Through 13 games you could almost make an argument that the Cowboys' secondary has already faced most of the elite receivers the NFL has to offer. But there's another one waiting for them this Sunday, and he's bigger than all the rest.
Dallas has had their hands full trying to contain the speed and pass catching abilities of some of the number one receivers they've lined up against this year, but none of them have the size and strength of Mike Evans, who literally towers above his competition.
Evans is 6-5, 231 pounds. A few of the Pro Bowl receivers Dallas has already faced this year can put that into context. Evans has *50 pounds *on Antonio Brown. He has 33 pounds on Odell Beckham Jr. He has 21 pounds on AJ Green, and he has 16 pounds on Jordy Nelson.
Evans is the rare player who came into the league with not only the size and strength to survive, but to use his physicality to push around other NFL players. He had 10 touchdowns as a rookie out of Texas A&M. In his second season he was the difference maker in the Buccaneers 10-6 win over the Cowboys when he caught eight passes for 126 yards.
"[He's} a really good player, a guy that they like to feature," Jason Garrett said this week. "He's a big guy, and he looks big out there, and they're not afraid to throw him the football. He makes a lot of contested catches. He makes plays over his head. He's a physical guy."
In his third season, Evans has put everything together, adding speed and versatility to his game.
"This year I put in a lot of extra work with my route running. I thought I got much better [there]. My focus has picked up more."
The results are apparent. Evans already has 10 touchdowns and 1,100 yards. His coach, Dirk Koetter, has noticed the growth in Evans. "I've seen Mike grow in his attention to detail in the meeting room, on the practice field, his practice habits, and his work habits," Koetter said.
A guy with Evans' size can win one-on-one matchups more often than not, but he'll always be played differently than speedsters like Antonio Brown or A.J. Green.
[embeddedad0]"Mike played frustrated a lot of the time last year," Koetter said. "When you're a big wide receiver in this league you're going to get held a lot. You get in a lot of wrestling matches with DBs. Mike would, at times, get frustrated with lack of calls or calls going against him. He's really done a good job of not letting that get to him this year and just moving on to the next play."
Perhaps it's a bit easier for Evans to move on to the next play because he knows the ball will be coming right back to him very soon. Evans leads the NFL in targets. Tampa Bay quarterback Jameis Winston has thrown the ball to him 146 times. In comparison, no player on the Cowboys has been targeted more than 84 times.
"We trust each other," Evans said of Winston. "When the play is called, if we get the look, he'll throw me the rock."
"It goes back to experience," Koetter said referring to the chemistry that Evans and Winston are quickly building in their second year together.
Evans moves a lot from the left side to the right side of the field and even lines up in the slot from time to time. The constant movement increases their chances of finding the best size mismatch for Evans to take advantage of. He'll have 20 or 30 pounds and at least five inches on whichever cornerback the Cowboys have on him at any given moment.
Last week Brandon Carr was tasked with shadowing Beckham for most of the game, and he's already preparing for the physicality of Evans. "[Evans] does an excellent job of using his strength at the line of scrimmage," Carr said. "He kind of manhandles a lot of DBs early into his route. With a guy like that you just have to keep your feet clean, keep in front of him, try not to get into a tussle match with him."
There are a lot of ways Evans can beat a defense, but the simplest remains the most dangerous. Winston is comfortable tossing the ball up to Evans when he gets in trouble and assuming the big receiver reels it in.
"Big receivers take awhile to get going, but he's a guy who uses his hands well early in the route," Carr said. "He's physical. You want to make sure you stay in front of a guy like that and not behind him for those 50/50 jump balls."