Texas A&M wide receiver Mike Evans was one of the fastest-rising prospects – at least according to the collective mock-draft consciousness – in the last month before the 2014 NFL Draft. By the time the first round of the draft finally rolled around on Thursday night, not only was he the presumptive target of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, he was thought by many to be out of their reach, headed instead to Oakland at #5.
Instead, the Jacksonville Jaguars made the unexpected pick of quarterback Blake Bortles at #3, pushing coveted pass-rusher Khalil Mack to the Raiders at #5 and Evans' path to Tampa was cleared. The Bucs were thrilled. Evans got what he wanted, too.
"I was hoping I'd go to Tampa," said the 20-year-old pass-catcher, not long after he finished his turn on the stage at Radio City Music Hall in New York City. "I feel it's a great fit for me. I was hearing from my agent that they liked me a lot. Other teams liked me [too]. Anything can happen in the draft. I'm just happy I got the call."
Like so many first-round draftees before him, Evans succumbed to some powerful emotions after he heard the good news.
"I was trying not cry," he said. "I told everybody I wasn't going to cry. It just hit me; I couldn't hold it back. My dream's coming true. I'm happy for my family, my friends. I'm just happy to be a Buc. Just blessed."
Evans, General Manager Jason Licht and Head Coach Lovie Smith all spoke after the pick was made. Transcripts of their respective press conferences are below.
WR Mike Evans
(On his reaction to being drafted before his former Texas A&M teammate, quarterback Johnny Manziel)
"That's my quarterback; one of my best friends. Me and him both being here is a blessing. I just gave him a big hug and told him he was getting off the board soon. I'm just blessed to be a Buc."
(On playing with Tampa Bay wide receiver Vincent Jackson)
I'm excited. Me and him – I draw a lot of comparisons to him. They are good comparisons. I'm ready to learn a lot from him; just ready to get to work."
(On his transition to playing football from basketball)
"The transition in high school to playing football, it wasn't as hard. I played in middle school and when I was younger. I had the confidence; I knew I could play. I was very raw when I got to college, but I had a lot of help, so my transition was really easy. I had a great wide receivers coach in Troy Walters and then, after that, David Beaty. They helped me a lot, and Coach Selmon helped me a lot, and I just had good people around me that made the transition go smoothly. My dream's coming true."
(On whether he knew of Tampa Bay's interest in him)
"I didn't have a private workout with the Bucs – I just met with them at the Combine. But at the Combine they were real cool. They kept it real. I really liked that interview and I liked the vibe that they gave."
(On what he knows about the city of Tampa and the Bay Area)
"It's in the great state of Florida. I'd love to play there [with] the great weather. I don't know if Tampa has a beach or not - I'm not too up-to-date on the [geography] of it. If it has a beach, then it's going to be easy for me, because I grew up in Galveston [Texas], and they have a beach down there."
(On what he hopes to learn)
"I just want to know the finer points of route running, learn the plays as fast as possible. Hopefully they'll be stringing me along, but, just knowing about the game and being a man."
(On his response to those who might question his speed)
"I just let my film speak for itself. I've never been caught from behind, so I'll let them think about that."
(On whether he thought Manziel was going to go to Tampa Bay)
"Any team that would have gotten Johnny Manziel would've been getting a great player. I didn't think just singly that he'd be going to Tampa or anything like that. I thought he should have gone No. 1, first off, him being my best friend."
(On having a 1,000-yard rookie season)
"Anything is possible. I hope so, but winning comes first."
General Manager Jason Licht
"Hey everybody. As you can tell, I'm very excited right now. I'll just go ahead and open it up to questions."
(On what stood out about wide receiver Mike Evans and if the draft fell the way he hoped it would)
"Yeah, it absolutely did. He was our guy and what stood out, what stood up on him? As [Director of Public Relations] Nelson [Luis] said, here is this old Houston reference – 'We've got the twin towers now.' He's a big guy that can run, very physical, very tough and has phenomenal hands. Not just good hands. Phenomenal hands. He makes big plays in big games, and all those big, explosive plays that they had there at Texas A&M this year, he was on the receiving end of most of them. We thought it was an added dimension to our offense that's going to make us better, obviously. It was about the right fits, and I mentioned that at my press conference and we feel like he was a perfect fit."
(On answering the critics about the selection)
"Well, we're going off of our opinion and we felt like he wasn't. The draft isn't over and first of all, I will start with saying that. Today is – right now, it's Mike's day, and there's still quite a bit of time left in today's draft. Today is Mike's day and we couldn't be more happy right now with Mike."
