As the Buccaneers continue to struggle and are guaranteed a losing season now, at 4-9, questions and blame are abundant. One important one is: what has happened to Mike Evans and why has he become an almost non factor in big plays and in the red zone?
With the understanding that if you “own” Evans for fantasy football, you already know the bad news, that 2017 has been a statistical bust for the fourth year pro.
However, coming off a 2016, where Evans registered career highs in catches (96) yards (1,321) and tied in TDs (12), there was every expectation that he would have just as big or bigger impact, if not more so this season.
That’s because the Bucs not only brought in game breaking receiver DeSean Jackson in free agency, but drafted tight end, O.J. Howard out of Alabama in the first round. When you, added those guys to Evans, tight end Cameron Brate, etc., the Bucs looked like a dynamic pass catching machine behind QB Jameis Winston.
And the best part for Evans, they could not repeatedly take him away with double teams to the exclusion of everyone other weapon Tampa Bay now has.
Unfortunately, for Evans and the Bucs, that has not really materialized.
Obviously, part of this has been the shoulder injury and re-injury to Winston. It first occurred in the first half of the Arizona loss in game five, and even though Winston battled and played through it, his play was affected. He eventually was seriously re-injured in the New Orleans loss week 9 and Winston was “shut down” to rest and rehab the shoulder for three games (Weeks 10-12) and not play.
Evans was also suspended for a fight in that Saints game and did not play against the Jets in week 10.
Still, there are disturbing trends:
Evans hasn’t caught a TD pass of any kind, length, etc. in six games. Nada. Bagel. Nothing.
That is the longest drought of his career. In fact, the only other times Evans went at least four games in the NFL without catching a TD, was the first four and the last four games of his 2015 second season in the league.
Consider further, in that second season he only had three TD catches. But, he quadrupled it a year ago with 12 and it makes this regression in scoring harder to swallow. He’s on pace to score 6 TDs (half of 2017) this season. Yikes.
Is Evans being schemed against and double teamed? Yes. Coach Dirk Koetter admitted as much last week. He said, especially in the red zone, Evans is seeing a safety come with him on almost every pass play. Meaning, he has to beat two defenders on the compressed field, repeatedly.
Still, there haven’t been as many attempts coming his way.
In 2016 Evans was targeted (pass intended and thrown towards him) 173 times in 16 games or an average of 10.8 times. That’s a high ratio but it’s also expected from a big play star receiver.
That average was 9.9 targets per game in 2015. However, this season? 107 targets in 12 games played so far is 8.9 targets per game. That’s Evans’ lowest total since his rookie year (8.1).
So, he’s had on average 2 less passes coming his way.
What about Evans’ catches per game average?
A year ago, he averaged 6 receptions per game (96 in 16 starts). In 2017, Evans average is down to 4.6 catches per game (55 receptions in 12 games) and scarier? Over these last six with Winston hurt, Ryan Fitzpatrick playing some, Winston returning, etc.? 3.7 catches on average.
Nearly three off his average last year.
So, you get the idea.
He is clearly trending down, as 2017 winds down.
Is Evans still a fantastic big play receiver? Yes.
Is he an important part of the Bucs game plans every week? Yes.
Have most of the problems with getting him the ball been with things out of his control at times? Obviously.
Still, it’s incumbent on Koetter, as the play caller, Winston, as the star QB, and Evans to get it going, again like the massive progress he showed last season.
We all know he is capable.
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