The wide receiver class of 2014 will head into this offseason looking like the best in the history of the NFL. The class is deeper than any that came before it, and has elite talent at the top. Its depth is evidenced by how many different players have grabbed the attention of fantasy owners, dating all the way back to the summer.
• Catch up on everything you missed from Week 11 in the NFL
Buffalo traded up in the draft to get Sammy Watkins with the fourth overall pick. He quickly became the first desirable Bills receiver for fantasy purposes since Eric Moulds. By time draft season ended, Brandin Cooks became everyone’s favorite rookie receiver, thanks in large part to his environment in New Orleans. Cooks has provided decent fantasy production this year, but he quickly gave way to Kelvin Benjamin, who had three touchdowns and more than 300 yards in his first month in the league. Attention refocused on Watkins when Kyle Orton took over as the starter, and Odell Beckham and Martavis Bryant have each had their time in the spotlight, as well. However, amidst all of the noise surrounding this year’s class of receivers, one fact, which was on display last week, has emerged.
Fact: Mike Evans is the best rookie receiver in the NFL
Evans put on a show for everyone to see in the national capital on Sunday, torching Washington for seven catches, 209 yards and two touchdowns. He has had at least 100 yards and a score in his last three games. The last receiver to do that in his rookie season was Randy Moss back in 1998. You’ll remember that as potentially the greatest season for a first-year receiver in NFL history. Moss had 69 receptions for 1,313 yards and 17 touchdowns. Anytime you’re doing something 1998 Moss did, you’re performing at an otherworldly level. That’s exactly where Evans is right now.
All told, Evans has 21 catches for 458 yards and five touchdowns in the last three weeks. When Moss put together his three-game streak 16 years ago, he had 19 receptions for 422 yards and seven scores. In Evans’ last six games, he has 656 yards and seven touchdowns, which translates to 17.93 points per game in standard-scoring leagues. When Randy Moss set the single-season record for receiving touchdowns in 2007, he averaged exactly 18 points per game. When Calvin Johnson set the receiving yardage record in 2012, he put up 13.8 points per game (which led the league, as well). Last year, when Josh Gordon seemed to marry the two by going for 1,646 yards and nine touchdowns in 14 games, he had 16.2 points per game. For nearly half a season now, Evans is playing not just at a WR1 pace, but that of the No. 1 overall receiver.
Evans is more size than speed, checking in at 6-foot-5, 231 pounds. However, as Washington learned all too well last week, he is a dangerous weapon down the field. Evans caught passes of 34, 36, 51 and 56 yards against Washington. The 36 and 56-yarders each went for touchdowns, and were both just a case of Evans burning a Washington defender in coverage. The 36-yard touchdown was a case of blown assignments in a zone, while Evans was matched up against linebacker Perry Riley on the 56-yard score that put the game away. The 51-yard grab, though, is of interest to us here.
The Buccaneers lead 10-0 in the second quarter, and have a 2nd-and-20 from their own 27-yard-line. Evans is in the slot to the left of the formation with Tracy Porter in press coverage. Washington is clearly showing blitz, with seven players on the line. Here’s a look at the play right before Josh McCown takes the snap.
Washington indeed brings a blitz that the Buccaneers pick up masterfully. McCown has a clean pocket that he can step up into, and enough time to let Evans work down the field. Harper is no match for him, as Evans quickly beats him off the line and gets separation.
Again, Evans isn’t a speed demon by any stretch of the imagination, but he gets 25 yards after the catch by using his strength. Evans got himself even with Porter less than 10 yards off the line, and even if he doesn’t have the speed to pull away at that point, he would have the size to go up and get a jump ball. While he didn’t need it in this situation, that should give McCown confidence to look his way on similar plays in the future.
Evans has undoubtedly beat up on weak defenses over the last few games, but that’s exactly what great receivers do. Moreover, he has a couple of easy matchups on his schedule – taking on the Bears next week and the Panthers in Week 15 – before playing the 7-3 Packers and their surging defense. If you own Evans, he’s leading you to the playoffs with his Moss-like run. With those matchups in what are typically the fantasy semifinals and championship, he could take you all the way to a title, as well.
Fiction: The Chargers’ offense will get it together
The Chargers got a much-needed win in Week 11 after three straight losses, but they did not exactly impress in doing so. Coming off a bye, they had two weeks to prepare for a home game with the winless Raiders. They scored on their second play from scrimmage, thanks to a fumbled snap that set them up at the Oakland 22-yard-line. They did not revisit the end zone the rest of the game, settling for two field goals in a 13-6 victory that was just as exciting as it sounds. The Chargers had 300 total yards, and Philip Rivers failed to eclipse 200 yards for the second straight game. Go back four games, and he has thrown for more than 205 yards just once.
Other than a Week 2 win over Seattle, San Diego’s playoff-contending status was built, brick by brick, against some of the worst teams in the league. Four of their six wins have come against the Raiders, Jaguars and Jets, with a fifth over the Bills. Even with the Seahawks included, the Chargers’ six wins have come against teams with a combined record of 14-46 (counting the Raiders’ 0-10 twice). Conversely, the four teams that have defeated them have a combined record of 29-11 (Arizona, Kansas City, Denver, Miami).
Last week notwithstanding, San Diego’s best offensive performances have come in their wins. They scored at least 31 points in consecutive victories over the Jaguars, Jets and Raiders. In those three games, Rivers threw for 978 yards, 10.52 yards per attempt, nine touchdowns, and just one interception. Unfortunately for owners still invested in the San Diego offense, the bet here is that there are plenty more losses looming on the horizon.
The Chargers host the Rams, who just held the Broncos to seven points, this week. After that, they visit the Ravens, welcome the Patriots and Broncos to San Diego, and then hit the road for a Week 16 meeting with the 49ers. If your league uses Week 17, you’ll be looking at a Chargers-Chiefs matchup at Arrowhead to end the season. This week’s game with the Rams may be the last time the Chargers are favored all year.
Remember, this iteration of the Chargers offense was left for dead before last season. While the players, most notably Rivers, Ryan Mathews and Keenan Allen had a lot to do with last year’s resurgence, the architect of that offense, then-offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt, is now trying to turn Zach Mettenberger into a starter in Tennessee. It looks like this team lost more than it bargained for when Whisenhunt decamped for Nashville.