Is Mike Evans Going to Join the Fantasy Football Elite This Season?

Evans, with his size and skillset, has uncapped potential, but will he put it all together in year two?

Wide receivers who are 6'5" and 231 pounds aren't exactly the most common player types in the NFL.

That's part of what makes Calvin Johnson so unique. That's part of why Vincent Jackson could put up good numbers despite questionable quarterback play in his career.

And that's a big part of why expectations are nearly limitless for Mike Evans.

Last season, Evans was near the top of an elite rookie receiver class, and now he's overtaken Jackson as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' X receiver, which means he'll be stretching the field and seeing one-on-one coverage -- if the defense dares try to cover him with just one cornerback.

Evans is certainly okay with that move, as he wished for more jump-ball situations last season but didn't get them. "The quarterback would just look me off, and then I'd be dead," Evans told Tom Pelissero of the USA Today. "And I didn't understand, because I always think I'm open. Just throw that thing up."

Of course, most receivers in the league feel as though they're open even in triple coverage, but with Evans' ability, it's not quite the same plea.

Now with Jameis Winston in charge of the offense, a player who threw to the 6'5", 242-pound Kelvin Benjamin in college, what should we expect from this second-year player?

Digging Deep

At numberFire, we have a metric called Net Expected Points (NEP), which compares a player's performance to expectation level. The easiest way to think of it is that NEP doesn't consider a 10-yard reception on 3rd-and-5 and a 10-yard reception on 3rd-and-20 to be equally beneficial for a team.

A look at his first-half NEP scores from last season gave plenty of reasons to expect his second-half breakout.

Through Week 9, Evans was on pace for roughly 73 catches, 121 targets, a Reception NEP of 83.57, and a Target NEP of 29.86. He finished the year with 68 catches, 123 targets, a Reception NEP of 100.30, and a Target NEP of 49.78.

Neither his volume nor his opportunities really increased more than expected, but his production clearly did. He added roughly 17 more points with his receptions than anticipated.

Among the 40 receivers with at least 100 targets last season, Evans' Reception NEP ranked 14th. His Target NEP ranked 16th, which can indicate poor quarterback play or a lack of hauling in targets. For Evans, it was likely a bit of both, as his catch rate of 55.28% ranked 35th in the subset.

Of course, his Average Depth of Target (aDOT) of 16.3 yards (according to Pro Football Focus) was tied with Calvin Johnson's for longest among all 100-plus target receivers. Johnson's catch rate of 55.47% ranked just 34th among the 40 receivers last season.

On a per-target basis, Evans' receptions added 0.82 points above expectation level, which ranked 10th in the group. That mark was the same as Johnson's. Vincent Jackson's was just 0.58, which ranked 32nd, so Evans was outperforming Jackson and compared really closely to Megatron in a lot of ways.

Then again, Evans' Reception Success Rate, the percentage of receptions that actually added to Tampa's expected scoring output, was just 79.41%, 33rd in the group.

For a downfield threat, that's a bit puzzling. Especially considering that Calvin's Reception Success Rate of 98.59% led the entire group. Oh, and before blaming the quarterbacks, just know that even though Jackson's Reception NEP per target was bad, his Reception Success Rate of 92.86% ranked second behind Megatron's substantial lead.

To make matters worse, the rest of the bottom 10 was made up of some of the players with the lowest aDOTS in the league: Keenan Allen, Reggie Wayne, Jordan Matthews, Andre Johnson, Pierre Garcon, Jarvis Landry, Michael Crabtree, Robert Woods, and James Jones.

These players were basically the polar opposite of Evans in terms of target depth, but even Evans' actual receptions didn't always lead to NEP gains, especially relative to Calvin Johnson's.


Good question.

Win, Lose, or Draw

So, the Buccaneers had the first overall draft pick for a reason. They won only two games.

That means that they were trailing a lot last season (they ran 573 plays while trailing, eighth most in the NFL), and NEP doesn't put much weight into garbage time production.

This isn't to say that Evans was unproductive in the two wins they had. In fact, in those two wins, Evans averaged 25.5 fantasy points, 137.0 yards, and 1.5 touchdowns, according to RotoViz's Game Splits App.

But producing in a win isn't the same as producing while leading, so how did Evans perform while the Bucs were in control?

Mike EvansTarRecCatch RateYardsTDTar/TDRec/TD

The raw production clearly was most noticeable during the trailing, but considering the split -- 573 plays while trailing and 201 while winning -- and Evans actually needed fewer targets on average to score a touchdown with a lead.

Given that more than 60% of his receptions were hauled in while trailing, I think the low Reception Success Rate is understandable -- though it's still not exactly encouraging. Just know, though, that the Buccaneers did run the ball on 54.7% of their plays while winning, the 10th-highest clip in the league. If Tampa does turn things around and maintain some leads, they might play it safer than Evans owners might like.

A Verdict

Just about everything regarding Evans is pointing in the right direction.

He has the measurables and ability to be an elite receiver. He showed (extended) glimpses of it already as a rookie. His rookie numbers compared well to a hobbled Calvin Johnson's -- which is still near the top of the league. He's taking over the role that will suit him best.

But, yes, he did take advantage of some big deficits last year, deficits that may not exist for him this year and that may not lead to such gaudy fantasy numbers and touchdown totals.

I think expecting him to be an elite receiver this season might be a bit much -- not all of the numbers from 2014 were optimistic -- but I certainly don't think there's enough to suggest a significant decline of any sort.

Our algorithms expect him to finish as the 12th receiver in fantasy football and to post an 80-catch, 1,122-yard, 9-touchdown season. Based on his his numbers either with a lead or without one, those predict a bit of an uptick in his catches and yards with some regression from his 12-touchdown season as a rookie.

Just like it was from the midway point of last season, I think Evans is full speed ahead yet again in 2015.