Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Evans and Jackson: Most Dynamic Duo?

The Bucs expect newcomer DeSean Jackson to add a big-play element to complement the Pro Bowl production of Mike Evans…Could they be the most explosive WR tandem in team history?

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers signed former Washington wide receiver DeSean Jackson in the first blush of free agency last Thursday, finding the very "explosive-play" producer for which they had publicly pined. Jackson led the NFL in yards per catch in 2016 (his third time doing so) and has more 50+-yard receptions over the last nine years than any player in the league. In a vacuum, that would be a valuable addition to any offense.

But Jackson is not stepping into a vacuum. He'll be teaming up with Pro Bowl wideout Mike Evans, the 23-year-old star who is one of just five players in NFL history to open his career with three straight 1,000-yard seasons. Those two will be catching passes from 23-year-old quarterback Jameis Winston, the first player ever to start his career with consecutive 4,000-yard seasons.

The hope, of course, is that the Buccaneers are on the verge of fielding the best offense in franchise history. There's a very good chance they'll have the most productive pair of wideouts the team has ever seen.

The Buccaneers have had some impressive WR pairings in their four-decades-plus history, particularly in recent years. But could Mike Evans and DeSean Jackson be the most dynamic duo in team annals? Let's take a look.

First, here's what Evans and Jackson did last year, and what their combined totals would be if they simply matched those output levels in 2017:

Player

Rec.

Yards

TDs

Mike Evans

96

1,321

12

DeSean Jackson

56

1,005

4

Totals

152

2,326

16

Expecting a repeat from both players is far from a reach. Evans has increased his yardage total two straight years and in 2016 was a far more consistent player from game to game and down to down. Jackson, meanwhile, has three 1,000-yard seasons in the last four years and in seven of the last eight years has surpassed the per-game yardage average (62.5) that leads to a four-digit finish. He has shown no sign of slowing down, even after crossing into his thirties three months ago.

Together, of course, they may be possible of even more. Jackson is clearly looking forward to what his partnership with Evans might produce.

"I don't think I've ever played with a Mike Evans," said Jackson, who was very complementary of such former teammates as Jeremy Maclin and Pierre Garçon. "I'm just intrigued man, to go out on the field, to have a quarterback like Jameis that wants to throw deep. To have another guy like Mike on the other side, he's what, 6-5? I'm 5-10. You've got a big guy who's kind of fast, you've got a smaller guy that's very fast. [Dirk Koetter], I know he's licking his chops to get it going. I am too, though."

Evans and Jackson will have to up their combined production a small amount if they are to be the most productive wide receiver tandem in Bucs history. Here's a look at the competition:

1. Vincent Jackson and Mike Williams, 2012

Player

Rec.

Yards

TDs

Vincent Jackson

72

1,384

8

Mike Williams

63

996

9

Totals

135

2,380

17

Not coincidentally, this marked the last time the Buccaneers made a huge free-agency commitment to a receiver, pairing him with another pass-catcher off to a good career start. Jackson, who commanded a five-year contract in coming over from the San Diego Chargers, teamed with Williams, a fourth-round pick in 2010 who had nearly hit 1,000 yards as a rookie.

Jackson was an instant hit, matching his 2011 Pro Bowl berth for the Chargers with another one in his Buccaneer debut season. Jackson and Williams were both big outside threats who were excellent in the red zone, and Jackson led the NFL with a  career-high 19.2 yards per catch. Their combined yardage and touchdown totals are the most ever for a pair of Buccaneer receivers…and still would be if Mike Evans and DeSean Jackson exactly match their own totals from 2016 next fall.

Unfortunately, that was the most the Bucs would get out of this tandem. Jackson had two more very strong seasons and impressively finished his five-year contract, but Williams would play only six more games as a Buccaneer and account for 216 receiving yards. The quarterback who got the most out of that tandem, Josh Freeman, would also be gone after just three more starts early in 2013.

2. Mark Carrier and Bruce Hill, 1989

Player

Rec.

