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Mike Evans: The WR1 for Fantasy Football in 2019

The hype train pulled into Tampa, Florida this spring, and it’s official. Tickets are sold out. Standing room only. I’m fully on board for 2019, and I’m here to make my case that this could be the year that Mike Evans finishes as the No. 1 wide receiver in fantasy.

The 2019 Bucs May Be Underrated

Despite Tampa Bay’s success over the last several years with key pieces like Jameis Winston, Mike Evans and company, we haven’t quite seen them put everything together. Whether due to poor defense or inconsistent quarterback play riddled with turnovers, they just couldn’t get everything to mesh right. The one thing that has been working? Mike Evans.

Evans ranked third among wide receivers in yardage in 2018, finishing the season with 1,524 yards. Why is nobody talking about it? My theory is the Fitzmagic facade. 

During Winston’s three-game suspension, journeyman Ryan Fitzpatrick took the league by storm. In that four-game span,1 Mike Evans totaled 29 receptions for 426 yards and three touchdowns. Nice pace, but Fitzpatrick is now in Miami, meaning we can’t expect Evans to have the same connection with Winston, right?

In fact, using the RotoViz game splits app, we see that Mike Evans had his best splits, surprisingly, with Winston. Evans’ splits with and without Winston show that it wasn’t just Fitzmagic in the air that accounted for his monster 1,500 yard season in 2018. Although he paced for fewer touchdowns, he made up for that in yards, which put his 16-game pace with Winston just ahead of his pace with Fitzpatrick in terms of fantasy points. 

The Bucs, although statistically productive, had a lot tumult on the back end. Between the flip-flopping quarterbacks, offensive penalties and turnovers with Winston early on, there were certainly limitations. Evans balled out despite these issues. Now … if only there were some reason to think that this offense could actually take a step forward and be even more productive than last year. Bruce Arians, perhaps?

The New Tampa Bay Offense

In a recent article on the Chiefs, I discussed why relying on offensive system can be a dangerous game. Bruce Arians accepted the head coaching position in Tampa Bay this offseason, which sent most fantasy analysts into a tailspin as we imagined how the vertical passing playbook benefits each of our favorite Tampa assets.

In Arians’ final two seasons in Arizona, his offense ranked third and fifth in the NFL for total passing attempts. This shouldn’t change much given the Buccaneers lack of a true workhorse running back to go along with their valuable assets in the passing game. As a result, I project Tampa Bay for well over 600 passing attempts. For a team that has vacated 14.9 targets per game from 2018, this should scream opportunity across the board for the Bucs’ offensive pieces.

Although changing offensive systems can present challenges as coaches implement new language and schemes, one thing remains constant: the Winston-Evans connection. In times of change and unfamiliarity, it’s common to revert back to what you know. What Jameis Winston knows is Mike Evans. 

Mike Evans’ Progress in 2018

When looking at last year’s stats, there are a couple of things that stand out that made 2018 different from his previous seasons — which were still outstanding. 

The first difference: average depth of target (aDOT). Prior to 2018, Evans’ career aDOT was 14.4 yards. Last season, that increased to 15.7 — meaning that Evans was targeted more than a yard deeper than previous seasons. He also achieved career highs for catch percentage (63.7%) and yards per reception (17.7).

One knock on Evans has always been his inability to create yards after the catch. But, that might be a bit of a catch-22, because generally speaking, Winston hasn’t always placed the ball in the ideal spot to keep the play moving. However, in 2018, Evans managed 294 yards after catch and 3.4 yards after catch per reception, a career high in each metric. With the emergence of Chris Godwin and O.J. Howard — not to mention the addition of Breshad Perriman — it’s going to be significantly more difficult to cover Evans as heavily as defenses have in the past, which may enable Evans to set new career highs.

Here’s how I’m projecting the Bucs’ offense in 2019, using our nifty new Projection Machine tool:

A 90-plus-catch, 1,500-plus-yard season to go along double-digit touchdowns gets Evans over 300 PPR points and makes WR1 overall well within reach. We haven’t yet seen Evans put together the perfect season with monster yardage and 12 or more touchdowns. But given his offensive situation, vacated target share and the weapons around him, I believe that 2019 is his chance. Evans is my WR1 for 2019.

Image Credit: Mark LoMoglio/Icon Sportswire. Pictured: Mike Evans.

  1. Fitzpatrick started in Week 4 because of how well he had played, despite the fact that Winston was available. Fitzpatrick was benched in that game after attempting 18 passes for 126 yards, no touchdowns, and one interception.  (back)

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