TAMPA, Fla. (AP) — Tampa Bay’s Mike Evans isn’t satisfied with being one of the best young receivers in the NFL.
The third-year pro wants to be the best, period, and is putting in the work necessary to give himself a chance to accomplish his goal while helping second-year quarterback Jameis Winston transform the Buccaneers into playoff contenders.
“I think we have a good connection and it’s going to continue to grow,” Evans, tied for the NFL lead with six touchdown catches, said. “We’re two good, young players trying to be great.”
A 1,000-yard receiver in each of his first two pro seasons, Evans is off to another solid start with 40 receptions for 545 yards through six games.
In addition to leading the league in TD catches, he’s third in receptions per game (6.7) behind A.J. Green (7.1) and Antonio Brown (6.9), as well as fifth in receiving yards per game (90.8), making him the only player to rank among top five in those three categories.
The early-season success, including a pair of TDs in last week’s 34-17 victory over San Francisco , has been especially gratifying for the seventh overall pick in the 2014 draft, who spent extra time in the offseason working with Winston — both on and off the field — to improve timing and chemistry between quarterback and receiver.
Evans also reported to training camp determined to eliminate a propensity for dropping passes that dogged him at times last season.
Despite improving from 68 receptions for 1,051 yards as a rookie two years ago to 74 catches for 1,206 yards in 2015, the 6-foot-5, 231-pound receiver saw his TD production dip from 12 to 3 and the Bucs missed the playoffs for the eighth consecutive season.
“Drops I think are mostly mental. Most often times they have to do with concentration more than they have to do with anything physical,” said coach Dirk Koetter, Tampa Bay’s offensive coordinator a year ago.
“Mike has just done a great job. Our offensive coordinator/receiving coach Todd Monken has spent a lot of time with him, but you have to give just credit to Mike himself,” Koetter added. “Mike is his own worst critic. He has worked very hard on his practice habits, on keeping his emotions under control during the game. … He’s worked hard to continue to improve, and that’s impressive for any player.”
Evans’ six TDs are the most by a Tampa Bay player through six games.
Koetter, Winston and the 23-year-old receiver all agree that extra time Evans spent with his quarterback in the months leading to training camp is paying off.
“It’s been good. … He is the hardest worker I’ve ever been around in my young career,” Evans said. “He pushes me to the limit where I just want to be great for him because he puts so much work in, and our work together has been showing. Hopefully it will continue to show.”
Winston has thrown 12 TD passes this season, half of them to Evans. Meanwhile, the Bucs (3-3) have won two straight heading into Sunday’s home game against the Oakland Raiders (5-2)
“I think he’s probably just more comfortable. I can’t say he’s specifically doing something better,” Winston said. “I mean, I think I’m getting him more chances this year, and I didn’t give him as many last year … and he’s just producing.”