Throughout his seven seasons with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Mike Evans has been a staple in a franchise that has been no good for a long time.
With the Bucs finally clinching a playoff spot in 2020, for the first time in 13 years, it was a relief for many veterans such as Evans, Lavonte David, William Gholston, Ali Marpet, and others, who have dedicated plenty of their careers to helping build Tampa Bay into the team that they have this season.
Rewind to last Sunday, where Evans had just become the first player in NFL history to record 1,000+ receiving yards in each of his first seven seasons. After accomplishing such a feat, Brady found Evans in the end zone to celebrate, which was quickly hindered by a hyperextended knee, causing Evans to drop a would-be touchdown.
The scenes around Raymond James Stadium became bleak as a silence crept over the stadium as Evans was in visible pain, eventually getting help to get off the field and into the locker room.
It was a terrible scene, especially for a veteran who has poured his heart and soul into the organization and the Tampa Bay community, but luckily the injury later proved to be less serious than it looked.
Still, Evans was a nonparticipant in Wednesday's practice, as head coach Bruce Arians later explained that Thursday would be the first time Evans would attempt to practice. On the bright side, Arians added that the swelling was "very, very little" when denoting that Evans was indeed day-to-day.
Based on pure yardage, Evans' has accounted for about 21% of Tampa Bay's passing production, but also leads the team with 109 of 626 targets. There is no plug and play solution for Evans if he is indeed out, but the offensive staff led by Arians and Bryon Leftwich can find ways around the potential hurdle.
There should be some sense of optimism if Evans cannot go due to the depth of the Buccaneers' wide receiving core, consisting of Chris Godwin, Antonio Brown, Scotty Miller, Justin Watson, and rookie Tyler Johnson.
Starting with Godwin, who could make a WR1 case even with Evans on the roster, could see a significant increase in targets as QB Tom Brady is finally building chemistry with guys like Godwin. Despite missing earlier four games, Godwin has just five fewer receptions than Evans, catching 65 passes for 840 yards and seven touchdowns.
An upcoming free agent, Godwin has proved his worth time and time again with his consistent play week in, week out. In the last two regular-season games, Godwin posted five catches in each, posting 84 yards and 133 yards, respectively. He scored four touchdowns over the Bucs' final three regular-season matchups.
After Evans went down against Atlanta, Godwin stepped up and produced when the team needed it most, scoring two touchdowns on his five touches. In both the Detroit and the second Atlanta matchup, Godwin has posted his longest receptions of the season, both going for 47 yards.
Godwin is a sure-handed receiver who can do it all, even with his lingering finger injury which required pins in his hand. If Evans cannot play, expect Godwin to go nuclear, stepping in as a safety valve for the 43-year-old Brady.
Moving to, arguably, the best receiver of the 2010s, Brown has been a welcome addition to the Bucs as they make their playoff run. In recent weeks, Brown has begun to put it all together, finding his most success against the division foe Atlanta Falcons. Like Godwin, Brown increased his role in the absence of Evans last weekend, accounting for 14 targets, hauling in 11 of them for 138 yards and two touchdowns.
Adding Miller back into the gameplan could stretch Washington's defense vertically, especially if he and Brown are both on the field at the same time. Since AB joined the Bucs, Miller's targets have dropped significantly as Brown stepped into his role, but having two deep threats on the field at the same time could be a compelling angle to take if Tampa Bay's offensive line can give Brady enough time to get the ball out.
When it comes to situations like this, the Buccaneers are in this position due to excellent roster management, with the addition of guys like Brown mid-season. If another team's WR1 went down entering the playoffs, they'd probably be in a world of hurt.
Tampa Bay fulfilled a great strategy to build around Brady over the course of the year, however, and ultimately, that could be what keeps them alive in their return to the postseason.