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Why has Buccaneers Mike Evans’ productivity disappeared?

Florida Football Insiders

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Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

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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Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Buccaneers cornerstone player in 2018?

Florida Football Insiders

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Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

(This is the first look at all three state NFL teams’ roster and identifying a player that we at F.F.I. believe is the foundation starter for their potential success in 2018)

It’s still a couple of weeks before the Buccaneers gather for training camp at One Buc Place and there’s already uncertainty everywhere. Off a disappointing showing down the stretch with a 5-11 finish in 2017, both head coach Dirk Koetter and GM Jason Licht were already feeling warmth under their seats.

Now, the perceived team leader, QB Jameis Winston, is suspended for the first three games of the season for violation of the NFL personal conduct policy. And, this has called into question whether he Winston is going to be on borrowed time himself, once he comes back.

So, who is the player that the Bucs will look to for leadership, stability and to help them get through tough times this year? Well, it’s not clear cut in Tampa Bay, but we have a strong guess.

If we are talking cornerstone player for 2018, we are talking yearly Pro Bowl DT Gerald McCoy.

The reasons are apparent.

McCoy has tenure in the Bucs locker room and has played at the high level for the past six seasons (under three different head coaches) and made the Pro Bowl in each one.

Most importantly, he provides a veteran presence to what is an uncertain situation.

And with the additions of former Eagles DE Vinny Curry in free agency, a trade for Giants Pro Bowler and Superbowl champion Jason Pierre Paul and the drafting of Washington All American DT Vita Vea in the first round, McCoy has more help than at any point in his career.

This means the former #1 pick out of Oklahoma will have a chance to excel, especially right away, this season.

Sure, the Bucs have a “franchise receiver” in Mike Evans, and gave him a huge extension in March. And they have one of the top star defenders in the NFL that few on the national level talk much about in LB LaVonte David.

However, with Winston’s future with the Buccaneers uncertain, Gerald McCoy is the guy to count on for this and the next few seasons.

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Hall of Fame WR Randy mentoring Bucs QB Jameis Winston in Tampa

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Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Controversy has followed Jameis Winston throughout his college and NFL careers and now, former controversial NFL star receiver turned ESPN analyst Randy Moss, is trying to help.

As you probably know by now, the Bucs QB is suspended for the first three games this season by the NFL for violation of the personal conduct policy after he inappropriately touched a female Uber driver in Arizona in 2016. It’s the latest in a long line of personal missteps and problems that have dogged Winston off the field, since his days at Florida State.

Meanwhile, Moss, who will be enshrined at the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, OH, later this month, has been in Tampa recently working with and apparently trying to help mentor Winston.

Tampa TV station, Fox 13 and reporter Kevin O’Donnell, got exclusive comments from Moss on helping Winston on Tuesday:

“He’s doing things right,” Moss told the station.  “It’s a bump in the road…Man, just continue to fight. It happens…. What he did was wrong. You know. I’m not saying right or wrong. There was a woman involved. So, I’m not going to get into all of that. What he did was wrong. He know (sic) it was wrong. So, I think it’s up to him as a man to understand what he did wrong….to live and learn from it and let it go.”

Moss had early controversies and arrests in his own college career, as he was denied entry at Notre Dame and later kicked off the FSU football team while red-shirting for arrests and probation violations that led him to being back behind bars.

He later thrived at Marshall University, was a Heisman Trophy Finalist, a first round pick by the Vikings and had a 14 year career as one of the most explosive NFL receivers of all time. Moss, who caught for 1,000 or more yards in 10 NFL seasons and is second all time with 156 TD receptions, was voted into the Hall of Fame (above) in his first time on the ballot back in January.

Winston was shown by the station running sprints and making throws to some other prospective NFL receivers at the workout Tuesday, but refused to talk on camera. He has not spoken publicly, since the NFL suspended him two weeks ago. He told the station he will talk at Bucs training camp later in July.

As for Moss, he further said Tuesday that he’s trying to give Winston and other young players advice from his own experiences and failures off the field.

