Pictures of WR Mike Evans during the Bucs' win over the 49ers.
Mike Evans** has played six games this year and has six touchdown receptions. You don't need a calculator to know how many TD catches he's on pace for by season's end.
As a rookie in 2014, Evans set the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' franchise record for all players with 12 scoring receptions. In what is beginning to look like an unusual aberration, Evans followed up with a three-TD campaign last year, even as all of his other receiving numbers went up. After his two-touchdown performance in Sunday's win over San Francisco, it's beginning to look like Evans' TD record will be short-lived. He is already the first player in franchise history to have six touchdown catches in the season's first six games.
In all, Evans has played 36 NFL games and has 21 touchdown catches. That's already the eighth-highest career total in Buc history, and the 15th-most total touchdowns.
Most Touchdown Receptions, Career, Buccaneers
That scoring pace – 21 touchdown receptions in his first 36 games – actually makes Evans one of the most prolific young scorers in league history. That total is tied for the 12th most ever by an NFL player through his first 36 games.
Most Touchdown Receptions, First 36 Games, NFL History
Similarly, Evans is one of the most prolific scorers in the passing game in NFL history for men who have yet to turn 24. He won't turn 24 until next August. Only seven players have scored more touchdowns before the age of 24 than Evans, and the Buccaneer standout still has 10 more games to climb well up the list.
Most Touchdown Receptions Before the Age of 24, NFL History
Evans has spread his six touchdowns over five games, only getting shut out against Denver in Week Four. He is tied with Oakland's Michael Crabtree for the NFL lead in TD catches, and he's the only player who has caught a scoring pass in five different games already this year, even including players on teams that have played seven times.
With 40 catches for 545 yards so far in 2016, Evans is also tied for sixth in the league in receptions and he ranks 10th in yards. He is the only player in the NFL who has reached 40 catches while playing in only six games; all five receivers ahead of him have already played seven. Evans and Antonio Brown (who has played seven games) are the only two players in the NFL to rank in the top 10 in catches, yards and TD receptions.
Evans' two-TD performance against San Francisco was his first of the season but the fourth of his young career. That ties Jimmie Giles for second on the Bucs' all-time list in multi-TD-catch games, only one behind leader Joey Galloway.
While Evans has had at least 59 yards in every game this season (and at least 89 in four of them), the Buccaneers' second-leading receiver on Sunday was a player who has previously never had more than 63 receiving yards in a season. That would be Russell Shepard, who stepped up in impressive fashion to help fill the void left by Vincent Jackson, the latest Buccaneer to land on injured reserve.
Shepard caught five passes for 77 yards, both single-game career-highs, and scored the second touchdown of his four-year NFL run. Shepard's previous career best was two catches, which he has done twice, and 30 yards, which he put up against Pittsburgh on Sept. 28, 2014. His other scoring catch came in a win last year in Philadelphia.
All five of Shepard's catches against the 49ers resulted in first downs, including three that converted third-down situations. His first reception of the game was a diving catch for a five-yard gain on a third-and-three, keeping alive a drive that would end in a touchdown. In fact, it would be Shepard holding the ball in the end zone at the end of that possession, as he caught a 19-yard scoring pass on third-and-nine to give the Buccaneers their first lead of the day. Overall, Shepard has recorded a first down on six of his eight receptions this season.
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The three combined touchdowns for Shepard and Evans all converted red zone drives into seven points; the Bucs were three-for-five in that category on Sunday, with the other two inside-the-20 incursions leading to field goals. That's an improvement over the previous game, the Monday Night win over Carolina in which none of the team's four red zone drives ended in touchdowns, but the Bucs still are middle of the pack in the NFL in that category. Tampa Bay has scored TDs on 52.6% of its red zone drives this year, tied for 15th in the NFL.
Where Tampa Bay's offense remains perfect so far this season is in goal-to-go situations. Evans' first touchdown of the game, a four-yarder in the second quarter, came on second-and-goal; that was the team's only drive of the day that reached a goal-to-go down. The Buccaneers have had six goal-to-go situations so far this season and have converted all of them into touchdowns. Tampa Bay is one of only three teams in the NFL that can make that claim, joining Pittsburgh (seven for seven) and Cleveland (six for six).