Mike Evans, Texas A&M (David J. Phillip/AP)
New Buccaneers coach Lovie Smith added a quarterback earlier this offseason in veteran Josh McCown. Now, Smith and the Buccaneers' front office have handed McCown another very talented weapon in receiver Mike Evans.
The Buccaneers used the No. 7 pick in the 2014 NFL draft on WR Mike Evans, Johnny Manziel's top target at Texas A&M. Which means that one year after heaving passes to Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery in Chicago, McCown will get to enjoy an Evans-Vincent Jackson combination in Tampa Bay.
Strengths: Perhaps Evans’ greatest strength is his ability to get free in short spaces on a number of routes — he doesn’t just win vertical battles; he’s also very good at quick cuts for his size (6-foot-5, 231). And with his length, he’s able to expand his catch radius to bring in balls most receivers simply can’t. Catches with his hands — Evans doesn’t wait for the ball to hit him in the chest, which allows him to reach for catches when falling away. He’s also surprisingly fast on straight vertical routes — Evans gets a head of steam going quickly and has a clear extra gear in the open field. He’s not a big, lumbering player; he has outstanding stride length and he knows how to use it. Evans will be a great help to any mobile quarterback, because he’s learned from playing with Manziel that you always have to keep focused on the extended play. When Manziel was running around, Evans was moving with him and getting opening with his physicality.
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Excellent blocker who gets his long arms extended and seems to enjoy mixing it up. In that same vein, he’s very comfortable breaking tackles and throwing stiff-arms. Tremendous threat on in-breaking routes (in-cuts, slants, posts) because it’s so hard to keep up with his speed and still deal with his height. Could be a dominant situational slot receiver; more NFL teams are taking their No. 1 targets and looking to create mismatches in this way.
Weaknesses: Focus is an issue at times — Evans drops balls he should catch, and he had to be talked back into the Chick-fil-A Bowl by Manziel after a couple of personal fouls. And like most bigger college receivers, Evans will need to expand his route tree in the NFL. His game, like Manziel’s, was based a great deal on improvisation, and his pro team might not like that prototype. Played against a lot of off-coverage designed to react to his quarterback; Evans will need to develop his foot fakes and hand moves against more aggressive press corners in the NFL.
Slight knock down in the draft grade because Tampa Bay still does not have its franchise QB, and there were at least two viable options on the board here. But Evans may turn out to be a better NFL receiver than Sammy Watkins, who was worth two first-round picks and a fourth-rounder in an earlier trade.
McCown has shown himself more than capable of getting the job done in an offense with talent around him. He's definitely got that now, meaning that Tampa Bay might be able to buy itself a year or two before it has to find a younger quarterback. Evans and Jackson together, with Doug Martin out of the backfield, makes the Buccaneers a much tougher opponent than in past seasons.
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