Bucs WR Mike Evans – Photo by: Getty Images
Playoffs or not, Mike Evans solidified himself as one of the best wide receivers in the National Football League in 2016.
The third-year pro’s now three-for-three posting 1,000-yard seasons and his current totals of 1,256 yards and 91 catches are both new career-highs with one game left to play. Evans set a new franchise standard with 12 touchdown catches as a rookie in 2014 and he’s on the cusp of matching or breaking that again with a good performance against Carolina on Sunday.
Those numbers have Evans ranked fifth among all receivers in yards, third in touchdowns, tied for fifth in receptions with Green Bay Packers veteran Jordy Nelson, and got him selected to his first Pro Bowl.
And he accomplished it all while receiver after receiver, including one-two punch partner Vincent Jackson, went down around him and defenses directed even more of their attention his way.
Bucs WR Mike Evans – Photo by: Mark Lomoglio/PR
According to Evans, however, he still has a long way to go to get to where he wants to be in this league.
“I thought I had an all right year,” Evans said from in front of his locker Wednesday afternoon. “You guys tell me I had a lot of success, I think I played okay. I thought I played all right. People don’t see the film we see, but I thought I did okay. I thought I was maybe a top-five wideout, but I wanted to be number one. Maybe if I was number one I could’ve helped us get into the playoffs.”
So it goes for one of the most self-critical players in a Bucs uniform. Whether it’s head coach Dirk Koetter, offensive coordinator Todd Monken or quarterback Jameis Winston, everyone around One Bucs Place knows that Mike Evans may never be able to please Mike Evans. But if this “underperforming Evans,” it’s scary to imagine what “up-to-par Evans” could produce in the future.
For the player, getting closer to his ideal self includes a list of details he touched on Wednesday.
“Be more durable, block better,” Evans said. “I think those two things for sure. I caught the ball well, ran good routes. I have to be more explosive, get more yards after the catch. I think that’s pretty much it.”
Relative to his high-performing peers, a few of Evans’ numbers are a bit low – and he hit them all.
For those numbers to continue on their upward trajectory in Year Four and beyond, it’s not just honed skills and more coaching that will do the trick. The Bucs need more firepower. To bring back a Lovie Smith favorite: Simple as that.
Adam Humphries is a nice slot receiver the team remains high on. Russell Shepard is a do-everything, high-effort guy that does more than just catch passes. Freddie Martino is a great story who may stick around in the offseason and fight for a 2017 roster spot.
But when opposing defenses start game planning for the Bucs, those aforementioned names aren’t taking much focus away from No. 13. Tight end Cameron Brate has helped keep coverage schemes honest to an extent, but he’s no substitute for a game-changing field stretcher Tampa Bay lacks. And Brate’s now on the injured reserve list for the season finale against the Panthers.
Identifying and signing or drafting a couple receivers with elite speed may be high on the team’s priority list this offseason, that one asset is no guarantee of success, Monken said.
“Having players that have the ability – if you’re talking about explosives – to get the ball in [their] hands and make explosive plays, that’s an addition,” he said Wednesday. “By itself, it’s not everything because we have some other guys on our roster that have speed. [Wide receiver Josh Huff] has speed and [wide receiver] Bernard Reedy, now on our roster, has speed. That’s not everything.
“Having a player like Mike Evans or Cameron Brate who have great range and can make plays down the field [but] maybe not with the explosive speed – you can still make explosive plays a part of that. Our ability to throw the ball better down the field will add to that, from an explosive standpoint, because probably over the last few weeks we haven’t been as explosive as we’d like to be. So sure, it’s all a part of it. I don’t think you take a player, per se, just because they’re fast, but I do think that is a piece of our puzzle that we’d like to add in the offseason.”
Bucs OC/WRs coach Todd Monken and WR Mike Evans – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
As for Evans and the prospect of him continuing his progression and posting even bigger numbers, Monken said the newly minted Pro Bowler has yet to reach his ceiling.
“He’s eager to learn and eager to stay out there and work at it,” Monken said. “That’s probably the most important thing. You have an unbelievable skill-set, [you’re] smart, now what are you willing to put in? You’re already one of the best in the world, now that shrinks down to: ‘Do you want to be considered one of the elite to ever play this game?’ And he has that kind of skill-set.”
Mike Evans is the best, just needs a little help to take some of the coverage off him. Pretty sure the Bucs will get help early in the 2017 draft.
I really liked WR Josh Reynolds/TexasA&M last night in the Texas Bowl. Might be a good mid-to- late round match with fellow Aggie WR Mike Evans. The more weapons the better! lol.
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