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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. Davis Has Helped Evans Become The Bully
It’s hard to believe that such a talented receiver like Tampa Bay’s Mike Evans barely eclipsed 1,000 yards last year. In fact, he finished with 1,001 yards and five touchdowns on 71 receptions a year after making his first Pro Bowl with 96 catches for 1,321 yards and a team-record 12 touchdowns in 2016.
Evans had just one 100-yard receiving game, an eight-catch, 107-yard day at Carolina on Christmas Eve last year. He had four in 2016.
Evans also didn’t have a game in which he caught multiple touchdowns – something he had three times in the previous season.
Don’t blame Jameis Winston’s shoulder injury for a less than stellar year from Evans. Instead, note the competition Evans faced and find the common denominators for his sub-par play. I did just that and found out that Evans struggled against some of the league’s bigger cornerbacks despite his 6-foot-5, 225-pound frame.
Minnesota’s Xavier Rhodes, who is 6-foot-1, 218 pounds, held Evans to 67 yards on seven catches (9.7 avg.) in Week 2. Evans had just five catches for 49 yards (9.8 avg.) against New England’s Stephon Gilmore, who is 6-foot-1, 202 pounds, in Week 5. Against New Orleans’ 6-foot, 196-pound Pro Bowl rookie Marshon Lattimore, Evans was held to a season-low one catch for 13 yards in Week 9 and got into a fight with Lattimore than got him suspended the next week against the New York Jets.
Against Green Bay’s Damarious Randall (6-0, 196) and Davon House (6-0, 195), Evans was held to two catches for 33 yards. The following week against Detroit, Detroit Pro Bowler Darius Slay (6-0, 190) held Evans to just two catches for 25 yards.
It’s not as if all big cornerbacks were Evans’ kryptonite last year, as he was able to catch three passes for 95 yards and a touchdown against Arizona’s Patrick Peterson, who may be the top corner in the NFL. In another marquee match-up against Seattle’s Richard Sherman, a 6-foot-3, 195-pound Pro Bowler, Evans had eight catches for 104 yards and two touchdowns during the 2016 season.
And in the rematch against Lattimore, Evans fared slightly better, catching five passes for 55 yards in Tampa Bay’s 31-24 upset of New Orleans in the season finale, but it wasn’t a dominant performance.
Evans wins one-on-one match-ups against cornerbacks using his size, strength and straight-line speed. While he moves well for such a big man, it’s hard for any 6-foot-5, 225-pound receiver to be agile and quick. That’s not Evans’ game. So facing bigger cornerbacks negates some of what makes Evans so dominant.
Considering the fact that Tampa Bay’s cornerback corps has been relatively small except for 6-foot-2 Johnthan Banks, who played with the Bucs from 2013-16, Evans doesn’t get much practice going against big, talented cornerbacks except when facing opponents on Sundays.
When the Bucs selected long-armed, 6-foot-1, 206-pound Carlton Davis in the second round out of Auburn this spring, Evans finally had some one to test him physically every single day in practice. That will only prepare him for the bigger, more physical cornerbacks he’ll face during the 2018 season.
“I think it’s just a repetition thing – if you ever played against a ton of big corners, you get some reps against them and adjust accordingly,” said Bucs wide receivers coach Skyler Fulton. “I do think that Mike can bully anybody. There’s not a corner in this league that’s big enough for Mike not to bully at will if that’s what Mike tries to do, just so you know that.
“It’s a repetition thing and it is good that we got Carlton Davis here and even M.J. Stewart in terms of being physical corners that will come up at the line and force you to play at the snap of the ball to get that work. So, I think it’s been great, I think you’re right in terms of some of the teams will get those bigger corners to match-up with Mike. But ultimately Mike can run and the tools that he has. And even DeSean (Jackson) and Chris (Godwin) and all the other guys in the locker room that we have to against these physical rookie corners. I think it’s a good match-up for us in practice.”
Battling a big, supremely confident player like Davis every day has helped Evans improve his game against physical press cornerbacks.
“We’ve had long guys here before, but they were on the practice squad,” Evans said. “They didn’t play. This No. 33 is a player. He doesn’t play like a rookie. He reminds me of Xavier Rhodes. Not as thick – but long. He can run. He’s going to be a real good player for us.”
Davis likes the idea of helping Evans, but going up against the second-highest paid receiver in the NFL will only help him when he battles similarly-sized receivers in the NFC South division like Atlanta’s Julio Jones (6-3, 220), Carolina’s Devin Funchess (6-4, 225) and New Orleans’ Michael Thomas (6-3, 212).
“I get a lot of work with big receivers everyday at practice,” Davis said. Mike is one of the best in the league, so I’m not too worried about the other receivers just because I get a chance to see one everyday. I think practicing with Mike everyday can transition over into the game.
“I definitely think Mike and I make each other better going against each other in practice every day and going hard. It’s good to see a big receiver that can move and I know for him it’s good to see a big corner that can move every day. Just as we both help each other out, we can climb to new altitudes.”
The work Davis has been giving Evans in practice all training camp will be tested in Week 1 in New Orleans when Evans squares off against Lattimore for the third time.
“He’s the defensive rookie of the year, obviously he had a great year,” Evans said. “He’s a good player, I look forward to the match-up, and we’ll both be fresh and healthy, so it will be a good one. There are bigger corners than him but he’s one of the best in the game already. I look forward to going against all corners, especially the ones that have been to the Pro Bowl and been All-Pro.”
“I’m ready to win my match-ups, especially if they’re going to play a lot of man coverage. I got to win my matchups if I find myself in that, and hopefully I get a lot of one-on-one’s this year against those better cornerbacks.”
Thanks in part in Davis’ stiff competition in practice Evans is ready to bully around Lattimore and every other cornerback else this year.