Mike Evans is on the Verge of Superstar Status
I know what you’re thinking. I am only writing about Mike Evans because we share the same last name. Although he very well could be my brother from another mother, Mike Evans also happens to be in an ideal position to enter elite status among wide receivers in fantasy football this season. After a stellar rookie campaign in which he compiled 68 receptions for 1,051 yards and 12 touchdowns, Mike Evans seemingly came back down to earth in 2015. Fortunately, Evans’ all-around receiving totals remained consistent over the course of his rookie and sophomore campaigns. However, his lack of touchdown production in 2015 left a bad impression on fantasy owners as a whole. Despite encountering regression last season in total output, I have outlined three reasons below that support the case for Mike Evans entering elite territory among wide receivers in 2016, while becoming a superstar in the process.
As I mentioned above, Mike Evans took the NFL by storm in his rookie season. Rather unexpectedly, he then regressed in 2015 due to a lack of touchdown production. Still, over the course of his career to this point, Evans has accumulated at least 68 receptions for over 1,000 yards receiving in each of his first two seasons. In 2014, Evans finished as the WR13 overall in PPR scoring. As a rookie, this was an impressive feat. The only wide receiver to finish ahead of Evans over the past two seasons in terms of rookie fantasy production is Odell Beckham Jr., who finished as the WR7 in 2014. Consider that last season, Amari Cooper led the 2015 rookie class with a WR21 finish in PPR scoring on a 72-1070-6 receiving line. This speaks volumes to the rookie campaign that Mike Evans turned in only two years ago, as he was able to finish as a top-fifteen option at the wide receiver position. A substantial portion of Evans’ success as a rookie was led by his dominant production in the end zone, as he was responsible for scoring 12 touchdowns.
Despite catching more passes and garnering more yards in 2015, Evans struggled to replicate his rookie touchdown total. In fact, he only scored 3 touchdowns as a sophomore last season, in route to finishing as the WR22 in PPR scoring. A crucial factor in Evans’ lack of touchdown output can be attributed to his 15 drops, which ranked second in the NFL last year. According to ESPN, Evans only hauled in 2 of his 15 end zone targets in 2015. For comparison purposes, consider that Evans was able to secure 10 of his 19 end zone targets for a score as a rookie. Clearly, Evans was his own worst enemy last season. With a current ADP of 2.08 in 12-team PPR leagues, it appears as if Evans is being valued in relation to his rookie production. I am on board with his current price, since I strongly believe Evans is on the verge of becoming an elite asset in fantasy football. Keep in mind, Evans is still only 23-years-old. As a result, he is still learning and refining his fundamentals at the NFL level. Based on his ADP, I am willing to select Mike Evans over players like Jamaal Charles, Keenan Allen and Jordy Nelson, all of which are currently being drafted ahead of him. Entering 2016, Evans now has a full offseason with Jameis Winston under his belt. This bodes well for the duo as both look to establish a strong rapport this season.
Another achievement that Mike Evans can be praised for during his first two seasons in the NFL is his consistent volume. See the table below for his target totals in 2014 and 2015:
As pictured above, Evans earned 124 targets as a rookie in 2014, which ranked 23rd among wide receivers in the NFL. He then proceeded to rank 10th in the NFL with 147 targets in 2015, further demonstrating that he is a borderline elite asset on volume alone. Evans is often criticized for his catch rate (55% in 2014 and 50% in 2015), but that is to be expected provided his massive target totals. According to Pro Football Focus, Mike Evans trailed only Antonio Brown, Julio Jones, DeAndre Hopkins and Brandon Marshall in team target share percentage from 2015. Even more, Evans saw double-digit targets in six games last season, which doubled his total from 2014. It is also reassuring that Dirk Koetter is now the head coach in Tampa Bay, as he was responsible for feeding the ball to Mike Evans last year as the team’s offensive coordinator. Under Koetter, Evans drew 23 more targets in 2015 than he did in 2014. This certainly is a trend that is expected to continue into Evans’ third season in the NFL under the control of Koetter and direction of Jameis Winston.
Situation and Opportunity
As fantasy drafts inch closer, it is hard to find a wide receiver with a safer projected workload than Mike Evans. The only formidable threat at his position on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers roster is Vincent Jackson, who is entering his age-33 season. Jackson also missed six games in 2015 due to multiple knee sprains, which enabled Mike Evans to become the clear-cut option in the passing attack. If Vincent Jackson is able to remain healthy in 2016, it could help alleviate pressure off of Mike Evans and correct his lack of focus that led to 15 drops last season.
The emergence of Jameis Winston is another positive factor to consider for the value of Mike Evans. After an impressive rookie campaign in 2015, Winston has reportedly shed 20 pounds this offseason in order to elevate his game on all levels. This bodes well for the value of Evans, as he was able to develop chemistry with Winston last season. Now a sophomore, Winston seems motivated to take his game to an entirely different level in 2016. As promising as this may sound, it’s important to remember that the Tampa Bay Buccaneers will likely continue to implement a run-heavy approach on offense, as the team ranked 8th in the NFL with 455 rush attempts last year.
This means that there will be plenty of opportunities for Doug Martin and Charles Sims out of the backfield. Remember, Martin ranked second in the NFL in rushing attempts in 2015, in addition to posting a 4.8 yard per carry average. Clearly, Dirk Koetter is committed to feeding Martin touches, as well as incorporating Charles Sims in passing-down situations. Fortunately, the mere presence of Martin and Sims can help Evans, as opposing defenses will have to dedicate attention to each player on a regular basis. Austin Seferian-Jenkins and Cameron Brate figure to be involved in 2016 in some capacity as well, but neither are expected to warrant considerable volume after combining for only 69 targets in 2015. It is also worth mentioning that the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have a projected Vegas win total of 7.5 games this year. On paper, the total seems rather optimistic for a team that only managed to win 6 contests in 2015. Therefore, I believe that Mike Evans will be provided the opportunity to produce at a level similar to his 2014 campaign on volume alone, which would certainly place him in the superstar discussion among wide receivers in fantasy football for 2016.