Fantasy Outlook: Can Mike Evans avoid sophomore slump?
In 2014, the NFL became a historic platform upon which the rookie class of wide receivers ascended into the record books. There is no doubt in my mind that this was the greatest collection of rookie receivers in league history. The NFL bore witness to the emergence of Odell Beckham Jr. (1,305 yards), Mike Evans (1,051 yards) and Kelvin Benjamin (1,008 yards). Another notable player from this list is Sammy Watkins, who had 982 yards despite an injury and poor quarterback play. The only other rookie year that comes close to this was 1986, when Ernest Givins had 1,062 yards and Bill Brooks had 1,131. This creates a dilemma for drafters in 2015 as the statistical track record of sophomores can be a tricky route to navigate. While the norm advocates that rookie wide receivers have little to no fantasy impact, what we saw in 2014 may be an aberration or it could also be a sign that the NFL is evolving. It’s morphing into a pass-happy paradise in which fantasy owners must survive by locking down receivers who can thrust a team’s point ceiling skyward.
The only rookie pass catchers to finish ranked among the 20-best fantasy players at their position before 2014 include Mike Williams, A.J. Green, Julio Jones and Keenan Allen. Green and Jones moved on to fantasy stardom, producing better numbers as NFL sophomores and both ranked in the top 10 based on fantasy points. Conversely, Williams (2011) and Allen (2014) both failed to replicate more than 67 percent of their rookie totals and finished out of the top 45 at their position. I will certainly be drafting Evans in many of my drafts and expect him to have an even better year than he did last year.
However, statistical probability projects a foreboding outcome, or sophomore slump, if you will. Randy Moss and Anquan Boldin are the only other rookies in NFL history to produce the type of numbers we saw from Odell Beckham Jr. last season. Just ask any fantasy owner who drafted Tavon Austin if they would ever consider having him on their team again. The offseason hype generated around Austin was palpable, and the bandwagon had many riders, all of whom succumbed to the same dissatisfying fate. Be weary when drafting a sophomore wide receiver and be sure to inundate yourself with every bit of detail about their offseason training program that you can.
In the case of Mike Evans, he adds a dynamic to his game in the form of a serious size advantage typically reserved for the tight end position. He is a freak athlete at 6’5 and 231 pounds possessing a rare combination of speed (4.53 40 at NFL combine), physicality in traffic, jumping ability and soft hands. Evans was an absolute force in the red zone last year, as no matter what plan or scheme opposing defenses deployed he remained an unstoppable threat. Evans finished 2014 with 68 receptions on 124 targets and 1,051 yards to go with 12 touchdowns. The low completion percentage is a direct result of the putrid quarterback play that Evans endured from such talents as Mike Glennon and Josh Mccown. With rookie sensation Jameis Winston now at the helm, it is widely believed that the Buccaneers will put forth a renewed and rejuvenated offense in 2015. It is safe to assume that Evans’ numbers will increase proportionately to the success of Tampa Bay’s young gunslinger out of FSU.
On the other side of the field stands veteran Vincent Jackson, who also stands at a towering 6’5. Jackson has been with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers since 2012 after coming over from San Diego and went for 1,002 yards on 70 receptions with two touchdowns last season. This is fantastic news for Evans owners simply because defenses cannot monopolize the field with two 1,000 yard receivers running wide. Winston will have plenty of looks down field and should experience an influx of opportunities to put points up on the board. Doug Martin is in his contract year and has a lot to prove after disappearing from the spotlight since his breakout rookie campaign. If he can live up to his potential, this offense will be exponentially better in 2015. Bear in mind that reports are coming out of training camp about tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins playing unbelievably well. You may certainly find yourself with a surplus of reasons to extrapolate a positive outlook for the Buccaneers’ offense this season.
For the sake of argument, let’s take a conservative approach to the success rate of sophomore receivers in the NFL. Let’s predict that three out of the top six rookie receiving stars from last year will underachieve in 2015. Utilizing the top six rookie wide receivers from 2014, we will generate a forecast of who is the most likely to succeed in their second year. Odell Beckham Jr., Mike Evans, Kelvin Benjamin, Sammy Watkins, Jordan Matthews and Brandin Cooks will be our guinea pigs for this experiment.
Looking from the outside in it becomes very clear that based on situational circumstances, offensive prowess and the quality of quarterback throwing to them that Beckham, Evans and Matthews are in ideal circumstances to put up better numbers in their sophomore year. I do believe that Benjamin is a special talent, but he is not in a setting that is conducive to a statistical uprising. The same can be said for Cooks and Watkins whom I also expect to experience a decline in numbers this year. Mike Evans’ current draft ADP is in the third round, and he is 10th among the wide receiver ranks. I am targeting Evans with my third round pick and feel confident that he will consistently put up WR1 numbers most weeks.
Texas A&M was home for Mike Evans during his college career, and he wasted no time posting huge numbers during his two years there. Evans finished 2012 with 1,105 yards and five touchdowns, then exploded in 2013 with 1,394 yards and 12 touchdowns. To sweeten his outlook even more, Mike Evans reported over the summer that his route tree was very limited in 2014. During his training, he has spent a lot of time mastering the playbook and attacking the cerebral aspect of the game. Evans possesses the skills and potential to remain a top 10 wide receiver for years to come. Draft him confidently and reap the rewards.