“One of the things that I always told my people: ‘Don’t be scared or shy to tell me no, because I check my pride in at the door….I’ll thank you later, you know, when I’m not behind bars, or when I’m still on a football team.” Moss continued, “A lot of these guys don’t realize that they’re being watched under a microscope and they don’t realize it until it happens to them and they’re out of  job.”

At this point, the fourth year Bucs QB Winston, has to realize that he is on the verge of being out of a job in Tampa. That’s if he doesn’t respond well from the suspension by staying out of trouble and performing well on the field.

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New Bucs DE Jason Pierre Paul still great reminder of July 4th safety

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Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports

The Buccaneers are excited to see what former USF and New York Giants star Jason Pierre-Paul can do on the field in Tampa Bay this fall. After being acquired in a trade with the G-men in March, Pierre Paul hopes to energize an almost non-existent Bucs pass rush from last year.

One thing is for sure, as much as he’s known for being a star on the field, Pierre Paul has become a reminder of “what not to do” and specifically fireworks safety on July 4th.

It was three years ago Wednesday night that Pierre Paul’s decision to celebrate and ignite amateur hand-held fireworks in South Florida led to a horrific and potentially, career threatening right hand injury.

But, out of what could have been football tragedy involving his  hand, Pierre-Paul has made a comeback and is now a national PSA symbol for firework safety.

The beginning of Pierre Paul’s football story is the Deerfield Beach, as a native of Hatian immigrant parents playing  as a Juco star in both California and Kansas. Then, he was brought back to Florida, by coach Jim Leavitt and staff, as USF’s dominant pass rusher in 2009. That year he attained All Big East honors with 6.5 sacks and 16.5 tackles for loss for the Bulls.

This fast tracked Pierre Paul to the NFL after only one season in Tampa and he was drafted 15th overall by the Giants in the 2010 NFL Draft.

After a rookie year with 4.5 sacks, he burst on the pro scene in season two with 16.5 sacks for the G-men leading to a Pro Bowl selection and was part of the New York Superbowl victory over the Patriots that February.

Pierre-Paul continued to be regarded as the Giants most consistent pass rushing threat and had another double digit sack season with 12.5 in 2014.

Then came the off season of 2015, where he chose not to sign his one year Franchise Player free agent tender (the Giants still had his exclusive rights) seeking a longer term deal. And, he remained unsigned as of July 4th that year.

That night in 2015 he loaded up a van with handheld amateur fireworks and with friends and neighbors began shooting them off until one obviously malfunctioned and mangled his right hand. Pierre-Paul was hospitalized and eventually had multiple surgeries on the hand and his right index finger amputated.

The Giants stood by him, when they could have dumped him for non-football injury, and he eventually made his way back onto the field in November of 2015. Signing a “pro rated” week to week one year deal, his debut came as New York traveled to Raymond James Stadium (Pierre-Paul’s USF home for a season) and he played with a padded “club” protecting his right hand against the Bucs.

He would play in eight total games that season with one sack and then, as further proof of the Giants being in his corner, they re-signed him on a one year $10 million deal for 2016. Pierre-Paul then worked a year ago with the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission on a July 4th fireworks safety video:

The gnarly image and video of Pierre-Pauls right hand is obviously the deterrent the agency is looking for with the PSA campaign about safety. He played 2016 with a special padded glove to protect the hand/fingers registering another seven sacks before being placed on I.R. with a sports hernia.

Finally, and happiest of all financial endings after the fireworks disaster, Pierre-Paul inked a four year $62 million deal with $40 million guaranteed in March of last year to stay, so he thought, in New York.

Alas, the Giants had a nightmare of a 2017 season that finished at 3-13. Pierre-Paul had a solid season with 8.5 sacks and 68 total tackles despite the dismal team finish.
Then, Bucs GM Jason Licht swung the deal for Pierre-Paul and Tampa Bay agreed to assume his $12.1 million dollar salary for 2018.

So, while it all worked out in the end, obviously, the Jason Pierre-Paul July 4th fireworks mess could have had a much different ending all the way around for he, the Giants and now, the Bucs.

It’s a reminder to stay safe Wednesday night. Leave the handheld fireworks to someone else.

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