Mike Evans eager to embrace fixing Buccaneers passing game

TAMPA, Fla. — The seventh overall pick was overcome with emotion, tears welling in his eyes after he received the call. Mike Evans was bound for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as the second wide receiver taken in the NFL draft.

The realization Thursday night at Radio City Music Hall in New York was too much for Evans to contain his emotion. A winding journey that included a number of twists, heart-wrenching and otherwise — the murder of his father, Mickey, when Evans was 9 years old; a love of basketball at Ball High in Galveston, Texas; his family losing its Galveston home for about a year because of Hurricane Ike — had led to his selection as coach Lovie Smith’s and general manager Jason Licht’s first draft choice as the new men leading Tampa Bay. He began to cry.

"I didn’t expect to do that," Evans said Friday at One Buc Place, his whirlwind 24 hours continuing. "But realizing my dream is coming true, it finally hit me. I’m just really happy to be a Buc."

Evans’ introduction represents the start of Smith and Licht’s draft vision gaining focus. They picture him as a snug fit with three-time Pro Bowl wide receiver Vincent Jackson, the Bucs’ most dynamic offensive threat.

Licht said there were high-fives exchanged after Tampa Bay secured Evans, and if the Texas A&M product lives his potential, the excitement is understood. His 2,499 yards receiving with 17 touchdowns in college made him widely considered one of the two premier wide receiver prospects in the draft, alongside Clemson’s Sammy Watkins, who went fourth overall to the Buffalo Bills. At 6-foot-4, 231 pounds, Evans is a sizable target who developed with Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Johnny Manziel in two seasons with the Aggies.

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"They just so happen to both be big receivers, but like I said, every receiver is unique," Licht said Thursday, when speaking about Evans and Jackson. "We don’t find them completely similar. We think that there are some differences between the two, and when I say that, I don’t mean in a negative way, I mean in a positive way. Vincent’s a very tough guy that’s got good speed for a big guy. Mike is a younger guy, obviously, that also has deceptive speed, but like I said, he is an incredibly strong receiver with great hands."

Evans enters his new situation with some background knowledge of the Bucs, though he only met with team officials at the NFL Combine and never participated in a private workout with them. Before the combine, he worked with James Lofton, a 2003 Pro Football Hall of Fame inductee and Jackson’s wide receivers coach with the San Diego Chargers from 2005-07. Evans said Lofton praised Jackson’s approach to his craft, and Evans appeared eager to learn from his new mentor.

Evans, in addition, developed alongside new Bucs strength and conditioning coach Dave Kennedy during Kennedy’s time working at Texas A&M from 2008-13. With Evans’ introduction, the Bucs have the potential to replicate what Smith enjoyed in the passing game in Chicago with Bears wide receivers Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery, two large targets of their own.

"I think if you look at the league last year — and I of course had a lot of time to watch the league last year — I saw what two big receivers can do," Smith said Thursday night. "It’s a tough matchup if you just look at the average height of most cornerbacks in this league. You might have a six-foot (tall) corner, but you normally don’t have two big guys that can match up like that. We want to score points in any way we can. This is a combination that looked pretty attractive to us."

The Bucs are attractive to Evans, too. He’s eager to grow with Jackson, of course, but there are other interests as well. On Friday, he praised quarterback Josh McCown and running back Doug Martin, and he called the Bucs’ defense "great."

"I feel like I fit perfect in this system," Evans said. "Physical team. I think I fit that."

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Evans’ physicality is sorely needed. With the trade of former No. 2 wide receiver Mike Williams to the Buffalo Bills on April 4 for a sixth-round pick this year, the Bucs lacked a legitimate threat to pair with Jackson. Sure, there are doubts: There are concerns about Evans’ speed, and he must show he can beat NFL defensive backs in one-on-one situations.

Still, the Bucs need instant impact through the air. They ranked last in the league by averaging 176.2 yards passing per game last season.

Evans, still living his excitement, was eager to become a possible solution to the problem. His new look will include pewter and red.

"I’ll do anything it takes to win," Evans said. "I’m going to get involved in the run game. I’m going to be physical. I’m going to go up and get the 50-50 balls. I’ll just be a great teammate and try to bring leadership."

You can follow Andrew Astleford on Twitter @aastleford or email him at aastleford@gmail.com.