Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide receiver Mike Evans finished fifth in the Pro Bowl voting among NFC wide receivers, which means he was not one of the four named to the conference team on Tuesday night. He may still end up in his second NFL all-star game, if any one of those four pull out due to injury or advancement in the playoffs, but it is still a bit hard to ignore when the player who ranks second in both the NFC and the NFL in receiving yards is not on the original Pro Bowl squad.
It is not, however, a snub, at least not in Evans' own estimation.
"I'm not disappointed," he said matter-of-factly on Wednesday. "I kind of knew the eight midway through the season and it's hard to change that. You've got to do something spectacular to get in that conversation. But all the guys that made it were deserving. There were probably a couple snubs out there but it's just an all-star game."
The 'eight' Evans refers to are all the Pro Bowl receivers announced on Tuesday night, both AFC and NFC. The only ones that mattered to Evans' chances were the four in the NFC: Atlanta's Julio Jones, Atlanta's Michael Thomas, Minnesota's Adam Thielen and Green Bay's Davante Adams. And, as Evans correctly notes, all four are having outstanding, Pro Bowl-worthy seasons.
Jones is the one player with more receiving yards than Evans and is well ahead of the pack at 1,511. Thomas leads the NFL with 109 receptions and has scored eight times. Thielen is second in the NFC in receptions and fifth in yards and has scored nine touchdowns. Adams has 12 touchdown catches, one off the league lead, to go with 1,315 yards. Evans has fewer touchdowns (five) than the other four but also has the best yards-per-catch average (17.9) by a wide margin. It's hard to exclude any of these five from the top four, but the Buccaneers' 5-9 record probably doesn't help.
"That plays a factor," Evans conceded. "If you look at the guys that made it, most of those guys' teams are good or there in a big market. But they're really great players as well. That probably plays an effect, but not too much."
Evans' exclusion from the original Pro Bowl roster won't have an effect on his play in the last two games of the season, either. It doesn't offer him any added incentive, nor does he need any. He specifically said on Wednesday that the Pro Bowl non-snub snub would not be on his mind on Sunday in Dallas, that he would not be looking to prove voters wrong.
"No, I'm just looking forward to finishing the season strong and building some momentum for next year," said Evans, who already has a career high with 1,328 rushing yards. "I know I've said that in the past but that's just what it is and that's what I'm going to do.
"Just play my game, do what I've been doing all year. They play a lot of man coverage and I like going against man coverage. Just beat man coverage and whenever they give me some odd looks, other guys will be open."
Evans is also aware that he is on the verge of breaking Mark Carrier's franchise record for receiving yards in a season, which has stood for almost three decades. Carrier set the mark at 1,422 yards in 1989 and the closest any Buc has gotten to it since was Vincent Jackson's 1,384 in 2012. Evans is already Tampa Bay's career leader in receiving yards and touchdown catches, as well as the single-season record-holder for scoring grabs. It seems inevitable that the season yardage mark will eventually belong to him as well, perhaps as soon as this Sunday. Evans is averaging 94.9 yards per game this season; he needs 95 more to surpass Carrier, with two contests to go.
"Hopefully I can get it; I should be able to," said Evans of the record. "I'm going to try to have a good week of practice this week and I should be able to get it this week, hopefully. If not, then next week."
Evans could get help in the form of another weapon returning to the Buccaneers' offense. Big-play wide receiver DeSean Jackson, who leads the NFL with an average of 18.8 yards per catch, has missed the last three games with a thumb injury but was on the practice field in a limited fashion on Wednesday. Head Coach Dirk Koetter said Jackson did not appear to have any difficulty catching the ball.
If Jackson can play, that's another explosive receiver for the Dallas secondary to worry about, potentially pulling coverage away from Evans. And Jackson's presence would not necessarily mean fewer targets for the Bucs' number-one receiver. Evans averaged exactly nine targets per game in the 11 contests in which Jackson also played. In Jackson's absence, he has averaged exactly seven targets per game, though the Buccaneers' low offensive snap count in Baltimore likely played into that."
"DeSean in the game – again he’s one of the fastest, one of the most explosive players in the league," said Koetter. "That’s going to help everybody on offense, not just Mike."
And if Evans did need any added motivation for Sunday's game against the Cowboys, he could channel some holiday spirit. Christmas falls two days later and Evans would like to have a reason to be feeling that holiday cheer.
"We just want to win when we can," he said. "It feels good to win. Even though we're out of contention it still feels good to win. Christmas is coming up; it would be good to have Christmas sitting on a 'W.'"