Sunday, February 25, 2018
Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Bucs grab safety Justin Evans in second round, receiver Chris Godwin in third

TAMPA — The Bucs put their search for a running back on hold for a day Friday, taking safety Justin Evans of Texas A&M in the second round of the draft and going back to offense with receiver Chris Godwin of Penn State in the third round.

Evans, who could also help on kickoff returns, had four interceptions and 87 tackles for the Aggies last season. Godwin is yet another weapon for quarterback Jameis Winston. He's a 6-foot-1 receiver who ran the 40-yard dash in 4.42 seconds at last month's scouting combine.

Much of the buzz surrounding the Bucs entering Day 2 was about the possibility they would take a running back. Reports had them trying to trade up from No. 50, potentially to get Dalvin Cook of Florida State.

That never happened. The Vikings traded up to take Cook at No. 41. Controversial running back Joe Mixon of Oklahoma went two picks before the Bucs to Cincinnati, and Tampa Bay stayed put and filled a big need on defense, selecting Evans.

"I'm coming in believing in my mind, thinking I'm definitely a starter," said Evans, 21, who joins free agent signee J.J. Wilcox and returning safeties Chris Conte and Keith Tandy in competing for a starting job. "But I'm coming in with a humble mind-set."

Godwin, 21, has been productive the past two years. He had 11 touchdowns and 982 yards last season as a junior, after getting 1,101 and five scores the year before. He joins free agent receiver DeSean Jackson and tight end O.J. Howard, the first-round draft pick, as three major upgrades to the Bucs' passing game for 2017.

Evans had 87 tackles and four interceptions in 2016. Four years ago, he had no scholarship offers out of high school in Wiggins, Miss., and started his college career at Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College — "a different route than a lot of kids take" — before landing at Texas A&M.

He considered pursuing baseball out of high school, because of a 90 mph fastball, but he ultimately stuck with football.

Evans is fast enough that he had a 90-yard kickoff return against Ole Miss last season, and kickoff return could be where he makes his first impact with the Bucs.

Tampa Bay finished last in the league with an average return of 14.6 yards last season, with a season long of 26 yards.

Evans talked extensively with the Bucs in the predraft process. He talked with them at the Senior Bowl and the scouting combine, then had a meeting with defensive backs coach Brett Maxie and a visit to One Buc Place.

The Bucs' first- and second-round picks came from the SEC, with Evans following Howard from Alabama. The two played against each other in each of the past two seasons, with Howard winning both meetings. Evans said he is glad to be on the same team for a change.

"We played them, and I was matched up on (Howard) a few times," Evans said. "We'll be on the same team but going up against each other in practice. I definitely think he's a great athlete."

Evans drew immediate praise from another former Texas A&M standout, Bucs receiver Mike Evans, who did not overlap with Justin and isn't related to him.

Justin Evans has a reputation as a tough hitter. In 2015 he put a big hit on Alabama's 240-pound Heisman Trophy-winning running back Derrick Henry. One of his interceptions last season was a leaping, full-extension grab of a pass across the middle from UCLA's Josh Rosen, who is expected to be among the top picks in the 2018 draft.

"I feel like I'm an all-around safety," Evans said. "I'm a playmaker, a tackler, and I feel like I have all the tools."

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