Is Mike Evans Primed for a Second-Half Surge?

It's been a pretty solid year for rookie receivers. Is Mike Evans ready to be the next to break out and be a number-one option?

The 2014 NFL Draft has been ripe with productive wide receivers already.

Kelvin Benjamin and Sammy Watkins have become top options for their teams. Brandin Cooks, Jordan Matthews, and Odell Beckham have shown us glimpses of their full potential.

Donte Moncrief and Martavis Bryant have emerged in recent weeks. Even the undrafted Allen Hurns has had flashes of brilliance while playing with fellow rookie Allen Robinson.

Lost in the rookie shuffle, tough, has been the second wide receiver drafted among the group: Mike Evans.

After a 7-catch, 124-yard, 2-touchdown game against the Browns in Week 9, Evans is looking like the most recent rookie wideout to stake claim to a number-one role on his team, but would that be putting too much stock into one performance?

Tailor-made to Score

A lot of factors will come into play if Evans really does emerge. He will have to surpass the big-bodied Vincent Jackson who plays opposite him.

Evans, though might already have done that - especially in the red zone. Evans has as many touchdowns as Jackson does in the red zone: two. Evans has caught 3 of his 5 red zone targets (60%), and 66.7% of those catches have turned into touchdowns. Jackson has 9 red zone targets but only 2 catches (22.2%).

This is because Evans' physical prowess - he is 6'5'' and has a 231-pound frame - places him in some very promising company from the NFL's recent history.

Because Evans is at the very edge of the physical spectrum, I have to scale things back just so there are some peers to discuss. Here are the 10 rookie wideouts who were at least 6'3'', 220 pounds and scored at least 4 touchdowns in their rookie season dating back to 2000. They are sorted by their Reception Net Expected Points (NEP), which quantifies a player's production above or below expectation based on receptions.

PlayerSeasonRecRec NEPTarTar NEPRec NEP/TarCatch RateTD
Marques Colston200670111.6711563.020.9760.87%8
Julio Jones20115478.579539.370.8356.84%8
Larry Fitzgerald20045869.64115-4.860.6150.43%8
Josh Gordon20125064.999525.040.6852.63%5
Calvin Johnson20074863.109517.500.6650.53%4
Kelvin Benjamin*20144056.497827.240.7251.28%5
Marc Boerigter20022047.693827.651.2652.63%8
Matt Jones20053647.636913.050.6952.17%5
Mike Evans*20143236.565313.060.6960.38%4
Tyrone Calico20031833.5043-0.100.7841.86%4
*Data through Week 9 of the 2014 NFL season.

I know that's a lot of numbers, so I'll provide some key takeaways. While it's enticing to look at the players we know are good (the top half of the table) and hope for the best for Evans, there are also three players who didn't quite pan out after their rookie seasons. However, the table isn't sorted by who had the best career. It was sorted by Reception NEP, which helps indicate just how important those receiving touchdowns were and how the player performed as a whole.

The more voluminous receivers (the top half had at least 48 receptions in their rookie campaigns) separated themselves by doing more than just scoring a handful of touchdowns. Obviously, Evans (and Benjamin for what it's worth) is still in the bottom half of the chart. Adjusting it for a 16-game pace, Evans, who currently has the second-best catch rate of the bunch, leaps to second in Reception NEP.

Evans' 16-game pace would give him 73.1 receptions on 121.1 targets for a Reception NEP of 83.57 and a Target NEP of 29.86. Benjamin is currently on pace for a Reception NEP of 100.42 and 138.67 targets, but either way, Evans, on a per-game basis, is outperforming the rookie versions of some of the biggest-named and biggest-bodied receivers in the NFL.

Second-Half Surge?

So, Evans is certainly on par with the best of that bunch, but that doesn't necessarily mean that he is an obvious option to have a big second half of the season. For comparison's sake, here is how those big rookies produced on a per-game average during their teams' first eight games of the season compared to the last eight games of the season. I omitted games in which the players did not play but did include games without a target.

PlayerRecTarYardTD RecTarYardTD
Marques Colston5.509.1387.500.88 4.337.0056.330.17
Julio Jones4.677.6781.500.33 3.717.0067.140.86
Larry Fitzgerald3.886.7557.880.38 3.387.6339.630.63
Josh Gordon2.135.2547.380.50 4.136.7553.250.13
Calvin Johnson2.574.4345.710.29 3.757.7554.500.25
Marc Boerigter0.750.8819.130.25 1.753.8833.380.75
Matt Jones2.384.8821.000.25 2.133.7533.000.38
Tyrone Calico1.633.3831.130.38 0.832.678.000.33

So have these big-framed rookies really improved once they got acclimated? Or did they hit a rookie wall of sorts?

Well, of the eight, three saw an uptick in per-game receptions (Josh Gordon, Calvin Johnson, and Mark Boerigter). Those three and Larry Fitzgerald saw an increase in targets. Gordon, Johnson, Boerigter, and Matt Jones increased yardage. Another four improved per-game touchdowns: Julio Jones, Fitzgerald, Boerigter, and Matt Jones.

With such a small working sample, it's a bit unfortunate that the trend is so, well, there really isn't a trend. Roughly half of the subset improved while the other half didn't depending on the given statistic.

That isn't necessarily bad news for Evans. After all, some receivers showed marked improvements in certain areas. And for Evans personally, things are trending upwards.

Smooth Sailing Ahead

Even if Evans doesn't quite make a second-half push that breaks any rookie records, he is already on pace to be ahead of the curve compared to rookies of similar size and touchdown ability.

Evans, despite having one of the most promising profiles for dominating in the red zone, has been consistent already from a non-touchdown perspective. He has been targeted fewer than seven times just once, and has caught at least four passes in every game so far this season. He has 49 receiving yards in every game except for in Week 1, and now he's starting to realize his touchdown potential, scoring at least one touchdown in three of his last four games.

While the historical peer group may not evidence any second-half trends, Evans himself has shown his upward mobility in the production department. In his first three games, Evans averaged 4.3 receptions on 7.0 targets for 46.0 yards, and 0 touchdowns. In his four games since, Evans' averages improved remarkably: 4.8 receptions, 8.3 targets, 80.5 yards, and 1.0 touchdowns.

I think it's safe to say that Evans is full speed ahead from here on out.