Tampa Bay Buccaneers Fantasy Football 2017 Preview: Cherish Mike Evans

Wednesday August 2nd, 2017

Since the Bucs will already be going under the microscope for the annual HBO training camp series Hard Knocks, let’s put them under the fantasy microscope, too.

Wide receivers

PLAYER ADP FITZ RANKING ADVICE
Mike Evans WR4 WR4 Cherish
DeSean Jackson WR36 WR32 Pair carefully

Would it really be that crazy to make Mike Evans the top-ranked wide receiver in fantasy football this year? None of the analysts tracked by FantasyPros.com have Evans atop their WR rankings. There will probably be only a smattering of non-dynasty drafts this year in which Evans is the top receiver off the board—maybe in the Evans family draft and in a handful of leagues based in either the greater Tampa area or College Station, Tx., where Evans attended school. But really, why not Evans at No. 1?

Only four other receivers—John Jefferson, Randy Moss, A.J. Green and Odell Beckham Jr.—have started their careers with three consecutive 1,000-yard seasons. Evans’ targets, receptions and receiving yardage have increased each year. Evans will have just turned 24 when the new season begins, and his greatest statistical seasons almost certainly lie ahead. He plays with an ascendant young quarterback who has shown no compunction about forcing throws downfield and letting his king-sized receiver make plays. Evans will now be lining up opposite a lid-lifting speed receiver, DeSean Jackson, who’ll keep opposing safeties honest. At 6'5" and 231 pounds, Evans physically dominates every cornerback he encounters, and his basketball background is evident in his ability to make touch catches outside the frame of his body. In sum: The kid is a monster. Perhaps the only nit to pick with Evans’ game is his lack of yardage after the catch—he averaged only 1.8 yards after the catch on his 96 receptions last year—but that’s a small complaint indeed when you consider that Evans was far and away the league leader in receiver air yardage.

Evans has a Fantasy Football Calculator ADP of WR4 and is coming off the board 10th overall on average. I also rank him WR4 but consider him one of the three or four most foolproof picks a fantasy owner can make this year.

A DeSean Jackson season usually plays out like the best songs of the Boston alt-rock band the Pixies, with abrupt shifts between quiet and loud. D-Jax can go weeks without even a 50-yard game, then rattle off two or three consecutive 100-yard days punctuated by some long touchdowns. Owning Jackson can be a frazzling experience, quite honestly. The last time I owned him, I almost took up smoking again. The numbers usually look good in the end, but there are no 55 mph speed limits on the D-Jax Highway. It’s half school zones, half Autobahn.

The key to owning Jackson is coming up with sensible pairings, the same as pairing wine and cheese. Jackson is a nutty aged Gouda who goes best with steady, Cabernet Sauvignon receivers who show up on the stat sheet nearly every week and can help smooth out the jagged D-Jax production—Larry Fitzgerald or Emmanuel Sanders, for instance (or, taking a step up in class, Antonio Brown or A.J. Green). Don’t pair D-Jax with other volatile receivers, like, say, Kelvin Benjamin or DeVante Parker, or you’ll inevitably have a few weeks where the WR position kills you. I’m fine with Jackson’s price.

The only other Bucs receiver worth your attention is rookie third-rounder Chris Godwin, who had more than 2,000 receiving yards in his final two seasons at Penn State and has an enticing athletic profile. He could become waiver-worthy if anything were to happen to Evans or Jackson.

Tight Ends

PLAYER ADP FITZ RANKING ADVICE
O.J. Howard TE11 TE19 Wait a year
Cameron Brate TE22 TE23 Meh

O.J. Howard is one of the best tight end prospects to enter the league in years, but his ADP of TE11 is extravagant. I won’t knock Howard for scoring only seven touchdowns in 46 career games at Alabama; he’ll have multiple NFL seasons in which he equals or beats that total. But it’s hard to see Howard providing a reasonable rate of return on TE11 when he has to share targets with Evans, Jackson, fellow TE Cameron Brate and several running backs with pretty good pass-catching skills. Howard might contribute more as a blocker than as a pass catcher this year. He’s way too expensive.

Brate is more reasonably priced at TE22. He was a pleasant fantasy surprise last year, though his heavy involvement was largely out of desperation, since the Bucs had virtually nothing at wide receiver beyond Evans. Brate doesn’t have a prayer of equaling his 57-660-8 stat line from 2016, but I wouldn’t be shocked if he outproduced Howard. 

