Buy Mike Evans
Last year, rookie Mike Evans caught 68 of 122 targets for 1,051 yards. His 12 touchdowns ranked fourth, behind only Dez Bryant (16), Antonio Brown, and Jordy Nelson (13 apiece). Teammate Vincent Jackson turned 32 in January, after catching 70 passes for 1,002 yards and two scores in 2014.
Word might have gotten to you already, the Buccaneers had the number one overall draft pick and brought quarterback Jameis Winston to town. Through his first two games, the former Heisman Trophy winner has completed 30 of 54 passes for 417 yards, three touchdowns and two interceptions.
The Bucs defense currently sits 30th in the NFL, and 29th in scoring. Tampa Bay’s rushers are averaging 3.8 yards per carry, and Winston will continue to get better with experience. Second-year tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins may miss the next four to six weeks with a shoulder injury. He accounted for 10 passes (19-percent of Winston’s throws), seven catches (23-percent), 139 yards (33-percent) and two of the team’s three passing touchdowns.
Evans missed Week 1 with an injured hamstring, and was limited to 40 of the team’s 66 snaps in Week 2. Roy Cummings of the Tampa Tribune reports that the 6-foot-5 wideout said he will not be on a “pitch count” this weekend. There’s a lot of passes on the way for the second year receiver, who caught none of his three targets a week ago. Get in on Evans while the gettin’s good.
Sell Antonio Brown
This contrarian commentary is obviously going to irk some mainstreamers. Change your pants and we’ll continue. Over the last two seasons, Antonio Brown has led the NFL with 348 targets (21 better than second place) and 240 catches (37 more than anyone). His 3,196 yards are 147 ahead of any wideout as well.
How on earth can you say to sell this guy?
Through two weeks, Brown has caught 18 of 22 passes for 328 yards and two touchdowns. He’s also been without All-Pro running back Le’Veon Bell and second-year phenom Martavis Bryant. You might recall Bryant, who caught six touchdowns in his first four NFL games last year. The 6-foot-4 wideout finished the year with eight scores in 10 games, before being suspended the first four weeks of 2015. Bryant stands five inches above Markus Wheaton and six more than 5-foot-10 Antonio Brown. Paint a nice visual; you might get flashbacks.
Coming back this week is Bell, who caught 83 of 105 balls for 854 yards a year ago. He also ran 290 times for 1,361 yards, while scoring 11 total touchdowns. Bryant will return Week 5.
Brown is due for a significant drop in red zone usage with these two players back on the field. This will be Bryant’s second year, so there’s plenty more to see from the young sensation. You’ve already seen Brown’s statistical dominance since 2013. He owned a 6-percent lead in targets and a staggering 15.4-percent advantage in catches. What about his small frame, though? Within the opponent’s 5-yard line (the RZ5), Brown ranked only 13th with 10 targets, while his four catches in two years leaves a lot to be desired at 27th place. His three scores within the same zone rank just 29th.
By instinct, a reader may think the heavy volume of work will more than make up for this deficiency. On the contrary, Brown’s lack of production near the goal line during a period of such dominant involvement should strike a chord of great concern. That peak of target dominance is not sustainable; history would suggest another NFL wideout will lead in 2015 targets. In addition, the rise of Bryant — both in stature and maturity — will cut into Brown’s involvement. Brown’s infrequent usage in the end zone isn’t an outlier pointing towards upward regression; it’s an indicator of what area of the field he is and isn’t heavily involved.
Will Antonio Brown still be incredible, as one of the league’s top receivers? Of course. Hard to imagine him finishing outside the top 5 in fantasy scoring this season. In ongoing fantasy leagues, though, it’s critical to recognize moments like this. While Brown is still being widely valued as the top wideout in fantasy, an owner could likely fetch a top 5 wideout along with another elite keeper. Consider the opportunity to flip Brown for two emerging superstars. Maybe someone will trade you Odell Beckham and Eddie Lacy. You won’t know if you don’t ask. If it’s a keeper league, throw in anyone irrelevant to your 2016 plans, and get ‘er done.
Hold Demaryius Thomas
Over the last two seasons, Dez Bryant led the NFL with 20 targets within the RZ5. Demaryius Thomas placed second with 19 such targets, while no other player had more than 14. When you watch their game, this number reeks of familiarity. The wideouts play a similar game, one that involves agility and unmatched strength. Any corner who can stay toe-to-toe with their movements can be shed by a slide of the arm. Bryant stands 6-foot-2 at 225 pounds while Thomas measures in at 6-foot-3, 229 pounds. The two 88s even matched near-identical contracts on the same day this offseason.
Bryant is out for several weeks with a Jones injury to his foot, an ailment ironically not named for Julio Jones. Thomas is healthy but on a struggling 2-0 team. While the Cowboys’ 2-0 position is marred by injuries to Bryant and quarterback Tony Romo, the Broncos are merely adjusting to the offense of new head coach Gary Kubiak. Midway through their week 2 victory, Peyton Manning was given cart blanche to return to the shotgun formation that he’s only been master of for over 17 seasons. Kubiak is known for keeping his passers under center, to better disguise the running game. Manning, however, excels at dissecting the defense from a further vantage point, and getting passes out quicker from his shotgun stance.
Through two games, Thomas has caught 15 of 25 targets for 176 yards and no touchdowns. Many fantasy owners follow the bottom line a little too closely, and might find his 17.6 standard points alarming. He’s gotten 25 targets; relax. Peyton Manning will be just fine, and Thomas’ touchdowns will come in great number. He has yet to see a red zone target through two games, but after seeing his usage over his last 32 NFL games, you can feel comfortable that this is, in fact, an outlier. Buy Thomas if someone is selling. If you’re his owner, stand tight. Brighter days are on the way, especially as all the less durable players are dropping like flies. Thomas has not missed an NFL game since his quarterback was Tim Tebow.
Stats and data courtesy of ByTheStats, pro-football-reference, footballguys, and espn.