When the Pro Bowl voting opened the usual names will have been selected without hesitation. AJ Green, Odell Beckham Jr, Antonio Brown and Julio Jones are all locks to make the Pro Bowl as an All-Pro at the wide receiver position.
But if there was ever such a thing as an under-the-radar All-Pro season then Mike Evans is having it. Perhaps shunned by playing for a Tampa Bay team which has been largely irrelevant in December and January for the last decade. Evans has quietly put together the type of season which has seen him muscle his way into that elite bracket of pass catchers and his connection with Jameis Winston has helped propel the Buccaneers into playoff contention.
Evans did not have his greatest outing against the San Diego Chargers accounting for just 38 receiving yards. However he was coming off back-to-back 100+ yard games against Kansas City and Seattle’s Legion Of Boom.
The third year receiver is having a career year in yards, yards per game and receptions. He is also on pace to better his rookie total of 12 touchdowns.
Evans may not have the explosive speed of Odell Beckham, the versatility of Brown or the sheer freakishness of Jones but his consistency, polished route running and ability to exploit defenses is what has set him apart.
Able to get off press coverage, find soft spots in zone coverage and able to improvise once the play breaks down has seen Evans drag good corner backs around the park. Evans is aware of what he is good at and plays to his strengths – unable to get separation with speed he uses his big 6″5 frame to post up cornerbacks. Evans got physical with Richard Sherman in week 12 wearing Sherman down and beating him up physically.
three of Evans’ four 100+ receiving yard games have come against teams considered to have very good defenses, the L.A. Rams, Kansas City and Seattle. His other 100+ yard game came in a defeat against the Atlanta Falcons where Evans posted up a monster stat line: 11 catches, 150 yards and two scores.
Statistics without context are meaningless so to put Evans’ stats in a bubble would show the kind of company he is keeping. Currently ranking third in receiving yards (1,058) with only Jones and T.Y. Hilton above him, tied for second in touchdowns (10) level with Jordy Nelson and only one behind Brown and fourth in yards per game (88.2) behind only Jones, Hilton and Green.
The Tampa wide out is keeping some elite company yet is receiving very little attention compared to his peers. Perhaps the snobbery of playing on a team that ‘doesn’t matter’ in January has affected him – although Beckham’s New York Giants have been an afterthought in January since he entered the league and Jones has been part of some terrible Falcons teams the past three years. Maybe it just is not sexy to think of Evans as an All-Pro. NFL spectators have been so used to highlight reel plays that a receiver just going about the job of catching passes and being very good at it flies under the radar.
Evans did not “wow” at his combine work out with a 4.53 40 time, 12 reps on the bench press and nearly 12 seconds in his 60 yard shuttle. Now in his third year the measurables, times and reps do not matter as – and it’s a cliché – all he does is make plays. His growth over his three years in the league has seen him become smarter in his route running, more aware on the field and using more than just his size to make grabs.
Should the Bucs sneak into the post-season then Evans will have the perfect stage to show why he should be taken seriously as an elite NFL wide receiver. Evans is a certainty to make the Pro Bowl and should be considered seriously for All-Pro honours.