Mike Evans' 2016 Season Was a Lot Like DeAndre Hopkins' 2015

Evans had a huge 2016 season, but digging deeper, his potential for 2017 is a little sketchy.

Is it too soon to bring up DeAndre Hopkins' 2016 fantasy season? Are Hopkins owners going to be OK if I do?

Let's just keep it real: his season, especially versus expectation, sucked. It was awful. Owning DeAndre Hopkins on your fantasy football team this past year was like using half your paycheck to buy a Nintendo Wii when it was released back in 2006.

Yes, it's been that long. And, no, you didn't play that ridiculous console more than 14 times.

Hopkins, who finished as fantasy football's 26th-best PPR receiver in 2016 despite being drafted in the first round, was a colossal disappointment. He embodied the term "bust."

Could that be where Mike Evans is headed in 2017?

An Apt Comparison

Going into the 2016 NFL season, there were plenty of red flags surrounding DeAndre Hopkins' cost in fantasy football. I even wrote about it. And it's hard to not see the exact same warning signs with Mike Evans.

Let's start by taking a quick peek at the two receivers' stat lines, comparing Hopkins' 2015 to Evans' 2016.

Player Year Team Gms Targets Market Share Rec Yds TD PPR Points
DeAndre Hopkins 2015 HOU 16 192 31.02% 111 1521 11 329.1
Mike Evans 2016 TB 16 173 29.93% 96 1321 12 304.1

Hopkins had the better season in sum, but both players were target hogs, and both guys finished as top-five fantasy options.

Now, one of the huge reasons folks were pessimistic about Hopkins moving into the 2016 season was his change in volume when his team became more competent. As noted in last year's offseason article, Hopkins' volume was significantly higher when the Texans -- his team -- were slumping to start the year.

Week Team Opponent Hopkins Targets Weekly Rank (PPR)
1 HOU KC 13 2nd
2 HOU CAR 11 48th
3 HOU TB 14 12th
4 HOU ATL 22 5th
5 HOU IND 14 1st
6 HOU JAX 15 1st
7 HOU MIA 12 33rd

The Texans began their 2015 season with a 2-5 record, later finishing 9-7 and making the playoffs. When the team was 2-5, they had the 23rd-best defense in football according to our schedule-adjusted Net Expected Points (or NEP, which you can read more about in our glossary) metric. And because they trailed in so many games, their drop-back-to-run ratio at this time was sixth-highest in football. As a result, Hopkins was averaging 14.43 targets per game, putting him on pace to shatter the single-season targets record.

Through nine weeks of the 2016 season, the Buccaneers were 3-5. They had the 21st-ranked defense according to our numbers, and the team's drop-back-to-run ratio was 1.52, 16th in the NFL.

At that point in time, Evans was dominating the volume game, averaging 12.63 targets per contest. That pace across an entire season would've yielded over 200 targets, something done by five pass-catchers in NFL history.

Week Team Opponent Evans Targets Weekly Rank (PPR)
1 TB ATL 7 12th
2 TB ARI 17 15th
3 TB LA 13 6th
4 TB DEN 11 42nd
5 TB CAR 12 12th
7 TB SF 13 3rd
8 TB OAK 11 40th
9 TB ATL 17 1st

Like Hopkins, Evans didn't finish with any sort of record-breaking numbers. The reason for that was similar: the team itself got out of a funk and started winning games.

Take a look at both the Texans' (started 2-5, finished 9-7) and Buccaneers' (started 3-5, finished 9-7) changes in drop-back-to-run ratio and defensive performance before and after they started winning games during 2015 and 2016, respectively:

As a Losing Team As a Winning Team
Team Drop-Back-to-Run Ratio Def. NEP Drop-Back-to-Run Ratio Def. NEP
HOU 1.79 44.27 1.08 -69.61
TB 1.52 76.44 1.20 -5.76

Oh, let's break it down.

The Texans were more of a Jekyll and Hyde team in 2015 than the Bucs were in 2016, but the comparisons are there: both squads saw better defensive performance when they started winning games (negative NEP is a good thing, because defenses are taking away points from opposing offenses) and, in turn, drop-back-to-run ratios dropped.

The teams were winning, so they didn't need to be pass-first.

This undoubtedly changed the way Hopkins and Evans produced in fantasy football:

As a Losing Team As a Winning Team
Player Targets Per Game FP Per Game Targets Per Game FP Per Game (PPR)
Hopkins 14.43 23.94 9.88 17.74
Evans 12.63 22.44 8.43 15.30

Hopkins' "winning team" pace in points per game across the season would've brought in 283.84 PPR fantasy points -- a top-six number in 2015, but a solid 46 points off of his actual total. Evans' winning team pace across a season equates to 244.80 points, or 59.30 points lower than his actual total. Scoring 244.80 PPR points at wide receiver this past year would've made Evans a fringe top-12 guy.

Going Deeper

Another interesting piece to all of this is how these two players accumulated their numbers. We can say they saw a lot of volume and then all of a sudden they didn't, but there's more to the story.

In 2015, Hopkins averaged 12.14 air yards per catch -- that is, the number of yards the ball traveled through the air per reception -- and just 1.56 yards after the catch per catch. Over the last five years, players with a similar air yards profile saw 4.02 yards after the catch per catch.

Compare that to Evans in 2016:

PlayerYearAir Yards Per CatchYards After the Catch Per Catch

Over Hopkins' four-year career, that 1.56 yards after the catch per catch rate is easily his worst -- his second-lowest average is 3.18. Evans' 2014 and 2015 seasons saw yards after the catch per catch rates of 2.66 and 3.32, respectively.

To put all of this another way, both receivers severely underperformed in the yards after the catch department during the examined years, more than likely because they were force-fed the ball, causing contested catches to be made. It's just another parallel between the two seasons -- they gathered their numbers in a very similar fashion.

Bringing It Together

Let me be clear: I'm not predicting a DeAndre Hopkins-like disaster for Mike Evans in 2017. That's mostly because Jameis Winston isn't Brock Osweiler, and the Texans' defense is objectively better -- and has been -- than the Buccaneers' unit. Tampa Bay is more than likely going to be a more pass-heavy team in 2017 than the Texans were in 2016.

Even still, we've got to be aware that using a mid-first-round fantasy selection on Mike Evans this year will be a little risky. That's especially true if the Buccaneers add more offensive weapons this offseason, potentially lowering Evans' overall market share, or if they add to the defensive side of the ball, building upon the improvements made over the course of the 2016 season.

Don't make a Hopkins-like mistake again this year.