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Columns - Magazine

The Mike Evans Flu Game

by Jesse Pantuosco
Updated On: October 4, 2018, 4:04 pm ET

Because fantasy football is inherently a numbers game, writers like myself tend to crunch a lot of stats. Every so often I’ll see a stat that makes me want to jump out of my chair. I’m not so selfish that I want to keep this seat-leaping enjoyment all to myself, so I’ll share this next stat with you: in his first four games, Mike Evans caught just 13-of-33 targets from Jameis Winston.

 

After that stat sunk in, I found myself asking a lot of questions. Is Evans healthy? Remember, he missed the season opener with a hamstring injury. Is Evans falling victim to the dreaded sophomore slump? It wouldn’t be the first time the sequel wasn’t as good as the original. And finally, is Jameis Winston, who was supposed to be an upgrade over the underwhelming Mike Glennon/Josh McCown duo, really this bad?

 

Completing 13-of-33 passes computes to a 39.4 completion percentage. Evans caught 51.6 percent of his targets last season. That’s certainly not an overwhelming success rate, but it’s better than he’s done with Winston.

 

Inefficiency isn’t always the fantasy killer we assume it to be. Just look at Allen Robinson in Jacksonville. He’s caught fewer than 50 percent of his throws from Blake Bortles but is still a top-five wideout on the strength of 586 yards and six touchdowns. It helps that his volume is off the charts (71 targets in seven games).

 

That swing-for-the fences approach works because Robinson is the Jags’ primary deep threat. Bortles could miss him four out of five times but if Robinson catches that fifth pass for a 40-yard touchdown, that’s more than enough to ward off the angry mob of fantasy owners.

 

Watching Robinson might be frustrating for some but at least he has a defined role in the Jaguars’ offense. So what do the Bucs want Evans to be? Vincent Jackson is more of a possession receiver, so does that make Evans a deep burner like Robinson? Or is he someone that can line up all over the field like Brandon Marshall or Antonio Brown?

 

Last year Evans fit the profile of a red-zone finisher with 12 touchdowns in 15 games. Before Sunday’s game against the Redskins, which we’ll get to in a minute, Evans had not scored a touchdown all season.

 

The Redskins always seem to bring out the best in Evans. He set a career-high with 209 yards against them during Week 11 of his rookie year. That capped a three-game stretch where Evans averaged 152.7 yards with five touchdowns.

 

Evans continued his Redskins dominance with another brilliant outing in Week 7. Though the Bucs collapsed in the second half to lose 31-30, Evans (eight catches for 164 yards and a touchdown) did everything in his power to keep that from happening. Let’s look at his first catch.

 

Will Blackmon had the very unenviable task of shadowing Evans for most of the afternoon. Predictably, Jameis Winston looked to exploit this matchup as often as he could. Watch Evans create separation with a double move for a smooth 40-yard touchdown. Give Winston credit for making a brilliantly timed pass down the left sideline. It looks like the Bucs put their bye week to good use. Evans and Winston were certainly on the same page for this throw.

 

 

At 6’5 and 231 pounds, you don’t need a degree in physics to figure out that Mike Evans is a tough guy to bring down. Here, Evans breaks a pair of tackles on his way to a 25-yard gain. With Doug Martin thriving (he’s rushed for 100 yards in three straight games), Winston has been able to use the play-action to his advantage. This completion with 7:31 remaining in the first quarter offers a prime example of how the Buccaneers can spread the field by using play-action.

 

 

Before we heap too much praise on Evans, let’s learn a little about who’s covering him. Will Blackmon is no shutdown corner. He’s an injury-prone nickel back who probably shouldn’t even be starting. But with the Redskins short-handed at cornerback (Chris Culliver and DeAngelo Hall are both injured), Blackmon has had to play 211 of the team’s 214 defensive snaps over the last three games.

 

Watch Evans absolutely roast Blackmon in single coverage. This matchup is unfair on so many levels. Evans is bigger, faster and just better. Blackmon had no chance of stopping Evans on this play.

 

 

Obviously Evans has tremendous physical gifts and can outrun and outleap most of the defenders he’s up against. But it’s the attention to detail that makes him such a great route runner. Bashaud Breeland probably thinks Evans is about to run a fly route, but instead he curls inside and pushes off for a 20-yard gain. This is a good example of taking what the defense gives you. Breeland has the boundary covered so Evans breaks to the middle of the field where there’s nothing but green grass. The Bucs aren’t reinventing the wheel here but the timing and route running is pitch perfect.

 

 

There’s certainly contact on the buttonhook you just saw, but Evans’ push-off wasn’t egregious enough to warrant a pass interference penalty. Evans gets a little too physical on this next play. Trenton Robinson does a nice job of selling this offensive pass interference. That negated what would have been a 20-yard touchdown. It’s still a nice throw by Winston and an even better catch by Evans. Unfortunately, it was all for naught.

 

 

Evans got a ton of looks in the second half. Some of that was by design but also because Vincent Jackson went out with a knee injury. Louis Murphy had gone down with a knee injury earlier, leaving the Bucs with just two healthy receivers. And Evans wasn’t even that healthy. He felt sick most of the afternoon and even vomited on the sideline (not from dipping, as far as we know).

 

You can really see the fatigue set in on this run. Early in the game, Evans might have had this. But deep into the fourth quarter, he looks gassed. Winston may have overthrown it a tad but it’s clear Evans is hurting.

 

 

So Evans is finished, right? Not even close. Running on fumes after missing Winston’s deep throw, Evans comes back on the next play to make an unbelievable sideline catch for 16 yards. That kept the drive going and eventually led to a field goal, giving Tampa Bay what seemed like a safe six-point lead with 2:24 remaining. The Bucs’ defense couldn’t keep their end of the bargain but you have to admire Evans’ resilience in making a clutch catch at far less than 100 percent. Call this the Mike Evans Flu Game.

 

 

I annihilated Winston earlier this year after his head-in-the-sand performance against Tennessee in the season opener. It’s only been a month and a half, but it’s obvious Winston has made great strides since then. Here, the Redskins bring the house on third down. Winston had such a tight window to make this throw but the blitz didn’t seem to affect his accuracy one bit. It’s right on the money to Evans for another 14 yards.

 

Breeland couldn’t contain Evans on this play but he saved the game later on the drive by stopping Doug Martin at the end of a 49-yard run. The Redskins held their ground on the goal line, forcing the Bucs to settle for a 21-yard field goal instead of what would have been the game-winning touchdown.

 

 

This next catch was Evans’ eighth of the game, which marks a new career high for the 22 year old. With 24 seconds left and no timeouts, Evans does exactly what he needs to do, putting the Buccaneers 16 yards closer to field goal range while getting out of bounds to stop the clock. Charles Sims ended this drive with a panicked lateral to nobody in particular but Evans certainly had the right idea with this simple but effective sideline route.

 

 

So where do we stand with Evans? After catching eight of 12 balls from Winston, it certainly looks like he’s on the right path. Evans has the physical tools to be a legitimate WR1 and if Vincent Jackson’s knee injury keeps him out for an extended period, his stock will soar even higher. Kind of makes you want to jump out of your seat, doesn’t it?

Jesse Pantuosco
Jesse Pantuosco is a football and baseball writer for Rotoworld. He has won three Fantasy Sports Writers Association Awards. Follow him on Twitter @JessePantuosco.