Julio Jones: 113/170 receptions, 1,677 yards, 8 TDs, 14.8 YPR, 104.8 YPG
Michael Thomas: 125/147 receptions, 1,405 yards, 9 TDs, 11.2 YPR, 87.8 YPG
Christian McCaffrey: 107/124 receptions, 867 yards, 6 TDs, 8.1 YPR, 54.2 YPG
Mike Evans: 86/138 receptions, 1,524 yards, 8 TDs, 17.7 YPR, 95.3 YPG
The NFC South is one of the most pass-happy divisions in the league. It's partly due to some stellar quarterback play between the four starting signal callers, two of which are long-tenured veterans that could go down as two of the greatest passers the game has ever seen before their careers are over. You realize the Bucs are an outlier in that quarterback Jameis Winston is the youngest (by far) of the four, after you see that Carolina quarterback Cam Newton is entering his ninth NFL season. Yeah, that's a real thing.
This translates to somewhat of a feeding frenzy for NFC South receivers. You see the hard numbers above from the 2018 season. Now, they don't tell the whole story by any means, but it's a start in figuring out just where Bucs' 'X' wide receiver Mike Evans stacks up among his division peers.
Evans accounted for roughly 32 percent of the Bucs' receiving yards and 28 percent of their touchdowns with those numbers in 2018. He was an integral part of the offense as the designated 'X' receiver, which he proves over and over again to the tune of five consecutive 1,000-yard seasons to start his career. He's just the third NFL receiver to ever accomplish the feat, in fact, and it puts him in the company of Jerry Rice and the Bengals' A.J. Green. What makes Evans so effective is his ability to make those big plays – even when a defense accounts for him. His 6-5, 231-pound frame makes him near impossible to defend. Place the ball in his vicinity and Evans will go get it, often reaching over top of smaller, but pesky, defenders.
View the top photos of WR Mike Evans from the 2018 season
Evans has the most yards at catch point than any other receiver in the league period, meaning that 1,242 of his receiving yards have been pure air yards. This is an indication that Evans can get down the field and make the grab, in case you thought he was slow at his size. His longest reception in 2018 was 72 yards, a mark he shares with fellow Mike in Michael Thomas of the New Orleans Saints. They best both Atlanta's Julio Jones (58) and Carolina's Christian McCaffrey (38) in the category, easily.
If McCaffrey seems like an odd inclusion among the other three, that's because he is. He's a running back – and an elusive one at that. However, he is the Panthers' leading receiver thanks to an offense that revolves around short screens, which in turn allows him make the catch then turn up field and do what he does best: evading tackles on the ground. If you look closer at McCaffrey's stats, you'll see that a whopping 851 of his 867 receiving yards came after the catch. Those short passes aid in making him the second-most 'reliable' receiver with a catch percentage that tops 86.
What's a little bit more of a conundrum is that the Panthers don't seem too concerned that their best receiver is indeed, a running back. Their best comp size-wise to Mike Evans is probably Devin Funchess, who stands 6-4 and weighs 225 pounds, but his production is nowhere near McCaffrey's, let alone Evans'. The Panthers didn't sign a free agent wide receiver and waited until the seventh round of the 2019 NFL Draft to take Terry Godwin out of Georgia to add to their receiver corps.
The biggest challenger to Evans' stats and impact in the division is Atlanta's Julio Jones. He may be entering his eighth NFL season, but Jones hasn't lost a step in the slightest. He had his second-best year production-wise in 2018 and even with guys like Calvin Ridley and Mohamed Sanu in his wideout group, Jones stands out.
On a per-play basis though, Evans still has him beat. Evans had a 17.7 yards per reception average, good for the third-best mark among qualified receivers in 2018 and besting Jones' mark of 14.8 yards per catch. It is worth noting that Jones had the most receiving yards of any player in the league in 2018, registering 1,677 on 113 receptions. While Jones may have Evans beat by about 153 yards, Evans got his on just 86 receptions, which is where that 17.7 yards-per-reception average really becomes evident. Evans is simply part of more big plays.
It's an extremely tough division to stand out in considering that it houses three of the league's top 10 receivers. Evans, Jones and Thomas all make the cut, making the NFC South the division with the most top-10 talent. Yet, given everything above, Evans still shines. Can we call him 'elite' yet?