Mike Evans: Money Targets Machine
Mike Evans has one of the more impressive resumes out of any wide receiver in football, posting 1,000+ yards in each of his seven seasons in the league. He’s eclipsed 1,200+ yards three times, with a career-high of 1,524 yards in 2018. He’s also put up 12+ touchdowns in three seasons, including a career-best 13 last season, his first year with Tom Brady. Despite playing through hamstring and ankle sprains, he was still able to finish as the WR13 in half-PPR points per game. Evans is currently being drafted as the WR15 (34.9 ADP) in Underdog fantasy leagues, which is an appropriate price considering his track record, but some might believe it’s a bit too expensive.
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The reason for this is because there are several mouths to feed in this Bucs offense. Chris Godwin remains one of the best wide receivers in football. Antonio Brown and Rob Gronkowski both proved they still have plenty of juice left in the tank last season. There are even some solid ancillary players like wide receivers Scottie Miller and Tyler Johnson, tight ends Cameron Brate and O.J. Howard, as well as running backs Leonard Fournette and Giovani Bernard. Each of these players will contribute in the passing game. In this article, we’ll dive in to determine whether Evans is still worth drafting as a top-15 wide receiver.
Evans has been a beast in the red zone throughout his career. Last season, he posted a 23.08% red-zone target share, which ranked 10th among wide receivers who had at least 100 targets. This was the highest total on the Bucs by a significant margin, ranking ahead of Rob Gronkowski (17.95%), Chris Godwin (14.75%) and Antonio Brown (13.51%). Evans has put up a red-zone target share of 23% in six of his seven seasons. The only season where he didn’t was back in 2017, when he scored five touchdowns. Barring some bad luck with touchdown variance, Evans should be a virtual lock for at least eight touchdowns in this explosive Buccaneers offense.
Evans has also been one of the best deep-threats in the NFL. Last season, he put up a 12.2 average target depth, good for ninth among wide receivers with 100+ targets. Evans has consistently been among the league leaders in this category. Coming into his first year with Tom Brady, there were concerns their skillsets did not align due to Brady’s perceived deficiencies with the deep ball. Those concerns were addressed last year. According to Sports Info Solutions, Brady had an average throw depth of 8.6 yards, ranking second among quarterbacks with at least 400 attempts. This was a huge improvement from his 2019 total of 7.1 yards (22nd). Brady can still sling it downfield and he loves to target Evans in the red zone. While Evans is not a target hog like Davante Adams or Calvin Ridley, he does get the money targets, which are downfield and in the red zone. This will help him maintain his fantasy value.
While the Bucs have several weapons at Tom Brady’s disposal, it’s most relevant to examine the usage of their three top wide receivers: Godwin, Evans and Brown. Let’s take a look at their volume, starting with Brown’s debut in Week 9. I’ll remove Week 17 from these splits because Evans only played 15% of the snaps after leaving early with a knee injury.
|Snaps||Air Yard Share||Target Share||Red-Zone Target Share||Average Target Depth|
As we can see here, there was a clear hierarchy in the Bucs passing game, with Evans acting as the No. 1 WR and Godwin and Brown acting as the second and third options. It’s worth noting Godwin’s numbers were suppressed because he was dealing with a fractured finger, so we can expect him to produce at a similar level to Evans in 2021. During this stretch, Evans ranked as the WR6 in half-PPR points per game, while Godwin (WR28) and Brown (WR45) were well behind. We don’t need to worry too much about Brown’s presence in this offense, especially with Evans continuing to be peppered with the money targets.
According to RotoViz, the Bucs passed on 60% of their plays in neutral game-scripts last season, tied for fifth in the NFL. We can project them to continue to pass at a high rate (we have Tom Brady projected for the most pass attempts in the league). You also have to love the continuity on offense with every starter returning to run it back and try to win another championship. While some like to doubt Evans because of his touchdown dependency, this is one of the most consistent receivers in the NFL who will continue to get peppered with money targets. Don’t worry about Brown because he appears to be the third option in this offense. You can feel comfortable drafting Evans as a player with high touchdown equity on the WR1/WR2 fringe.