When a perennial 1,000-yard receiver adds the greatest quarterback of all time, you expect major production. In 2020, Mike Evans more or less delivered for fantasy managers, finishing as the WR11 in PPR scoring. However, the fantasy finish may be a bit misleading. Although Evans notched his seventh consecutive 1,000-yard season, he saw a career-low number of targets and his fewest receptions and yards per game. So can fantasy managers count on Evans to again produce a WR1 fantasy season in 2021, or does the dip in stats last season foreshadow less productive days ahead?
A Down Year?
It is hard to look at a 1000 yard season and 13 touchdowns and consider that a disappointing year for a wide receiver. When production lands within the top-10 of all receivers in fantasy scoring, you would imagine you are satisfied with that production. While certainly productive, it still fell short of what fantasy managers perhaps expect out of Evans. Having averaged over 80 yards receiving a game in his career, the addition of Tom Brady seemingly would unlock Evans and see him climb to new heights. Instead, Evans had an up and down season and lacked the high-ceiling weeks that we had grown accustomed to seeing. So what gives?
It was a tale of two seasons for Mike Evans last year. He saw less than six targets a game through the first eight games with Brady but still sat as the WR17 in scoring, thanks to his seven touchdowns. He had four games in which he saw four or fewer targets, three of which resulted in clunkers (an average of 4.3 fantasy points per game). While still providing mid-WR2 fantasy production, it was a highly inconsistent first half of the year.
In Week 9, Antonio Brown entered the fold, and Evans’ usage began to increase. From Weeks 9-17, Evans saw increases in nearly every meaningful receiving category.
During that span, Evans saw at least six targets in every contest except two. One of those exceptions was Week 17, where he played just 11 snaps. With a higher target share and similar touchdown production than the first half of the season, Evans was the WR9 and looked the part of the true alpha in that offense.
Not only are targets themselves valuable (after all, you cannot catch passes or accumulate yards without being thrown the ball), but the type of targets can impact the upside a receiver possesses. Evans saw the majority of arguably the most valuable targets: those close to the opposing team’s goal line.
We know that Mike Evans has always been the big-bodied receiver you can count on when in the red zone, but he took that to another level last year. Brady looked at Evans’ direction 14 times when within ten yards of the end zone, nine of which resulted in touchdowns. While touchdowns can be challenging to predict year over year, there is reason to believe that Evans will remain a popular target near pay dirt in 2021.
Brady brought his winning ways to Tampa Bay last year, dominating his age-43 season in route to another Super Bowl. What he also provided the Buccaneers was scoring opportunities, and lots of them. In his final three seasons in New England, the Brady-led Patriots finished top-3 in the league in total plays run inside the opponent’s ten-yard line. During his inaugural season in Tampa, the Buccaneers improved to fifth for such opportunities.
Not only were the Buccaneers in scoring position more often in 2020, but once there, they often dialed up pass plays. Tampa Bay ranked above league average in pass rate when within ten yards of the end zone, dialing up the fourth-most pass attempts in that area of the field. With Brady’s success throwing in those scenarios (as evidenced by his 24:0 touchdown to interception ratio), there is no reason to believe they will not continue that trend next year. Evans was the largest benefactor to that trend in 2020 and should remain the primary option for Brady again this season.
Is Evans the Tampa Bay Receiver to Roster?
Based on FantasyPros ADP, Evans sits at WR14, coming off the board early in round four. Brady has shown no signs of slowing down, and although both Chris Godwin and Brown are extremely talented themselves, neither receiver provide the same profile as Evans. A mid-WR2 season is likely, but the upside for Evans remains high-end WR1 for fantasy which makes his current redraft value fairly accurate. As vanilla as it seems, I believe all three Tampa wide receivers are good bets to produce in 2021.
In dynasty, the answer is less obvious. It can be easy to fade a player like Evans as 2021 will be his age-28 season, where dynasty value begins to tail off for receivers. If you don’t want to sit on a depreciating asset, I can’t blame you. However, Evans should continue to be productive for fantasy managers. Tethered to the greatest quarterback and in a role that provides plenty of scoring opportunities, there is little concern that his production will fall off drastically.
However, with a June ADP of WR14, it is hard to imagine him gaining value in the coming years. Although his age could be a barrier to completing a trade, I would much prefer to send Evans in return for a receiver with a lower ADP such as Godwin (WR15), Amari Cooper (WR18) or Tee Higgins (WR21) who should be able to produce similar seasons and could increase in value. However, worst case scenario has Mike Evans remaining on my roster and putting up solid numbers for a few more seasons.
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