Will Mike Evans Be a Top-5 Receiver in 2018? - Footballguys

A detailed look at Mike Evans' fantasy prospects for 2018.

REASONS MIKE EVANS CAN GET BACK INTO THE TOP 5

  1. The offense is still one of the best in the NFL.
  2. Positive touchdown regression is likely
  3. The Buccaneers pass-happy system should guarantee Evans a high target volume

SUMMARY

Don't forget that Evans hasn't slipped below 1,000 yards in any season, despite variable success from the team and offense around him. That kind of stability warrants an early draft selection. Fortunately for fantasy players, Evans' current ADP places him well outside the first round of drafts. The arrow is pointing up in terms of targets, positive touchdown regression, and the offense's pass-to-run ratio. There's a heavy discount on Evans because of recency bias. Those are the types of values drafters should exploit at every opportunity.

THE BUCCANEERS WALK THE PLANK

Last year was an unmitigated disaster for Tampa Bay. Multiple injuries along the defensive line, at linebacker, and at cornerback spots left the defense unable to generate a pass rush, stop the run, or defend the pass. While the offense was potent, it couldn't overcome the deficits created by the leaky defense. Tampa Bay was 3-7 in games determined by one touchdown or less, partially because they struggled to find reliability at the kicker position all year. What gets lost in this narrative is that despite all this turmoil, Mike Evans caught 1,000 yards for a fourth straight season, becoming one of only four players in history to achieve the milestone. To say Evans' 2017 season was disappointing is a mistake. It's fairer to say he was a let-down in terms of where fantasy players drafted him versus where he finished, which was 17th in point-per-reception (PPR) scoring. Drafters want to see Evans get back into the Top 5 and there is a good reason to believe it will happen.

TRUST THE OFFENSE

The Buccaneers' record creates a narrative about their offense and quarterback that is misleading. Statistically, even with Jameis Winston missing some time, Tampa Bay finished fourth in passing yardage (272.9 yards per game). Winston led the league in passing first down percentage with 40.7% of his throws moving the chains. He was sixth in yards per game (269.5), fourth in yards per attempt (7.97), and fourth in yards per completion (12.43). He had over 300 yards passing in six games and, had he been healthy the whole year, would probably have exceeded the mark. He posted career-bests in completion percentage (63.8%) and passer rating (92.2) while enjoying a career-low interception rate (2.5%). He improved in every important category. Unfortunately, Winston will miss the first three games on suspension, but veteran Ryan Fitzpatrick can keep Evans on track. Last season, Evans earned more yards per target and yards per game with Fitzpatrick under center.

TOUCHDOWN PROGRESSION

Evans' five touchdowns last year are a surprise given that he was the 11th most targeted pass catcher inside the 20-yard line and the second most targeted wide receiver both inside the 5-yard line and the end zone. Evan's touchdown production has been volatile, seemingly being great in even years and terrible in odd years:

Year
Touchdowns
Red Zone Target Rank
2014
12
31st
2015
3
24th
2016
12
14th
2017
5
11th

In each of those years, Evans stayed in the Top 35 in targets, yet his targets seemed to have no strong correlation with his touchdown totals. It goes to show how unpredictable touchdowns can be, even among receivers who are regularly getting opportunities. Given his talent and the important role he plays in the overall offensive game plan, Evans will continue to command red zone looks. It's difficult to project double-digit scores for any skill player, but it's equally illogical to attribute last year's tally as his baseline. 

TAMPA BAY WILL STILL THROW

It's hard to imagine the Buccaneers deviating from their pass-heavy nature. The NFC South is one of the more competitive division and full of productive offenses. Tampa Bay got much stronger along its defensive front through free agency and the draft, but will still struggle to contain potent offensive attacks from New Orleans, Carolina, and Atlanta.  Many have projected the rushing attack to improved dramatically, but that's a big assumption. Tampa Bay still has one of the league's worst offensive lines and little depth if any of the starters go down. Cutting J.R. Sweezy in the offseason leaves them especially vulnerable. Footballguys' own Matt Bitonti ranks the line as the 27th best. They may continue to struggle to open lanes for their runners as they did last year. While Peyton Barber and rookie Ronald Jones II II have talent, overcoming this line to create yardage on their own is a lot to ask.

