The Tampa Bay Buccaneers absolutely adore Texas A&M. They used their first-round pick on Texas A&M's Mike Evans. They signed (or invited to their mini-camp) three Texas A&M undrafted free agents in linebackers Nate Askew and Steven Jenkins, as well as cornerback Toney Hurd. And all of that is in addition to Jorvorskie Lane and Danny Gorrer, who were already on the Bucs' roster.
Maybe that's just a consequence of Lovie Smith's love for Texans. Or maybe it has something to do with their hiring Dave Kennedy as their strength and conditioning coach. Kennedy was with Texas A&M from 2008 to 2013. With all those Aggies in Tampa, we asked Ranger222 of SB Nation's Good Bull Hunting for some college perspective on the team's new players.
1. As you note in your scouting report, Mike Evans is arguably the best Texas A&M wide receiver ever, and incredibly productive in his two years at Texas A&M. How do you think that production will transition to the NFL?
I think over time, the production will be there for Mike Evans. The question will be how fast of a start does he get off to as a Buccaneer? That will be answered with how quickly he grasps Jeff Tedford’s offense and how well he adjusts to his new teammates and settings. Here is one thing you have to remember about Mike – he has only been playing high-level football for two years! He only played one season of football at Ball High School in Galveston, Texas, took a redshirt year at Texas A&M, followed by two more seasons playing against SEC competition for the Aggies.
Some would say that the jump Mike made – from a one-year high school player to playing in the SEC – is as radical as it could be; yet he handled it with ease. In his first season as a starter, he had 82 receptions and 1105 yards. That indicates to me he can make the same kind of adjustment to the NFL. I’m interested in what the pass distribution will be in this new Buccaneer offense. Not only did they add Mike, but they also added Austin Seferian-Jenkins, Robert Herron, and I have to imagine Charles Sims will be a factor in the pass offense as well. Mike will not be the primary target early for the Buccaneer offense, which can be an adjustment in itself.
2. Any truth to the idea that Mike Evans was 'made' by Johnny Manziel?
No, I wouldn’t say Johnny Manziel ‘made’ Mike Evans. However, Manziel was bailed out several times by Mike on his scrambles. It certainly helped to have a 6’5” playmaker to throw to. Johnny and Mike played off each other’s energy and emotion at times, making the Texas A&M pass offense physical and explosive. Because of the explosiveness that receivers like Mike provided, the A&M offense changed between 2012 and 2013, using a new pass route progression: deep to short. The A&M offense was looking to gain chunks of yards at a time. This can be seen in Mike’s average yards per reception: it increased from 13.5 to 20.2 between ’12 and ’13. However this strategy also led to its demise against teams like LSU. Johnny and Mike will probably be remembered as one of the greatest ‘duos’ in Texas A&M football history, but the legend of Mike Evans could have stood alone without Johnny Manziel.
3. What would you say Mike Evans' biggest strengths and weaknesses are?
We all know that Mike is a tall guy, has an outstanding wingspan leading to a large catch radius, and will go up and fight for the football at its highest point. Those are pretty well known. Here is a strength that people overlook – his run blocking. I have seen Mike totally dominate poor corners one-on-one on the outside on run plays. If Mike gets his hands into the chest of a corner, the battle is over. Mike will then extend his arms and drive until the play is over. If he were an offensive lineman, he would have recorded several pancake blocks while at A&M. This is an advantage that sometimes gets overlooked – the power running game featuring Doug Martin will only improve with both Vincent Jackson and Mike Evans on the outside.
Mike’s main weakness is his limited experience with a route tree and only playing on the right side of the offense for Texas A&M. If you look at his pass distribution chart, 85-90% of Mike’s catches came from the right side of the field. He never lined up in the slot or to the left during the 2013 season. That limited experience of being a versatile receiver may hamper him early in his career.
4. Toney Hurd is reportedly a Buccaneer, too. What can you tell me about the defensive back?
Toney Hurd Jr. is a solid football player and an even better person. Toney just recently graduated as an economics major this past weekend and was a team captain for Texas A&M as a senior. Toney played primarily as the nickel corner for Texas A&M last year. Due to personnel limitations at linebacker, Texas A&M stayed in a nickel package a majority of the time even when it wasn’t a favorable matchup. This left Toney to play almost as a 3rd linebacker against some run-heavy SEC teams. Toney is great near the line of scrimmage playing the run. He is limited at times in pass coverage playing in man coverage, especially matched up against a quicker slot receiver. However, I think Toney is a great fit if Lovie Smith’s defense is going to be playing a lot of Tampa 2 in 2014. This puts Toney in his best position to play zone coverage near the line of scrimmage to also be a factor against the run game.
P.S., Toney was one of our favorite players at Good Bull Hunting. He is known as the “shark” and is famous for “sharkin’” after big plays.
5. The Bucs also signed (or invited to their mini-camp) two Texas A&M linebackers in Nate Askew and Steven Jenkins. Any thoughts on their fits in the NFL?
I actually thought Nate Askew had a shot at being drafted on Saturday afternoon. He was invited to play in the NFLPA Bowl, and I’m sure some of his measurables caused the scouts to take notice. Nate was a wide receiver for Texas A&M before moving to linebacker in his senior season. That means he has got the size at 6’3 and is also really fast – he was a track star in San Antonio in high school competing in the 100 meter dash. He is just inexperienced playing linebacker; he tries to avoid blockers instead of taking them on and shedding, and is still getting used to actually covering someone in space instead of getting open in space. I think Nate has a chance to make it if the coaches commit to him as a developmental player. While he develops, he can be a special teams demon.
Steven Jenkins has always been an interesting player. He is a Will linebacker who is quick and instead afraid to lay a hit. The problem with Steven is that he played light while at Texas A&M; when Bruce Feldman was in town for the Alabama game he noted that the Texas A&M coaches were concerned that Steven kept losing weight and was playing at 208 pounds as a linebacker. This caused Steven problems in defending against the run. Blockers would engage and he just couldn’t stand his ground and shed. He can certainly play the coverage the Buccaneers are looking for, and if he can gain a little weight and maintain it, he might just be able to hold his own and be an effective player.