32 Q: Is Lee Evans a No. 2 receiver?
I'm indebted to Lee Evans. In a completely imaginary, fantasy football sense.
In Evans' rookie year of 2004, I added him midseason and won a competitive (and rewarding) league, thanks in part to his scorching finish. Going into the '05 drafts, I wanted to select him out of loyalty, but he was going too high for my liking given his lack of a track record. After an inconsistent 2005, I knew I'd never own him again despite my fond memories of screaming in front of my laptop at his late-season awesomeness. From then on, I dubbed him "Mr. December," a player who by all accounts should sit next to a plus symbol on the waiver wire with an assortment of kickers, at least until the Macy's Parade.
Then 2006 rolled around; Evans posted his first "consistent" season, relative to his résumé, at least. With 82 catches for 1,292 yards and eight touchdowns, he was considered a borderline No. 1 wideout in fantasyland heading into last year's drafts, going as high as the fourth round in some leagues (many in western NY). With just 55 receptions, 849 yards and 5 TDs last season, he burned those hopeful investors with a production clip that was more imbalanced than a campaign ad. His owners endured 10 games with four or fewer catches with no scores, hardly No. 2 fantasy material. A green QB, no competent complementary receiver and an offensive coordinator on the way out were to blame. J.P. Losman, the QB with whom he enjoyed his breakout 2006, was benched early in '07 in favor of rookie signal-caller Trent Edwards. The two never truly clicked.
So who is Lee Evans? A superstar beset by unfortunate surroundings? Or what his numbers suggest, a wildly inconsistent performer who lures fantasy managers with the mirage of his sporadic breakout games? Outside of his 2006 exploits, his three other pro campaigns have seen him average 50 receptions, 7 TDs and 811 yards. Can you spell aberration? (spell check can). Consider that 16 of his 29 career TDs have come in December and the moniker I gave him rings even truer. It's great that he performs down the fantasy playoff stretch, but can you even make the playoffs given his inconsistency leading up to "his" month?
In regards to real football, though, Evans remains a coveted asset. He's quite possibly the league's most potent deep threat, with an impressive career 16 yards per catch. His five 70-plus-yard touchdown receptions are tied for the most in the NFL since 2000. Seeking a new pact with the Bills, fellow big-play receiver Bernard Berrian's $16 million in guaranteed dough this offseason bodes well for Evans' future bank statements. The talent is there, but can we trust him as a fantasy commodity?
2007 Highlights: Lee Evans scorched the Bengals secondary for 165 yards and a touchdown on 9 receptions.
If the question is whether Lee Evans can be a competent No. 2 receiver, the answer depends on which week you're talking about. For three straight weeks he'll give you measly stat lines averaging four catches for 50 yards. Then once you sit him that painfully ironic fourth week, he'll drop 140 and two scores, leaving you saltier than a margarita.
The real query at hand is whether he can be a "consistent" No. 2 fantasy receiver. Which is to say, can he be what he's never been before? Even in his 2006 breakout season, he still posted six anemic outings in which he averaged three receptions and just more than 30 yards per with no scores. He's never had the adequate support he deserves with respect to both consistent QB play and attention-drawing wideout peers. It's not clear that those issues have been resolved.
In an attempt to help the 5-foot-10 Evans get open and afford him relief from constant double-teams, the Bills drafted wideout James Hardy, a 6-7 former hoops player with a 42-inch vertical. So now the team has a red-zone target to go with Evans' deep-ball abilities. Trent Edwards has a full offseason under center, and new offensive coordinator Turk Schonert was Edwards' QB coach last year.
While these elements, combined with a promising running game led by Marshawn Lynch, should seemingly help Evans return to this 2006 form, it's still difficult for me to endorse investing in him at his going rate. ESPN live draft results have him slotted as the 24th receiver taken on average, just behind Dwayne Bowe and Roddy White. His ADP currently sits at 70.9, landing him in the sixth to seventh rounds (depending on league depth). This means, despite his disappointing '07, that fantasy managers are expecting Evans to be a borderline No. 2.
Reports from camp note that while Schonert wants to open up the offense, Edwards is seemingly more of a safety-first, game-manager QB. Buffalo beat writers have regularly informed the Bills' faithful to expect the team to focus on a short passing game, relying on the tailbacks often as pass catchers. Evans' best numbers have come from capable deep-ball throwers Drew Bledsoe and the benched Losman. By all accounts from camp, Hardy has been inconsistent but does show promise as a jump-ball threat. But will Hardy help or hurt Evans, given that he may actually take TDs away from him?
In the end, the potential of his huge games simply do not outweigh his more common lean weeks. If he slips dramatically in your league and you find value in him as your third WR, the risk is bearable. While his big-game potential is tantalizing, he's ultimately consistently inconsistent. You simply can't trust Evans as your second receiver.
James McCormick is an analyst for ESPN.com fantasy football.