(On the difference between Evans and Clemson wide receiver Sammy Watkins)
"They were very similar but they were different at the same time. You had one guy that's a run after catch, very explosive speed guy, and you have one guy that is a down the field, throw up the ball, 50-50, and he's going to come down with most of them – I'm talking about contested catches. His skill set we felt was perfect for us."
(On the learning curve Evans will face)
"All rookies have a little learning curve, they do, and we know that. We felt very comfortable with him, we worked him out, we spent a lot of time with him. A lot of that has to do now in college with up-tempo offenses, so they don't have to cross the grain of the field. We're not worried about it, otherwise we wouldn't have taken him."
(On Evans' similarities with wide receiver Vincent Jackson)
"They just so happen to both be big receivers, but like I said, every receiver is unique. 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."
(On how aware he was of Evans' talent last year)
"He's hard to miss, so we were very aware of him."
(On if Evans can bring 'speed in space' to offensive coordinator Jeff Tedford's offense)
"He's got speed, he's made some plays in space, and he catches just about everything that comes his way. And the draft isn't over yet."
(On quarterback Josh McCown having success with big receivers last season and if that impacted their choice)
"We didn't go out looking for specifically a guy that Josh McCown would be friendly for him as a target, but it just so happens that he would and he does have the same type of catch radius as those two big guys he was used to throwing to. It makes the learning process and the comfort level between the two and [quarterback] Mike Glennon, for that matter too, even quicker."
(On speculation that the Buccaneers changed their mind from taking a defensive player because Evans was still available)
"Mike was a guy that we had targeted the whole time. We're always looking to make sure that all scenarios are covered and it's just part of the draft. We'll continue to do it from now on. We'll call ahead, see what people are looking for and we try, we have some good intelligence with our scouting staff here, of trying to guess or place certain players with certain teams, positions, and we were just dotting out I's and crossing our T's."
(On when he became nervous that Evans wouldn't be available)
"I was nervous at just about every pick."
(On if there was interest from other teams to move up and if he considered trading the pick)
"We were receiving phone calls all night, but in our mind we knew that we wanted to take Mike Evans."
(On if an explosive wide receiver is the biggest need on the team)
"I still think Lovie and I feel like we have a lot of needs. It was definitely one of them and we wanted to pick, like I've said all along, the best player that matched the need and that's where Mike Evans came into play."
(On what surprised him about Evans in his workouts)
"Just how we were really impressed with his ability to drop his weight, get in and out of breaks, even more so than we were off the tape, his hands continued to be phenomenal, but just his passion, his work ethic. He's got a fire in his eye and this guy is a very mentally tough guy."
(On how tempted he was to trade down)
"We picked Mike Evans."
(On if this selection creates unique mismatches)
"I believe so, I believe so. You have two big guys, you're going to need two corners that can handle two big guys."
Head Coach Lovie Smith
"You know, days like this, a lot of hard work has gone into getting to a day like this, I should say. Jason and I, the rest of the staff – the coaching staff, our scouting department – we all did a lot of work to look at as much video as we possible could. We looked at a lot of players and we liked Mike [Evans], of course, right away, early on. We wanted to add a playmaker, a guy that we thought would give us a different dimension than what we had right now, to add with a good prototype–tall receiver in Vincent Jackson. We wanted to get another weapon to help out [quarterback] Josh [McCown] and the crew. You come in to a day like today and you have a way that you would like for it to pan out and this is one of the scenarios that we wanted. I shouldn't say one of – this is definitely one that we are pretty excited about. Mike is of course excited about being here. We have a lot of things in the plan for him. I've been accused of just wanting defense, defense always – it takes a lot more than that to win football games. I know we've added a good football player that's going to help us win football games."
(On the comparison between Chicago receivers Alshon Jeffery and Brandon Marshall vs. Tampa Bay receivers Mike Evans and Vincent Jackson)
"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. 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. Of course, having a player like Josh McCown here – Josh, of course has been in that situation and to say Josh has been in our ear quite a bit is an understatement. Two guys that live fairly close to each other back home in Texas. Seeing that [combination in Chicago] work like that was attractive to us, but as much as anything, we saw a playmaker on the offensive side of the ball that we had a chance to get that we really felt like could help us."
