The Buccaneers are a franchise that has always been known for defense. It has only been recently that they have begun to emerge as an offensive power. This is due in large part to the passing attack. Specifically due to the abundance of wide receiver talent on the current roster.
There have been many incredible wide receivers to come and go in the NFL. Names like Jerry Rice, Terrell Owens and Randy Moss will always be synonymous with the position as the best to ever do it. Even today we have all time greats like Larry Fitzgerald, Julio Jones and Antonio Brown still going strong and crawling up the leader boards.
One name that is beginning to work his way into this conversation of greatness is Tampa Bay Buccaneers star Mike Evans. Since day one of his rookie year Evans has been a model of excellence and consistency. As a result, seven years into his career we could be watching a future Buccaneers ring of honor and NFL hall of fame receiver.
Evans has already established himself as perhaps the greatest offensive player in Buccaneers history. Evans currently ranks second in total yards, trailing only James Wilder, and second in total touchdowns, trailing only Mike Alstott, among skill players. Considering his rate is well ahead of each of these two in the category he doesn’t trail them. It is fair to call him the best of that group.
As just a receiver, Evans stands alone at the top in every meaningful aspect. He has the most receiving yards (8,266), receptions (532) and receiving touchdowns (61) in franchise history. Each of these are a stat that he leads the by a wide margin. And he accomplished all this before his 28th birthday.
All these accomplishments are obviously very impressive. However, with what he’s done already and with how young he is, the next logical question is how good will he be in NFL history.
Currently the all time receiving yards record is 22,895 held by Jerry Rice. Evans is still a long ways off from that with 8,266 and sitting at 94th all-time. So with fast math, Evans has to average 1,000 yards for the next 14 years and he still wouldn’t catch Rice. Safe to say we can rule that record out.
With that said, cracking into the top-10 in receiving yards all time looks very doable for the Buccaneers wide receiver. To reach that milestone Evans would have to keep his pace for just 6 more years. That would be through his age 33 season, which is to say he would likely be just about wrapping up his prime years around this time.
The other record Evans may hope to chase is the all time receiving touchdown record. Again, this is held by Rice (197). Evans currently ranks 82nd all time with 61. So, again, fast math tells me that this is a number that won’t be caught.
However, just like before the top spot may be out of reach, but the top 10 feels very realistic. If Evans can pull in 10 touchdowns a year for the next four seasons, he would stand alone at 9th in NFL history.
These are two areas where Evans is on pace to be historically great. Better than hall of fame legends such as Calvin Johnson, Andre Johnson and Art Monk or a long list of names that have helped define the position over time.
Hall of Fame
Despite likely passing many hall of fame names in the years to come, there will still be debate as to if Evans will join them. Even with all he has done, Evans is rarely talked about as the best wide receiver in the game and has just three pro bowls to his name. Perhaps that is more a reflection of playing for an often overlooked, and frankly often bad, Buccaneers franchise. Regardless, Evans name may not be viewed as one of the absolute best of his time when he comes up for hall of fame voting.
There are two types of guys who are likely to get a gold jacket. One is a player who dominates the competition. Oftentimes their longevity and overall numbers aren’t as good as some others, but they were clearly one of the very best of their time. Sadly, Evans doesn’t fall into this group.
Compared to the first seven seasons of guys like Calvin Johnson (9,328 yards and 66 touchdowns) and Torry Holt (9,487 yards), Evans lags behind significantly. Even Randy Moss, who just had his record of 1,000 yard seasons to start a career broken by Evans, was far more dominant in that time.
The Other Type
The other type of player who gets in the Hall of Fame is the one who was excellent, although not as spectacular, over a longer period of time. These are often those with the best career statistics. This would be receivers like Tim Brown, who didn’t even make his 16th start until the 5th year of his career. He would then go to seven of the next nine Pro Bowls while putting up Mike Evans type numbers.
Other names that would fall into this category are Chris Carter and Michael Irvin. Carter didn’t have 1,000 receiving yards in a year until his seventh season. Irvin only had one season where he caught double-digit touchdowns. The Buccaneers wide receiver has undoubtedly started his career better than either of these super stars. However, in all these cases it will be the back end of their careers that separates them from the rest.
Modern Day Comparisons
When it comes time for hall of fame discussion, Evans won’t necessarily be compared to players from the 80s or 90s. He will be judged against his peers. Those who played in the teens and 20s like he did.
The gold standard of 21st century receiver is Larry Fitzgerald. The 17 year veteran sits 2nd all time in receiving yards and 6th in receiving touchdowns. Believe it or not, Evans has very similar numbers as Fitzgerald did through seven years.
Fitzgerald had 8,204 yards through seven seasons, which is slightly less than Evans. Fitzgerald also had 65 touchdowns which was slightly more. Just like many of the other greats Fitzgerald is finishing his career as strong as he started it, nearly doubling these numbers in the back end of his career.
Ahead of Julio
Julio Jones has been one of the top receivers in the game for the last several years. However, despite playing three more seasons than Evans, Jones has one fewer career receiving touchdown. Evans trailed Jones by about 800 yards through seven seasons, but also caught 18 more touchdowns.
Some other great current wide outs include guys like Keenan Allen, Davante Adams, Allen Robinson, and DeAndre Hopkins. Of these great receivers who came into the league around the same time, Evans only trails Adams in touchdowns, by just one, and Hopkins in receiving yards, which makes sense because Hopkins has played one more season.
All this to say that Evans is on pace with -or more often than not- has been more productive than the best in the game today. This will be an important point of discussion when it comes to Hall of Fame voting.
The Buccaneers struck gold when they drafted Evans in the first round back in 2014. He has proven to be one of the 5-10 best wide receivers over the last seven years since he entered the league. His skill and consistency separate him from many of the top play makers in the game today. There are not many players you could point to and say that they have been better in that time frame.
With that said, there is still work to be done. Although he has been great to begin his career, I don’t believe that anyone -even the Buccaneers- is under the illusion that if Evans retired today he would be Hall of Fame-bound. The foundation to get there has been set. But ultimately it will be what Evans does over the next five years or so that cements his legacy in NFL and Buccaneers history.
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