Mike Evans might be a rookie in the NFL, but he has high expectations for himself and his team. If word out of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' training camp rings true, those expectations might just come to fruition.
The Bucs selected the former Texas A&M receiver seventh overall in the 2014 NFL draft. Since that point, he's been working toward his goals of becoming a starter for what he believes should be a postseason team.
"My personal expectations are to be a starter, and I'm going to fight to earn that position," Evans told Bleacher Report. "I'm expecting great things from myself and this team. A lot of people might write us off, but we have a lot of great players. If we don't make the playoffs, I'll be extremely disappointed."
Along with Evans, the Bucs also brought in the likes of cornerback Alterraun Verner and end Michael Johnson in free agency to shore up the defense. More importantly for the rookie receiver, Josh McCown was also brought in to play quarterback.
At 6'5", 231 pounds, Evans is difficult to cover for any opposing secondary. Paired with veteran Vincent Jackson (6'5", 230 pounds), the two monster wideouts form a matchup nightmare every Sunday.
Needless to say, McCown has his choice of two dynamic receivers. The veteran signal-caller has been ecstatic about what he's seen from Evans and Jackson, per Scott Smith of Buccaneers.com:
"That's what you want," McCown said. "That's why you like to have those guys because they create matchup problems. [...] We're still in the early stages and we just have to work through it, but we like what we see so far."
In fact, when Evans was drafted, the duo immediately got the nickname the "Twin Towers" from Bucs general manager Jason Licht. While Evans said he enjoys the moniker, he prefers another one that seems more fitting for the athletic tandem.
"The [Twin Towers] nickname is really cool, but I kind of like the 'Dunkaneers' because we both have basketball backgrounds," Evans said with a laugh. "It's going to be great to play with him. I think the comparison fits because we both have similar styles and size. He's a great vet and a real professional, so I'm glad I get to work with him."
Jackson is entering his 10th season in the league. It will be his third year with the Bucs and his first under Lovie Smith.
Following up two of his best seasons at the NFL level, Jackson now enters 2014 paired with a dynamic receiver who can take pressure off him. An outstanding route-runner and consummate professional, the 31-year-old sees a bright future for Evans.
"He’s doing great," Jackson said during training camp availability. "Mike has come in here with a great attitude since we started spring ball. Willing to learn, willing to work on his craft. He’s a big, physical guy, obviously very aggressive. He attacks the ball well."
One area in particular where having two big-bodied wideouts is a benefit is in the red zone. Along with Jackson and Evans, though, the team boasts rookie tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins, who is listed at 6'5" and 260 pounds.
Adding the former Washington target into the mix, Smith believes the "Dunkaneers" name might just be fitting.
"When you go 6'5", 6'5" at the receiver position, you should have some success and everybody of course said 'Hey down in the red zone,'" Smith said. "You throw [tight end Austin] Seferian-Jenkins in there and we are getting close to that basketball team."
Away from football, Evans is admittedly a laid-back guy. Almost 21—his birthday is Aug. 21—Evans also has a two-year-old daughter to whom he's devoted his life off the field.
He's a huge sports fan who roots for the Miami Heat and New York Yankees because of Dwyane Wade and Derek Jeter, respectively, and he loves reading Harry Potter.
How big of an impact will Evans have this season?
"I haven't made anything of his offseason activities," Evans said. "That's really none of my business. Whenever real football actually comes, he's going to be ready just like I am. He's really a better guy than the media perceives him to be."
Instead of drawing attention to himself away from the gridiron during the offseason, Evans has made noise through his play on the field. Though it's only been during training camp, Evans has made an impression through his work ethic and athleticism.
Wide receivers coach Andrew Hayes-Stoker, who is also entering his first season with the team, passed along his observations of Evans' early development.
"Obviously his sheer size and catching radius stand out and go without mention," Hayes-Stoker said. "But his ability to compete when the ball is in the air and make tough catches are things that have stood out. [...] I don't think any rookie is fully matured, even Mike, so he's got plenty of room still to grow. He's really pushing for that starter spot."
Like any rookie, there are areas in which Evans can improve moving forward. He has been working on route-running with Jackson and has been involved in offseason workouts with Chicago Bears receiver Brandon Marshall that he said have given him a lot of insight about the position.
Which team will win the NFC South?
One facet that Evans doesn't need to work on, though, is his confidence. After setting expectations for the playoffs, he didn't waver from that opinion despite the fact that the NFC South is loaded with talented teams.
"There are some great teams in this division and it's one of the best in the league," he said. "But I feel very confident about our team. We have a great defense, leaders on both sides and a great coaching staff. If everyone does their job, we shouldn't have a problem."
After an outstanding offseason, the Buccaneers still come in with the lowest odds to win the division at 11-2, according to OddsShark.com. In a division where defense reigns supreme, Evans will be a crucial component in the team's success.
Heading into his second preseason game against the Miami Dolphins, Evans will finally have a chance to prove himself at home. With huge goals and plenty to learn, expectations might become reality for the rookie very soon.
All quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.
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