Very often, volume is king. It was the case for DeAndre Hopkins in 2015, Pierre Garcon in 2013 and Evans last year. Despite a pedestrian 13.8 YPC and 7.6 YPT (28th among the league's 41 100-target WR), Evans finished fifth in catches (96), fourth in yards (1,321) and tied for second in TDs (12) en route to the No. 1 non-PPR season among all WR. That's what happens when you lead the league in targets (173). At 6-5, 231 pounds and with 4.53 speed, Evans is a freak, not quite in the Julio Jones/Calvin Johnson mode, but more peak Brandon Marshall. Evans didn't make many downfield catches last year (15 for 20-plus yards, only one of 40 or more), and despite his size was only tied for 11th with 19 red-zone looks. But he converted seven of those for scores, something about which we shouldn't be surprised given the physical mismatch he presents. The Bucs added plenty of talent to the receiving corps for 2017 with deep threat DeSean Jackson, third-rounder Chris Godwin and first-round pick tight end O.J. Howard to pair with the already competent Cameron Brate. Moreover, tailback Charles Sims should be ready for the start of training camp, siphoning off a few more targets per game. This is likely to cost Evans opportunities, but also upgrade his efficiency now that the defense has to pay attention to other players.
On the surface, other than a dramatic drop in TDs, it looks like Evans largely duplicated his stellar rookie season. He actually averaged more YPC (16.3, 3rd) and nearly as many YPT (8.1, down from 8.5). Evans saw more red-zone looks in 2015, more targets inside the 10 and inside the five. Moreover, he played with Jameis Winston (7.6 YPA), a decided upgrade over the Josh McCown/Mike Glennon combo. So why did Evans catch only three TD passes on 148 targets after scoring 12 on 123 as a rookie? For starters, he led the league with 10 penalties and 11 drops, though six drops came in one game. Second, Winston scored six rushing TDs, depriving his receivers of some easy end-zone targets (TB's 22 pass TDs ranked 22nd). Third, as Evans admitted, his chemistry with Winston was "a little bit off", a problem the two sought to rectify this offseason. At 6-5, 231, with good speed (4.53 40) for his size, Evans is too big for opposing defensive backs and too fast for linebackers. Even in a down year, he still managed 21 catches of 20-plus yards (4th), two more than Odell Beckham and DeAndre Hopkins. Vincent Jackson is still around, but at 33 he's a complementary option. While Austin Seferian-Jenkins could steal some RZ targets, Evans should reprise his role as No. 1 WR on a team with little depth at the position.
While Sammy Watkins had more buzz heading into the draft, and Odell Beckham Jr. stole the show during the regular season, Evans' rookie year was remarkable in its own right. For starters, he became only the eighth rookie wideout to eclipse 1,000 yards since the start of the millennium (though he was one of three to do it last year) and scored 12 TDs despite missing a game. And Evans accomplished these feats, along with a robust 8.5 YPT (14th), as a 20-year old while playing for the league's sixth-worst passing offense (6.8 YPA). At 6-5, 231, Evans is an enormous target, and he has enough speed (4.53 40) to get deep, especially given how little separation he needs to make plays over smaller defensive backs. While 32-year-old Vincent Jackson is still around, Jackson's at best option 1B, and more likely the clear second fiddle as Evans grows into a bigger role with new offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter and new quarterback Jameis Winston on board. Koetter's hire is especially encouraging, as he presided over one of the NFL's most pass-happy attacks the last three years in Atlanta, and Winston is widely considered the most NFL-ready QB prospect in this year's draft.
While Sammy Watkins has the flash, it’s Evans who fits the profile of the modern No. 1 receiver in today’s NFL. He might have to wait a year or two with Vincent Jackson around, but there’s little doubt about his physical skills. At 6-5, 231, and running a 4.53 40 at the NFL Combine, Evans is enormous and fast enough to do damage down the field given his size. (His best unofficial time was actually 4.48). Think a younger Brandon Marshall with a little more height. He’ll make an ideal red-zone target, so even as second fiddle to Jackson, he should be a source of touchdowns from the outset. The quality of the offense remains to be seen, but it’s likely to improve over last year’s with new offensive coordinator Mike Tedford brought in from Cal and new quarterback Josh McCown.