Mike here.’ We don’t have to do that nearly as much.”
Jackson has had a frustrating start in Tampa Bay as Winston has failed to connect with him on several deep balls, including one that would have been a 65-yard touchdown in last week’s loss to New England. The good news is that Jackson recorded his first 100-yard receiving day in Tampa Bay on Thursday night, and became the Bucs’ first 100-yard receiver this season, in addition to posting a 17.8 average through four games, which is in line with his career average. Jackson is also 26 yards away from being Tampa Bay’s leading receiver.
“The one slant he took, it’s not very often you get that look where the WILL linebacker kind of sucked up and there is all that space to really showcase his burst,” Monken said. “Then we had, at the end of the game, a couple of opportunities where he made some big catches for us. We’ve had those same opportunities. It just hasn’t come to fruition. I think he’s played well. I think with each week that he continues to practice with Jameis and I just think they continue to get on the same page.
“He is a special talent. We need to continue to find ways to keep him involved where he can run after catch – that’s one thing he has shown is that burst when he gets in space.”
If there is a downside to Jackson’s production thus far is that he is only 42 yards and one touchdown ahead of Humphries, the team’s third receiver, who makes about $10.5 million less than Jackson does. In theory, you would like Jackson to be way ahead of Humphries in production given the huge salary discrepancy.
There was speculation that Chris Godwin, the Bucs’ third-round pick, was take away some of Humphries’ playing time this season, but Godwin is an outside receiver where as Humphries almost exclusively plays in the slot. Humphries is likely the most dependable receiver the Bucs have.
“Very consistent – that is his number one thing,” Koetter said. “Since that first year when he got here and came out of nowhere and made our team, Adam is going to be a hard guy to ever get out of there just because he is a good player. He doesn’t get the most pub or the most kudos, however you want to say it. But he is a really good football player. He is good for what he does for us. He plays his role really well.”
Humphries actually has a longer reception than Evans, in addition to having a higher yards per catch average than the Bucs’ Pro Bowl wide receiver. Humphries has only four fewer targets than Jackson does, which speaks to his reliability as a chain-moving receiver. Humphries and Winston came in together as rookies in 2015 and have a bond together going back to the team’s rookie mini-camp.
“I think that’s what it is really all about,” Humphries said. “The relationship with Jameis has grown over the years. Regardless of who we have on the team or the targets we have, which we have a ton, I think Jameis is talented enough to spread the ball around. It’s not surprising to see four guys over 200 yards in the first four games. That’s what we expected with the group we have. So far it’s been a good start passing-wise. We need to get off to a quicker start early. So far looking at those statistics, it’s pretty cool.”
Humphries had 19 catches for 205 yards (10.8) with a long of 31 yards through the first four games last year, so his start to the 2017 season is nearly identical to last year’s. In 2016, Humphries posted career highs in catches (55), yards (622) and touchdowns (two), and is on pace to match those numbers.
“He shows up every game,” Winston said. “If you watch the game, you’re going to see Adam Humphries show up and have a long run or break a tackle or make a fantastic catch. That’s just who he is. He’s a baller – similar to Cam – guys that just work hard as far as taking care of their body as far as getting extra reps after practice. Guys that are true professionals like Adam Humphries – you just love having them as a teammate. The guy gets open.”
Brate had a breakout season in 2016 with eight touchdown catches, which was tied for the league lead among tight ends. Like Humphries, Brate is off to an almost identical start to the 2017 campaign as he had through the first four games in 2016. Brate has 15 catches for 205 yards (13.7 avg.) and three touchdowns this season, and is the Bucs’ touchdown leader. Last year he produced 16 catches for 159 yards (9.9 avg.) with two touchdowns.
While Winston will take Evans matched up in single coverage every time in the red zone, that doesn’t happen very often and Brate is actually Winston’s favorite target in the red zone as a result. Brate’s 13.7 average is actually a few yards longer than Evans’ average this season, and he’s already hauled in a 35-yard grab, which proves he can be a dangerous weapon on intermediate routes.
Perhaps the most impressive stat regarding Brate is that he has 15 targets, which is six more than O.J. Howard, Tampa Bay’s first-round pick. While there was some speculation that Howard would supplant Brate as the Bucs’ starting tight end due to his draft status, Brate remains one of Winston’s most trusted targets, especially near the goal line. Brate’s 11 touchdowns over the last 20 games are second only to Evans’ 14 over the same span.
“There is only one ball,” Monken said. “That’s probably the hardest thing. … The more weapons you get and the more guys you want to get the ball, so it’s how many touches can you get Doug [Martin]? How many can you get some of your tight ends?”
As Winston and the Bucs are finding out, having a bunch of weapons is a great problem to have. And it’s only a matter of time before their biggest weapons goes off.