The 2015 Tampa Bay Buccaneers have been an enigma wrapped in a mystery shrouded in a cloak of confusion. Week to week you’ll find the team looking like legitimate contenders to the Carolina Panthers’ grip on the NFC South, or legitimate candidates to be awarded a top tier pick in the upcoming NFL Draft. For Buccaneers fans across the country however, one player has been the source of much elation and frustration; second year wide receiver Mike Evans.
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Let’s get right to it. Evans has dropped a league high ten passes this season, but he isn’t alone. Joining him atop an unwanted pedestal, and equaling his ten drops this season, are Raiders rookie receiver Amari Cooper and Broncos HOF’er in the making Demaryius Thomas. The difference between the three however, is while the Buccaneers receiver has met some grumbles and groans from Buccaneers fans, the other two continue to receive praise and encouragement from there’s. So what’s the difference?
On one hand, Cooper is a rookie and expected to do things rookie’s do. Thomas on the other hand is a veteran and proven commodity who is excused the occasional dropped pass due to his tendency to make game changing big plays later-on. While Evans is just in his second year, he’s not a rookie, and is not afforded the excuses allowed to rookie receivers; not that he’s making any. In fact, after the Buccaneers early November loss to the New York Giants, Evans said:
“My teammates played great. It’s on me, I mean obviously you watched the game. You saw it was on me. I got to be better.”
But how much better does he need to be? Let’s look at the numbers. Currently, Evans has a drop rate of 7.6% which is the percentage of passes thrown to Evans which have been deemed catchable and dropped by Evans without significant impact by a defender or bad throw. Of the 23 NFL wide receivers with 65 or more catches this season, which percentage ranks second worst behind the aforementioned Cooper whose drop percentage is 8.2% on the year. In fact, of the 23 NFL players with more than 65 catches only seven, or roughly one-third of them have a drop percentage higher than 3%. So that’s pretty significant for a primary receiver.
“My teammates played great. It’s on me, I mean obviously you watched the game. You saw it was on me. I got to be better.” – Mike Evans
There is good news though. The good news is in the Giants game. See, of Evans’ ten dropped passes, an astounding six came against those New York Giants in Week 9, or 60% of his drops this year. That’s the most dropped passes in a single game in 10 years! What if we look at this game as the exception, not the rule? Who hasn’t had a bad day at work; especially at 22-years of age?
Evans was targeted 19 times in the contest and came away with 8 catches for 152 yards and those 6 drops. If we take those numbers off of his season totals, then we find his dropped passes percentage drops to 3.6%. Now this is still higher than desired, but this is comparable to the likes of the Dolphins’ Jarvis Landry, Detroit’s Calvin Johnson, oh – and the Giants’ Odell Beckham Jr. – not bad company in terms of hands.
Evans pass drops are also assuredly magnified by the presence of a rookie quarterback, and the fact that he’s been the only consistent receiving presence on the field this season. Although he missed the first game, and most of the second game of the season due a nagging hamstring injury, Evans is by far the Buccaneers leading receiver and most consistent threat outside of running back Doug Martin. Evans’ dropped passes also appear to happen more often on third down plays or on plays with the potential for big gains in a momentum seizing opportunity. A side effect, possibly, of a young receiver trying too hard to help his young offense get the ball moving.
There are a couple of numbers that the Buccaneers need to focus on more than his dropped passes: 10 and 1.
Evans is currently 10th in the NFL in receiving yards among wide receivers despite having no catches until week three. Since then, he’s had more than 50 yards receiving in 8 of the last 12 games, and over 100 yards in four of those.
Nov 22, 2015; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide receiver Mike Evans (13) walks off the field after warmups against the Philadelphia Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field. Mandatory Credit: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports
How many Buccaneers receivers have more than 40 catches this year? One – just Mike Evans. Of the 32 NFL teams, only four teams have fewer than two players with at least 40 receptions. They are the Tennessee Titans, St. Louis Rams, San Fransisco 49ers, and of course the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. These teams have combined for a .339 winning percentage. That’s an average W-L record of 5-11. Even with the second leading rusher in the NFL, the Buccaneers fall right into this average record, and prove that you just can’t win consistently if you don’t have more than one receiving threat available, especially when you have an inexperienced quarterback.
There’s no question Evans has been critical to the success Winston has had in his rookie campaign, and is a critical member of the Buccaneers future. Finding a consistent partner to team up with Evans would go a long way to clearing up some of the numbers, and gain more victories for the team. As Evans progresses further from his youth and develops the calm competitiveness of a veteran, the Buccaneers will have to endure the occasional growing pain on their way to many more receptions, big games, and winning moments down the road.