(On the differences between Evans and Jackson)
"We need to get Mike here first. Vincent has been in the league for a while, has done a lot of good things, so it's a little early for that, but I know what Mike brings. He has excellent hands. We thought he caught the ball as well as any receiver. For a big guy, you just assume that he's just a big guy that uses his body to play – that's not the case. Ran good routes, of course was impressed when I saw him at the combine, and we watched so much video on him. I had a chance to talk to [Texas A&M Head Coach] Kevin Sumlin about him, who just raved about him. I know a lot of people down in Texas and everybody said the same thing about him."
(On Evans' speed)
"People talk a lot about football speed – I, for one, I go by those numbers. Mike ran under 4.5 [second 40–yard dash], he's a 4.4–type receiver. That's good speed. That's definitely good enough speed to be a speed receiver, to be able to score long touchdowns, which he's done. I don't think that's an issue. You'd be hard–pressed to find a guy with great speed like Mike has, with the great vertical – it's just not the speed, it's the vertical, the long jump – all those numbers were very good for him."
(On passing on taking former Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel)
"There are a lot of good players, but it's what's best for us. Just talking about our quarterback position: our quarterback position is as strong as, to me, any quarterback position I've had when I've been a head coach. You know how much I like Josh McCown as our starter here, but I love Mike Glennon. Mike Glennon is our quarterback of the future here. Why would we want to add a third quarterback to the mix? We needed other positions and forget just a quarterback position – yeah, we like it, but we thought this was the best available player for us. It was an easy decision for us. [General Manager] Jason [Licht] and I, we both don't have a lot of vertical, but we high fived pretty high in there when we were able to make this pick."
(On what Lovie saw in Mike Evans during his year off)
"Yes, it was during that time. How could you not [watch him]? He played with a Heisman Trophy winner and, of course, at A&M, Kevin Sumlin did a great job to bring them back on the map nationally. Yes, you notice – who is this big guy that continues to catch touchdowns and make big plays against top competition each week? And then when you get a chance to come to the Combine, you get a chance to talk to him, meet him, and do the research and talk to all the people that you trust as I was able to do in Texas, and everyone said the same thing. But then you look at the video, you like him as a player and you know how he would fit into a great locker room that we have here."
(On seeing teams with two big receivers and how it affected defenses)
"For defenses, it's just tough matchups. As we talk about big receivers on the offensive side, the whole game is about one–on–one matchups throughout. Tampa 2 is our defense, but you can't play two–deep always. There comes a point where you play quarters, three–deep or man, one–on–one on the outside. I like having a 6–5 guy versus a 5–9, 5–10 corner and throwing the ball up. Sometimes you don't have to be that accurate, just get it in the area. Jump ball, see who can play basketball with it. You see that week in and week out. For us here in Tampa, we know what one big receiver can do, but how about pairing both of those guys up. We got a lot better today."
(On if the team knew that Evans was going to be available at pick No. 7)
"Not at all. You have to have a lot of scenarios and be ready to act on them, on the clock. Jason and I, we can't tell you – like all teams – on how many different scenarios we went over. And then you just have to be ready for that. A few of them we had with us being able to draft Mike. We were able to, and again, it couldn't have worked out any better for us."
(On if the team considered moving down in the draft)
"We had everything on the board. We talked about going up, we talked about moving back, right up until we were on the clock. You want to get your player and of course accumulate a little bit more, too, of something else. In the end, we were very happy with what we ended up with in Mike and only Mike by himself."
(On Evans and Sammy Watkins)
"There were a group of good football players, and there are still – I don't know what's happened in the draft in the last five to 10 minutes – but there are a lot of good players still on the board. Mike Evans isn't second fiddle to anyone, believe me."
(On taking the best player versus taking a position of need)
"I think most of the time, you know where you're picking and you set it a little bit towards that. With us, with the seventh pick, we knew there was a chance that we were going to get the player we wanted and a very good football player. There should be some consolation when you're picking as high as we are and you have to be able to take advantage of it and get a player that's going to make an impact for years to come. That was our plan and we were able to do that."
(On if the team fielded calls about teams trying to move up)
"I think every team is kicking the tires and trying to get a little bit better situation than you have. Teams were trying to do that, like we were, but in the end, you look at all the different scenarios, then you look at who you're able to get. This is a player that we wanted. [Offensive Coordinator] Jeff Tedford, Andrew Hayes–Stoker, our receivers coach. Our entire offensive staff, our entire football team, we're excited about this. It couldn't have worked out any better for us."