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We live in a world where “Click Bait Headlines” and “Hot Takes” have become the norm. To be honest with you, I’m just not that bold. So, I present to you my luke-warm take if you will. Last year’s overall WR3 will take the HUGE step forward to become the WR1. Mind-blowing, I know. But if you read most write-ups on young Mike Evans, this is a bit against the grain. People seem afraid to tell you he’s going to be good. The most common theme is that he is a top 10 WR but, with the team’s new weapons, he cannot repeat last year’s numbers. I think that he is good, about to be great, and those new additions, along with an improving 3rd year QB, are going to help him elevate his game…all the way to the overall WR1 spot.

Improved QB Play

The most common knock on Mike Evans is his horrible catch rate. Let’s just get that out the way now:

Year Targets Receptions Catch %
2014 123 68 55%
2015 145 74 51%
2016 171 96 56%

He’s typically in the 50% range while his WR1 counterparts are in the mid to high 60% area. Now I’m not going to tell you he doesn’t drop his fair share of balls, we all remember his 6 drop game in 2015 (which incidentally cost me my matchup and the playoffs that year). But did you know he only dropped 7 total passes last year? While catch % is mainly held against the WR, he’s only half responsible as Jameis Winston needs to get him catchable balls. Looking at the last half of 2016, I think they are ready to turn a corner. Winston had 11 games with a completion percentage over 60% last year, 7 came in the final 9 games. What did this for Evans? Over the 1st half of the season Evans catch rate was 52%, over the 2nd half it was 60%. In fact, if you look only at the games where Jameis was over 60% completions last year, Evans catch rate goes all the way to 63%. As Jameis improves, so does Evans. And what’s that they say about 3rd-year QBs?

Since 2011, 8 QBs found themselves in the same position as Jameis, day 1 starters entering their 3rd year still as the starter, let’s look at their 3rd-year completion %:

Name Rookie Completion % 3rd Year Completion %
Cam Newton 60.0 61.7
Andy Dalton 58.1 61.9
Andrew Luck 54.1 61.7
Robert Griffin 65.6 68.7
Ryan Tannehill 58.3 66.4
Russell Wilson 64.1 63.1
Blake Bortles 58.9 58.9
Derek Carr 58.1 63.8
Jameis Winston 58.3 ?

The average improvement of these QBs is 3.6%. For QBs starting in the 58% range, the average improvement is 4.4%, no thanks to Blake Bortles! If Jameis Winston becomes a 60% QB, Evans catch rate is going to improve. A good portion of Jameis/Evans misses are throw away balls because Evans was his only target. If only there was someone else to help spread the defense around and open the field up for Evans.

New Additions

While the additions of DeSean Jackson and OJ Howard are viewed by many as a detriment to Evans, I think they will help him be a better fantasy asset.  Starting with DeSean Jackson, there are so many reasons to be excited about this team having a legit WR2. To start, who was the 2nd best WR in Tampa last year? I’ll wait while you try to figure out who Adam Humphries is. DeSean Jackson will demand the kind of defensive attention that is going to open things up for Evans. His speed will cause safeties to have to cheat to his side of the field and leave Evans in more one-on-one matchups. While he’s never played with a WR the caliber of Evans, WR playing with DeSean have put up some solid numbers. Over the past 4 years, Pierre Garcon, Jamison Crowder, and Riley Cooper have all had either their best or 2nd best fantasy seasons playing opposite of Jackson. If he can open things up for Riley Cooper to have 8 TDs, imagine what he could do for Mike Evans.

Getty Images Sports/ Don Juan Moore / Contributor

OJ Howard should also be a handful for opposing safeties. Widely regarded as the best TE in the 2017 draft, Howard will join Cameron Brate, who tied for the league lead in touchdowns by a TE last year, to form a duo that linebackers and safeties alike will need to keep tabs on. So you’ve added a speedster outside and a potential elite TE to draw safety attention. With all of that attention going to the middle and opposite side, Evans could potentially improve on his 12 TDs from 2016.

But won’t those guys soak up a lot of Evans’ targets? It depends on what you mean by a lot. Tampa Bay targeted the TE 134 times last year, 9th most in the league and 52 of those targets went to TEs other than Cameron Brate. If they intend on running more 2-TE sets, that means less 3 WR sets. Last year, 19% of their targets went to their WR3, 4, or 5. Heck, Tampa wasn’t even top 15 in pass attempts last year. I’m not delusional… I understand that Mike Evans is likely to lose targets in 2017. What I am saying is that I don’t think it will be as many targets as you might think and when (not if) his catch rate improves and he scores more TDs, it is possible that he will surpass his 2016 season.

What Could 2017 Bring?

In our “Path to a WR1 Season” series, the writers broke down what it would take for a few guys to put together a WR1 season. Think of this as Evans Path to THE WR1 season. Let’s assume his targets do drop to the 150 range. If I’m right about his catch rate improving it will hardly matter. If he brings in 63% of those balls, he’ll catch 94 balls in 2017. If he gets his career YPC, his final stat line would be 94 catches for  1413 yards…essentially, exactly what he did last year. It will all come down to touchdowns, one of the hardest things to predict. Evans has scored 12 TDs in 2 of his first 3 seasons so I’m going to give him 12 as a minimum. That stat line with 12 TDs was good enough for 3rd overall last year. But what if his targets don’t decline that much? What if he is able to break more plays with fewer double teams? If Evans were to see 160 targets and saw the improvements I mentioned earlier, his final stat line could be 101 catches for 1518 yards and a possible 15 TDs.

Those numbers would have beaten out both Antonio Brown and Jordy Nelson for the crown last year and, I believe, that is what is in store for Mike Evans in 2017. He is, by far, the best target on an offense that will have to pass the ball to win. He is going to get thrown to a lot, he is going to catch more passes for more yards and more touchdowns than he ever has before, and he is going to finish 2017 as the overall WR1.

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