Yards

TDs

Mark Carrier

86

1,422

9

Bruce Hill

50

673

5

Totals

136

2,095

14

The Buccaneers overhauled their roster under first-year Head Coach Ray Perkins in 1987, using a bevy of draft picks to bring in a lot of future starters, beginning with quarterback Vinny Testaverde with the first overall pick. Other notable starters from that draft class: cornerback Ricky Reynolds, linebacker Winston Moss, tight end Ron Hall and nose tackle Curt Jarvis, and a new pair of front-line wide receivers in Mark Carrier and Bruce Hill.

Photos from Mike Evans' 2016 campaign.

Carrier and Hill could have also been on this list for their 1998 seasons, when they combined for a 115-2010-14 line, and in some ways it's a better example because those totals are split almost down the middle between them. It was in 1989 that Carrier had his best season, making the Pro Bowl and setting a Buc yardage record that has not yet been broken, and the two receivers technically had a better combined output that fall.

That Carrier-Hill duo was relatively strong for three years but it didn't have the variety of size and skills that the current pair of Evans and Jackson bring to the passing attack. Carrier was listed at 6-0 and 185 pounds, Hill at 6-0 and 180.

3. Mike Evans and Vincent Jackson, 2014

Player

Rec.

Yards

TDs

Mike Evans

68

1,051

12

Vincent Jackson

70

1,002

2

Totals

138

2,053

14

This is the only time in team history that two wide receivers have surpassed 1,000 yards in the same season. Jackson's yardage total was his lowest in his first three seasons as a Buc but still a great complement to what the team's first-round rookie was able to provide. In this case, the combined touchdown total is pretty good but heavily slanted towards Evans. Also, as was the case with Carrier and Hill, this is a combination of two receivers with similar sizes and strengths.

Injuries caused Jackson to miss 17 games over the next two seasons in Tampa, so this 1,000-yard pairing proved to be a one-year occurrence.

4. Kevin House and Gerald Carter, 1984

Player

Rec.

Yards

TDs

Kevin House

76

1,005

5

Gerald Carter

60

816

5

Totals

136

1,821

10

This duo is easy to overlook for a couple of reasons. One, the 1984 season belonged to James Wilder, who set a (since-broken) NFL record with 407 carries, notched a (still-standing) Buccaneer record with 1,544 rushing yards and also caught a team-high 85 passes. And two, that '84 team went 6-10 and ended with the retirement of the team's first-ever Head Coach John McKay.

Most of the offense that year went through Wilder, but when it didn't it featured Steve DeBerg throwing to House and Carter. And if the combined totals of those two don't quite add up to the ones above them on this list, consider this: The NFL has become a much more pass-happy league in the intervening 32 years. In 1984, games featured an average of 456.4 combined gross passing yards; in 2016, that average was up to 511.2. That's a 12% jump in aerial yards. If you give House and Carter the same bump, they would have a shared line of 152-2,039-11.

This duo also had a nice combination of skills, as House had the speed to take off the top of the defense, averaging 17.3 yards per reception in his career. Weirdly, however, in this particular year he averaged a career-low 13.2 yards per catch before going back up to 18.3 the next year.

5. Keyshawn Johnson and Keenan McCardell, 2002

Player

Rec.

Yards

TDs

Keyshawn Johnson

76

1,088

5

Keenan McCardell

61

670

6

Totals

137

1,768

11

If you could combine Johnson's 2001 season with the Buccaneers and McCardell's 2003 campaign in Tampa, you'd have this line: 190-2,440-9. If you could do that, we wouldn't be wondering what the most prolific WR duo in team history was.

However, 2002 was the only year those two played a full season together. McCardell was a huge addition to the offense in June of that year after he was cut by the Jaguars. In 2003, Johnson would end up being deactivated for the last seven weeks of the season and traded the following March but McCardell enjoyed a Pro Bowl campaign.

They were good enough in 2002, however, especially with Joe Jurevicius providing a string of big plays as the third receiver. Johnson led the team in receiving on its way to its first Super Bowl title, and McCardell caught two touchdown passes against Oakland in that championship game.

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