Written by Zachary Gartin
Week four was crazy, wasn’t it? It had all types of performances from wide receivers. Odell saving the Browns from the utter memage of blowing a big lead, Justin Jefferson and Adam Thelien having crazy days against the Texans, Stefon Diggs proving once again to be an elite wide receiver, and Terry McLaurin keeps pushing himself into that Top-10 conversation. But in a surprisingly tight game against the Chargers, Mike Evans had himself a day, proving that he can produce with Tom Brady at the helm.
Evans has had a pretty weird, albeit good, season so far. In weeks one and three, Evans totaled three receptions for three yards and three touchdowns. In weeks two and four, he totaled 14 receptions for 224 yards and two touchdowns…. In Week four alone he totaled 122 yards (over half of his season total) and a touchdown on seven receptions. This stat line, Evans trademark physical playstyle, and the fact that he finished the game with an ankle injury are all the factors that caused me to choose his week four performance for this week’s Post-Corner.
Before we dive in, let’s clear up what we are talking about today. As I do every week, I’m going to be asking all the important questions to determine why this performance happened. Was it the scheme? Was it ability? Or something in between? We would never know unless we asked the questions and found the answers, so I’m here doing it for you. I know that I said I would eventually have some bad wide receiver performances in here, but what’s the fun in that? None, so I’ll keep featuring good wide receivers. Now that you know what I’m here for, let’s dive in.
Where is Mike Evans lining up?
The first question of every article, where can we find him on any particular play. Well, as you would expect with Mike Evans, it was primarily on the outside. 38 of his 54 snaps were on the outside as the One receiver. What I mean by “One receiver” is the receiver closest to the sideline, which tends to be labeled as the “One” in a defensive back’s read. But something that did surprise me (and it was a pleasant surprise) was seeing him lined up in the slot 12 times this game.
Evans played really well in the slot, getting his biggest reception of the game (a 48 yard “Go” route from the right slot) and a couple of other receptions from inside. Evans being pushed inside allowed him to use his physicality a little bit more at the top of his routes because of the natural two-way go being in the slot gives you.
What routes is Mike Evans running?
Mike Evans plays on a vertical line, and it’s super effective. Bruce Arians and even Mike Evans know that he’s never going to be an elite route runner or separator due to his lack of instant acceleration and quickness. The guy is 6’5” and 230+ pounds, it’s not something people his size tend to due very well. But Evans has other ways of gaining separation, and it’s on a show with the routes Arians has him running.
Evans routes tend to play off his bread and butter, the go route. He ran nine of them on Sunday, only catching one. But the rest of his route tree (and his playstyle) is based on that route. Evans ran seven digs, six Curls, three outs, two hitches, and two comebacks. These are all routes that have vertical stems meant to be sold as a go route. An understanding between coach and player is needed for continual performance. And while Evans isn’t the vertical separator he used to be, his ability to sell vertical and get in an opponent’s blindspot before motoring down and getting open on a curl or dig cannot be undersold, and that’s why the coaching staff had him running these routes that have vertical stems.
And while Mike Evans isn’t the separator he used to be, he still has some juice as a vertical threat.
How is Mike Evans winning?
Savvy and Physicality.
Before we get into anything else, Mike Evans is a smart route runner. His ability to work into the blind spots of the defensive back and then just turn his route off to get open is something you usually only understand with experience and film study. He also understands how much power a two-way go has in influencing the defender. In the first clip of this article, the clip shows Evans taking advantage of a two-way go to get into the defender’s chest to make contact and create separation.
In the next clip, you see Evans taking advantage of the defensive backs blindspot. His initial vertical stem inside gets the defensive back to open their hips and turn their back to the sideline. Once that happens, Evans knows he has the perfect opportunity to turn it off and start working back towards the ball. It’s a great route and teach-tape for wide receivers looking to manipulate a defensive backs leverage and blind spots.
His physicality is also a big reason he wins in a lot of these routes. The subtle push-offs or the subtle throw by’s (like the clip in the next section) allow him to create immediate separation where his lack of suddenness does not allow him too. Mike Evans’s skill set allows him to win consistently on routes with a vertical stem, which is why the Buccaneers have him running so many of them.
Why is Mike Evans winning? Is it skill, scheme, or both?
Like I always do, I’m going to put this on a percentage scale. It’s 15% scheme and 85% skill. The concept is simple, get Evans one-on-one with a DB so he can use two-way goes, physicality, and blind-spot manipulation to create separation and get open. But Evans execution throughout the game, even with a hurt ankle, showed up time after time. Evans created a lot of easy throws on the outside and inside for Brady, especially on curls, Evans’s most successful route. He was open on all but two of routes that involved him coming back towards the line of scrimmage (comebacks, curls, hitches.) Mike Evans is an elite wide receiver who wins in a very particular way, which is independent of the scheme and very helpful to his quarterback.
Is this production sustainable?
Whenever I talk about veteran wide receivers, I tend to say yes. Evans has produced at a high level throughout his career, and I don’t think that is going to end anytime soon.
Unless Brady starts to look away from him more consistently. While Evans touchdown numbers have stayed steady through four weeks, his yardage and reception numbers have fluctuated wildly. As I highlighted earlier in the article, almost all of his yardage comes in two games (Weeks two and four). If Brady continues to look his way like he does in even weeks, this production won’t stop because Evans makes it so easy for Brady to be right. But if the production starts going to young stud Scotty Miller or rising star Chris Godwin, the production could take a pretty drastic dip.
I do think that this production continues. Throws like the one above show that Brady trusts Evans to track the deep ball and make a play. Evans is too good for nobody to throw to him. He’ll keep making plays like the one above until his body doesn’t allow him too.