Mike Evans benefits from large target volume; why will that change? DeSean Jackson will not garner a larger target share at this point in his career. While Chris Godwin is improving, he is more of an ancillary receiver who will be asked to do his work from the slot this year. He has little chance of cutting significantly into Evans' targets. It is worth wondering whether the combination of Cameron Brate and O.J. Howard threatens Evans' red-zone looks, but that wasn't the case in 2017. 

2018 PROJECTIONS

Projector
Games
Recs
Yards
Y/R
TDs
FanPts
David Dodds
15.0
78
1,084
13.9
7.1
229.0
Bob Henry
15.1
80
1,110
13.9
8.0
239.0
Jason Wood
16.0
80
1,125
14.1
8.0
240.5
Maurile Tremblay
16.0
84
1,198
14.3
5.9
229.2

FINAL THOUGHTS

Don't pass up the opportunity to grab Evans at a discount. The reasons Tampa was a top-five passing offense in 2017 are still in place. Evans should turn things around in the touchdown department and continue to get the heavy volume that fantasy players covet. He has been productive without Jameis Winston under center, which makes Winston's three-game suspension a non-issue. 

THOUGHTS FROM THE FOOTBALLGUYS MESSAGE BOARD

King of the Jungle is washing his hands of Evans this year:

"He is off my draft list. The defense and running game should be improved. There are too many weapons to force the ball to Evans. I think Chris Godwin makes a big jump this year, which further caps his upside. I really do not see anything in the positive column that would help him achieve the level of production he is being drafted for. ”

Hairy Snowman comes to the defense of Evans:

"Evans takes a ton of double coverage.  He almost always draws the safety. He just signed a mega-extension. He played most of last year "injured.” He was also suspended one game for shoving Marshon Lattimore (in defense of Winston). He still reached 1,000 yards for the fourth straight year. Fitzpatrick is probably an upgrade if Evans can convert more targets to receptions. Last year when Fitzpatrick started 4 games, Evans saw 31 targets.”

travdogg sees a slight rebound coming for Evans:

“He's a great talent, but there are so many weapons in Tampa that he'll likely be very inconsistent. He's probably one of the five most talented WR's in the NFL, but that has really only showed up fantasy wise in 2016. I don't think the Winston suspension hurts much, because as has been stated, he didn't see any real dropoff with Fitzpatrick. I think he'll obviously be somewhere between his 2016 and 2017 numbers. I'll say 1,200-7. That said, I think wide receiver drops off pretty strongly after Brown and Hopkins, so I don't think a top-five season is unreasonable even if he isn't as good as he was in 2016. I'm probably not taking him until round 3, which likely means I'm not taking him.”

OTHER VIEWPOINTS

Tyler Loechner of Pro Football Focus believes Mike Evans can bounce back:

“Positive regression alone will lead to a Evans bounceback season in 2018. An improved Winston could transform Evans into a league-winner.”

Jared Smola of Draft Sharks also has optimism about Evans:

“While the volume might not rebound much in a deep Bucs pass-catching corps, we are betting on a bounce back in efficiency from a 25-year-old WR whose NFL career is off to a brilliant start. Throw in a healthy Winston, who didn't miss a game across his first 2 pro seasons, and Evans is plenty capable of climbing back into WR1 territory. He finished top-13 in PPR points and top-11 in non-PPR in two of his first three seasons.”

CBS Sports wants to see Evans improve in red zone efficiency to hit his ceiling:

“What he must improve is his red-zone efficiency - he caught just 5 of 19 targets inside the 20 for a 26.3 percent catch rate, tied for dead last among receivers with at least 13 red-zone targets. Losing Jameis Winston for the first three weeks of the season is a bummer, but not a deal-breaker. We're hoping a mostly favorable schedule mixed with an offense that should throw a lot will lead to more yards and scores for Evans, whose red-zone work really has nowhere to go but up. That's why he's still among the first 10 receivers worth picking on Draft Day. Bank on him getting swiped right around 20th overall in standard and PPR formats.”