Is Evans having the best season of his career?

by Gary Shelton on November 30, 2018 · 0 comments

in general, NFL, Tampa Bay Bucs


Evans has been the Bucs' best player this season./CARMEN MANDATO

Friday, 3 a.m.

If you want, you can define him by his position.

Mike Evans is a wide receiver, and a good one. He lives in heavy traffic, and because of it, he makes difficult catches. He resides at the other end of the first-down marker. He gains yards. He scores touchdowns.

Or, if you want, you can define him by his impact. He leads the Bucs in receiving ... again. He leads the Bucs in yardage ... again. If you need a big catch, you could do a lot worse than to throw it to Evans.

You can define him by his type. He is a possession receiver. You can define him by his designation. He is the team's No. 1 option

Or, you can define him by this: He is a ballplayer. That, among all things.

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Evans, the Bucs' star receiver, is having one of his finest seasons. You could argue, if you want, that he is off to his best season, although most outsiders would point to his Pro Bowl season of 2016 -- with his 96 catches and 12 touchdowns -- as the season to beat. Maybe. Maybe not.

“Mike’s had a really good year," said coach Dirk Koetter, "minus a couple game stretch where he was banged up. He was hurt a little bit more than people know in that two-game stretch. One of those games was Carolina, the first game. (James) Bradberry, the corner, played a really good game against Mike in that game. Other than that, Mike’s had a fantastic season – 1,000 yards with five games to go. The fact that Mike’s targets I would guess are probably down a little bit compared to some other years. I think Mike’s having an outstanding season.”

So how does this season look when you measure it against his other four seasons, all of which were also 1,000-yard seasons?

Let's examine.

Catches: Evans is 19th in the NFL with 62 catches, but he's only nine off of his total for all of 2017. With roughly a third of the season to play, Evans would come close to the 96 catches he had in 2016. Evans should surpass every other season he's had.

Yardage: Evans is fifth in the NFL, but his per-catch average (17.3) is ahead of every player in front of him. It's the highest per-catch average he's had in his career. His 97.5 per game average is almost 15 yards ahead of every other season he's had.

Targets: This is where Evans has really shined this season. He's had just 99 passes thrown to him. Compare that with 2015, when he had 148 passes thrown toward him. He caught only half of those. In 2016, he caught 96 balls, but he was target a career high 173 times. This year, he's catching 62.6 percent of the balls thrown to him, a career high.

Touchdowns: He's just been ordinary this year with five scoring catches. He had 12 in 2016 and 12 more as a rookie in 2014. Still, this should be his third-highest season of catching touchdowns.

First downs: Evans has always been a fresh-set-of-downs guy. He led the league in 2016 with 81 first downs. This year, he's tied for fourth with 50 first downs so far. (In five years, he's been in the top 10 four times).

2016: Again, this was Evans' Pro Bowl season, and in a lot of ways, it was his best season to date. But his average yards per game is higher this year. His average yards per catch is, too. He's caught a higher percentage of his passes. In 2016's favor: He was at his best in the first-down percentages, and he caught 12 touchdown passes. You decide.

"I’ve said many times this year that I think Mike is in the best shape of his life," Koetter said. "I think his stamina is the best since I’ve been with him. I think his stamina is at an all-time high. I think one of the reasons Mike’s having the success he’s having is I think he’s playing in the 80-percentile range of snaps and he’s able to run more routes at top speed. With Mike’s size and speed, when he’s consistently able to go full bore, he’s tough to cover."

Now, against Carolina, Evans has a chance to redeem himself for his one-catch performance against the Panthers and Bradberry. Evans also had a one-catch performance against New Orleans in their first game last year, but came back with five catches in the rematch.

"I think you saw he’s doing a better job taking care of his body," offensive coordinator Todd Monken said. "There’s been previous offseasons, even before I got here, where he might pull something and that takes time away. Mike, for as good a player as he is — like every player they need to practice. They need to work at their craft. They need to be full speed. Mike is very athletic. Mike is very competitive, but when his body starts to break down in his mind he’s not that. I think that’s the big part of it is Mike has been able to practice. When Mike practices and he is feeling good — his body’s feeling good — he’s a handful.”

In a way, then, Evans will be competing with Bradberry Sunday. In a way, he'll be competing with the Panthers.

These days, Evans is competing with Evans. Odds are, he'll be the best Bucs' receiver on Sunday.

The question is whether that will be good enough.





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