Quarterbacks

PLAYER ADP FITZ RANKING ADVICE
Jameis Winston QB10 QB13 Pinch pennies

Jameis Winston has thrown for more than 4,000 yards in each of his first two seasons, and though he’s also thrown 33 interceptions, he’s been pretty damn impressive overall. According to Pro Football Focus, no quarterback got a higher percentage of his passing yardage through the air last season than Winston—which goes a long way in explaining the high interception total. Winston is the anti-Alex Smith: He’s not afraid to take shots downfield. The additions of Jackson, Howard and Godwin obviously bode well for the young quarterback, but the upgrades have boosted Winston’s price (QB10). Essentially, the landlord painted and installed new carpeting, but he also raised the rent by $150 a month.

Winston is coming off the board earlier on average than Kirk Cousins, Marcus Mariota, Dak Prescott, Philip Rivers, Eli Manning, Matthew Stafford, Andy Dalton and Tyrod Taylor. I like Winston, but if I don’t draft a top-drawer QB (and I rarely do), I’ll wait for a quarterback in the QB15-QB18 range—probably Stafford, Dalton or Taylor rather than Winston. If Winston were to fall into that range, I’d happily take him, but his ADP says that ain’t happening.

Running Backs

PLAYER ADP FITZ RANKING ADVICE
Doug Martin RB20 RB31 Avoid
Jacquizz Rodgers RB48 RB46 Contemplate

It feels as if Doug Martin has a very polarized range of possible 2017 outcomes. Either he’ll come back from his three-game suspension for Adderall use, reclaim the lead-RB role and produce the sort of numbers that would make him a weekly must-start, or he’ll disappoint and quickly be overtaken by one or more of Tampa’s other running backs. Buccaneers GM Jason Licht raved about how good Martin looked in the team’s offseason program, which suggests that his roster spot is safe, even though the suspension entitles the Bucs to void the guaranteed money in Martin’s five-year, $36 million contact if they so choose. Licht said Martin looked like “the Doug Martin of 2015” who ran for 1,402 yards, as opposed to the one who ran for 421 yards in eight games last year and averaged 2.9 yards per carry. Some see Martin’s fourth-round ADP of RB20 as a discount on a potential workhorse. I see that sort of investment in Martin as a risky gambit considering Martin’s year-to-year inconsistency and the depth of Tampa’s backfield.

While Martin cools his heels for the first three games of the season, Jacquizz Rodgers will be the leading candidate for early-down work. Quizz played that role out of necessity at times last season and acquitted himself well, rushing 75 times for 324 yards (4.3 YPC) and one touchdown in a three-game October stretch, then rushing 32 times for 138 yards (again 4.3 YPC) in the final two games of the season. The case for buying Rodgers is that at a price of RB48, you can get a probable three-game starter to open the season against the Dolphins, Bears and Vikings, and you’re also betting the don’t-pass line against Martin. Those who draft Martin might be tempted to draft Rodgers to cover themselves for those first three games, but I don’t like the idea of burning two roster spots on Tampa running backs, given that (1) there are other Bucs backs who could spoil the party, and (2) the team’s offensive line is a mediocre unit on paper. Personally, I’m only lukewarm on Quizz. There are probably better ways to spend an 11th-round pick than on a 5'6", 205-pound scatback with ordinary athleticism and a career average of 3.8 yards per carry.

Charles Sims was an efficiency all-star as a runner and receiver in 2015. He played just seven games last year due to knee and shoulder injuries, proving useful once again as a receiver but averaging a meager 2.9 yards on 51 carries. Perhaps I’d be interested in Sims as a late-round PPR pick were it not for the presence of fifth-round rookie Jeremy McNichols, who piled up 3,980 yards from scrimmage and 53 touchdowns in his final two seasons at Boise State and might be the best pass-blocking RB in this year’s class. I play in a couple of leagues where drafts go 20-plus rounds, and I’ll be targeting McNichols in the later rounds of those drafts. McNichols had surgery to repair a torn labrum on the offseason, which hurt his draft stock, but he hopes to be ready for the start of training camp and is capable of factoring into this complicated backfield.

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