Should Fantasy Football Owners Be Worried About Mike Evans?
"Aaron, the simple fact is that everyone has a natural six pack abs. Even you!"
My good friend Mike, who moonlights as a personal trainer and serial self-esteem killer, had just given me the revelation of the century! I immediately took off my shirt, purchased spray tan from Amazon prime, and planned a long overdue trip to the beach. Until, of course, he gave me the catch.
"The reason people can see mine and can't see yours is the amount of belly fat obscuring the muscles. If you want your abs to be visible, you have to use diet and exercise to eliminate that fat."
I slowly put my shirt back and contemplated throwing away the remaining truffle fries from the plate in front of me. But who are we kidding? They're truffle fries and I'm already married. I kept the spray tan.
Regardless, his point had been made. While we all may have the ideal stomach of Cristiano Ronaldo under the surface some where, there are many outside factors that obscure the visibility of that perfection. Such is somewhat the case with the talented but, to this point, invisible Mike Evans.
If you've been watching the Buccaneers this season, you will have noticed a few things. The offensive line is terrible, Jameis Winston is very inconsistent, Marcus Mariota is the best player in the NFL, and Mike Evans hasn't caught a pass.
Yes, he was injured Week 1 and perhaps not full strength this past week, but there are signs that continue pointing to a very obvious conclusion: Mike Evans may not be the top 12 receiver many thought him to be. And if that is the case, it will have nothing to do with his natural talent. It will be because that talent is being obscured by the myriad of circumstances surrounding him.
But is that really true, and if so, what should fantasy owners do about it?
While Evans was incredible at times as a rookie, he also saw most of his production in just three games against some of the worst pass defenses in the NFL in Washington, Atlanta, and whoever the Browns lined up opposite Joe Haden. In those games, Evans totaled 458 yards and 4 touchdowns, exceeding 100 yards in each game, the only times he accomplished that all season.
That being said, everything about Evans' Reception Net Expected Points (NEP) scores indicate that we are dealing with a future star, but perhaps the future isn't now. To expect him to improve upon his rookie season is to expect Winston to have a historically good rookie season. Like Andrew Luck good. And based on our two-week sample, that may not be the season we should expect with Winston on pace for just 3,336 yards and 18 touchdowns despite playing two subpar pass defenses.
"But didn't Josh Gordon have an amazing season with terrible quarterback play?" is what many are thinking! But in 2013, Cleveland quarterbacks combined to throw for more than 4,000 yards and 26 touchdowns, and Gordon didn't have a running mate as talented as Vincent Jackson to steal targets and touchdowns.
Winston doesn't seem to have the situation or coaching needed to generate that type of season, regardless of what his future may be as a top quarterback in this league. And without a truly impressive season from the rookie, Evans will find it very difficult to produce at the consistent level needed for him to be a top-12 player at his position. That is further amplified with Vincent Jackson looking like the clear top target of this passing game through two games.
Speaking of Jackson, he led the Buccaneers in targets and receptions in 2014, and while Evans was the more efficient and effective player according to our metrics, a large part of that had to do with the attention Jackson saw from top defensive backs.
Expect much of that attention to now find Evans with teams now fully aware of his ability, which could make success much harder to come by. Regardless, throughout the preseason and first two games of the regular season, Jackson has appeared to be the top receiver for Winston, which further limits the immediate upside that the former Aggie might have.
Of course anything is possible. But the Buccaneers' terrible offensive line is starting rookies at left tackle and right guard, lost their best lineman to injury in right tackle Demar Dotson and have their starting center nursing an injury that could keep him out for a few weeks. It's a really bad unit that has already allowed their franchise quarterback to be sacked seven times through two games. And, as you might expect, it is very difficult for a quarterback to throw the ball to his receivers from his back.
In his first action of the 2015 season, Evans saw a promising 40 out of a possible 66 offensive snaps, and was held without a catch on three targets against a subpar Saints pass defense. He didn't appear slow or hampered by his hamstring injury at all, even if his snap count was managed. And while his workload will increase, especially with the 4-to-6 week absence of rising tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins, it is very apparent that we aren't dealing with a juggernaut Tampa Bay offense.
So what can we expect moving forward?
Based on his fantastic 2014 NEP totals, Evans should be just fine as a player and a prospect. That being said, while Evans may actually be an elite player, we may not see the numbers to support that until Winston and his offensive line gets their bearings in the NFL.
In an ideal world Tampa Bay would like to manage Winston's passing attempts, relying on an effective running game and a defense and special teams unit that generates turnovers and provides good field position. Of course, through two games, it is very apparent that everything about this team, including its ability to follow this game script, will be very inconsistent. This inconsistency will make it difficult for Evans to exceed or even match his fantastic 2014 rookie season.
So what should owners do with their Evans stock?
If you have the roster to manage the roller coaster season he will likely have, it may make sense to hold him. While Evans likely won't end up as a top wide receiver, he is talented enough to have dominant stats on any given week. But the expectation should be to expect less and be grateful when the big weeks happen.
If someone else values him as a top-10 or top-12 wide receiver and will trade for him at that value, I wouldn't hesitate to pounce on that offer. What separates receivers at the top is consistency, a trait that will likely elude Evans in 2015.
If neither of those options are on the table, the best bet is to just lower your expectations, which is exactly what I've done in regard to the ever elusive six pack.
Consider for a moment that Josh Gordon is the exception, and perhaps a post Kurt Warner version of Larry Fitzgerald is more the rule. Winston clearly has potential, but even the best ones often need time to develop. Evans just may be the victim of that slow development.