The Spotlight Series
A Footballguys Spotlight is an in-depth look at a player. His plusses and minuses are examined, and we give you our bottom-line stance on his 2022 prospects. If a player listed below doesn't yet have a link, don't worry. It's coming soon.
Almost any Mike Evans article you'll read will start by mentioning how underrated he is in fantasy football and that he's a draft value. Those articles are half correct.
Evans is an excellent wide receiver, but the fantasy community has caught up to that fact. He was the ninth-best fantasy receiver last season, ranks seventh in the Footballguys consensus rankings, and has an average draft position (ADP) of WR8. Mike Evans is not underrated.
But he is still a draft value.
Even with a top-10 ADP for his position, even going off the board in the late-second or early-third rounds of fantasy drafts, Evans might still outperform expectations this season. Things will be different in Tampa Bay in 2022, and the changes create a perfect storm that could help Evans have his best season in years.
A Reminder of Evans' Fantasy History
Evans' astounding streak of eight consecutive 1,000-yard seasons to start his career is well documented, as is the touchdown variance, which often makes the difference between a top-12 or top-24 finish. But, it's his target volume that stands out. Over his six seasons, Evans averaged 139 targets. That is 25 more targets than his best season with Tom Brady.
We'll get to the Tom Brady years soon, but I want to draw your attention to one more thing about these seasons: the team's 2nd wide receiver.
|Season||Tampa Bay WR2||Targets|
Vincent Jackson and DeSean Jackson were past their prime, Adam Humphries was Adam Humphries, and Chris Godwin was still developing. Evans was the best and sometimes the only option on those offenses. He was a great fantasy asset in those circumstances, but touchdown variance made him risky. A new quarterback would soon fix that.
The Tom Brady Years
Even at 43 years old, Brady was easily the best quarterback of Evans' career. Moreover, his stats over the last two seasons are certainly the most stable they have ever been.
Evans, of course, hit the 1000-yard mark. But his massive touchdown tally (13 and 14 scores) shines bright. The gaudy touchdown tallies helped offset a significant dip in target volume.
Brady is an all-time great quarterback and doesn't force the ball; he takes what the defense gives him. Having Chris Godwin, Antonio Brown (for a spell), and Rob Gronkowski as alternatives made it easy to spread the ball around.
Evans put up great fantasy numbers, but a lack of volume kept him from reaching elite heights.
The Perfect Storm
This season, the landscape differs. Antonio Brown quit in the most public way possible in 2021. Rob Gronkowski retired, and it appears to be real this time. And Chris Godwin is recovering from a late-season ACL tear that puts the beginning of his season in doubt.
Those three players represent 23 lost targets per game. Godwin and his nine targets per game will eventually return, but Brown and Gronkowski will not.
Until Godwin returns, Russell Gage, Cyril Grayson, and Jaelon Darden will be the alternative targets. The team also just added Julio Jones to the mix. Grayson and Darden are not competition, plain and simple. Gage will play the Chris Godwin role until Godwin can take over. While Gage has shown flashes of talent, it seems unlikely that he will immediately receive the target volume that Godwin has earned.
Julio Jones is a different player than Antonio Brown, but he'll replace Brown opposite Mike Evans. Jones is also a very different player than we once saw in Atlanta. His 2021 in Tennessee was marred by injury, and he was never able to get on the same page as Ryan Tannehill. The result was ten games played and a WR93 finish. Jones will fall into the 4th wide receiver role once Godwin is healthy and is not going to inherit every target left behind by Antonio Brown. At this stage in his career, he cannot handle that volume.
Chris Godwin's recovery is going well, and he will not start the preseason on the PUP list. However, he is not entirely in the clear yet, either. The Buccaneers gave him a big contract this offseason and need to protect their investment. So, they will likely sit him down at the first sign of distress.
Over the last two seasons, with Brady at the helm, Evans has played five regular-season games without Godwin in the lineup.
- Week 2 2020: 10 targets, 7 receptions for 104 yards, and a touchdown
- Week 4 2020: 8 targets, 7 receptions for 122 yards, and a touchdown
- Week 5 2020: 9 targets, 5 receptions for 41 yards, and a touchdown
- Week 17 2021: 7 targets, 4 receptions for 47 yards, and a touchdown
- Week 18 2021: 7 targets, 6 receptions for 89 yards, and two touchdowns.
For those keeping score: that's 41 targets, 29 receptions, 403 yards, and six touchdowns. It's also about 25 fantasy points per game in PPR scoring. If Evans scores 125 fantasy points in the first six games, that will match what Gabriel Davis did in all of 2021.
More importantly, it will establish an eight-target-per-game relationship between Brady and Evans. Over a 17-game season, that would put Evans at 136 targets, 22 more than his last two seasons.
2022 Footballguys Projections
Mike Evans is one of the best receivers of his generation. Amassing eight consecutive 1,000-yard seasons is incredible, particularly given the revolving door of mediocre quarterbacks he endured for the first six years. Although his target volume declined in the last two seasons playing with Tom Brady, his efficiency, particularly as a touchdown scorer, skyrocketed. If healthy, Evans has one of the highest floors at the position. Even though fantasy managers no longer disrespect Evans, he qualifies as a value play with a top-12 ADP. Why? Because the vacancies created by Godwin's ACL tear, Antonio Brown's meltdown, and Rob Gronkowski's retirement all but guarantee Evans will return to 130+ targets this season. If that happens, he'll push for top-five numbers instead of top-12. And if all the dominoes fall, he could end the season as the No. 1 fantasy receiver.
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