Thursday, 4 a.m.
To separate the good year from the bad one, you have to keep this in mind: The truth is not always in the numbers. Even for a wide receiver.
There are things that matter beyond catches, things that matter more than yardage. There is impact. There are plays. There are moments.
And that's why this year's version of Mike Evans is better than last year's.
A fantasy league player would be hard pressed to separate the two seasons. A stat geek would call them both great seasons.
But they weren't. Evans himself has acknowledged this. Last year, in 14 starts (and a 15th game in which he didn't start), he caught 74 passes for 1206 yards. This year, in 14 starts, he has aught 84 for 1,159. Last year, he was tied for the league lead in dropped passes. This year, he's second.
Content beyond this point is for members only.
Already a member? To view the rest of this column, sign in using the handy "Sign In" button located in the upper right corner of the GarySheltonSports.com blog (its at the far right of the navigation bar under Gary's photo)!
Not a member? It's easy to subscribe so you can view the rest of this column and all other premium content on GarySheltonSports.com.
So is it the same? Not really.
No one loves stats more than wide receivers, of course. Twenty-six of them had 1,000 yards last year; 21 had 80 catches or more. This year, 11 already have 1,000 yards with two games to go. A lot of good receivers have great numbers.
But give Evans credit for realizing that last year was a lost season. He was an underachiever last season, a lesser player than he should have been. He was spotty. He was unpredictable. He was a stranger to the end zone.
This year, he has been one of the Bucs' finer players. You have look closely to see the difference in the seasons, but it's there.
This year, Evans has made more catches that are headed for the highlight film. He has been more dependable. And instead of three touchdown catches, he has 10. This year, Evans has been more of a weapon, more of a threat, more of a teammate.
“Mike has made a huge jump, in my opinion, in wanting to be the best,” said Bucs' coach Dirk Koetter.
Of course, that's one reason the Bucs have missed Evans the last three weeks.
It's been a tough December for Evans. He has only 11 catches for only 139 yards and no touchdowns. Compare that with the three games beforehand (18 catches, 275 yards, two touchdowns) or the three before that (23 catches, 296 yards, four touchdowns).
“No matter where you’re at, you’re trying to figure out ways to get it in your best players’ hands, based on the defensive guys and matchups you’re playing that week,” said coach Dirk Koetter. “And we’re not fooling anybody, when we throw it, we’re trying to throw it to Mike. But every pass play that you have on your list has a read and a progression. And based on what the defense is doing, there’s a one, a two, a three. If defense does this, do this. So, even if we are trying to throw it to Mike, if he’s doubled or if they cloud it or roll the coverage to him, some routes are good against that, against cloud coverage, some aren’t.
"And then Jameis moves on from there. So, that’s just football and as we continue to evolve and as you add pieces and add weapons to your team, there’ll be other answers, but due to the makeup of the team that we have right now, we’re doing what we think is best right now to try to make it go. And offensively, we’re not as explosive as we need to be right now, that’s just a fact. And I don’t think that’s a permanent thing, in fact hopefully it changes Saturday, about four o’clock.”
This week, it was announced that Evans had made his first Pro Bowl. That won't make him happy if he doesn't win. Evans says he's hungry.
“As hungry as ever,” Evans said. “We fell short last week. We wish we could have gotten that one, but we’ve got two games left. We need these two games desperately. I don’t know how the standings are – I think we need somebody to lose — but we’ve got to take care of our end first.”
Despite his recent dip, Evans remains as one of the best receivers in the league. He's first on first-down catches. He's fifth in receptions and yardage. He's tied for third in touchdowns.
Offensive coordinator Todd Monken, too, has seen the improvement in Evans.
“I think he’s bending a little bit better in his routes,” Monken said. “He’s learning certain things, route running, it’s going to come in small pieces. He’s got to continue to attack it every day. He’s more consistent with his hand placement and his eyes when he’s catching the football, you can see that. So, those are the things you continually work on with him and he’s eager to learn and eager to stay out there and work at it. That’s probably the most important thing, you have an unbelievable skill-set, he’s smart, now what are you willing to put in to be — you’re already one of the best in the world, now that shrinks down, do you want to be considered one of the elite to ever play this game? And he has that kind of skill-set.”
For all of his hand-fighting, Evans also seems to be in charge of his emotions.
“I think it’s ongoing with players that are competitive, prideful, high-strung," Monken said. "I think that’s always the challenge, not just him. I think that’s all players that are wired that way that want to be successful, want to win at everything they do, want to be a big part of why we win. Frustration sets in at times, so that’s always the challenge of where do you balance that. The frustration, the passion, the emotion and try to bottle that into his play on the field and move onto the next play.”
And so the Bucs have two games left and the playoffs on the line. For Evans, that probably means 25 targets, and 15 catches and 200 yards. It would be nice if he could visit the end zone.
Or you could simply wish for impact. This year, that's been the best part of Evans.