They came into the NFL together last year, fellow first-round picks from the SEC wearing matching No. 13 jerseys and sharing the rookie lead with 12 touchdowns in impressive debut seasons. • On Sunday, the Bucs' Mike Evans and the Giants' Odell Beckham meet for the first time as pros, continuing a rivalry and mutual respect among two of the league's most promising young receivers. • "I think he's one of the best in the game," Evans said Thursday as the Bucs prepared for their first home game in four weeks. "People don't give him credit for his toughness. They don't get the film we get — he can block his butt off. He goes out there and plays hard, and you can tell he loves football." • The two receivers had similar breakouts in the second half of last season — in the final nine games, Beckham had nine touchdowns and 1,199 yards on 81 catches, earning NFL offensive rookie of the year honors. Evans actually scored more, with 10 touchdowns in his final nine games, catching 43 passes for 715 yards.
They attack opponents with different strengths. Evans is 6 feet 5 and 231 pounds, using his size to beat smaller defensive backs. Beckham is 5-11 and 198, relying on elite speed and highlight-reel hands to make astounding catches that have made him one of the league's most popular stars. He had the 10th-best selling jersey in the NFL in the most recent quarter, second only to Dallas' Dez Bryant among the league's receivers.
"Odell and Mike are two totally different players, but both of them you have to deal with," Bucs coach Lovie Smith said Thursday. "Talking about (Beckham), it's a tough duty because his speed, quickness, we know he can catch the ball. We've all seen some of those amazing catches he's made. Those are the problems that he poses."
Evans said for as much has been made about Beckham's flair for the acrobatic, one-handed SportsCenter catch, the rest of his game is underappreciated.
"He runs great routes, is very quick, plays with a lot of swag," said Evans, picked seventh overall in 2014, five spots before the Giants nabbed Beckham.
The two played against each other twice in college, with Beckham's LSU teams beating Evans' Texas A&M squads both times. As often as the two find themselves in the end zone, they've never scored against each other — Evans has 10 catches for 127 yards in the two games, with Beckham getting nine for 85 yards.
Beckham, who turned 23 Thursday, has continued to build on his rookie success — he had three touchdown catches in last week's 52-49 loss to the Saints, giving him seven for the season, on pace to trump last year's 12 scores.
Evans, 22, limited by a hamstring injury early in the season, got his first touchdown two weeks ago at Washington. With veteran receivers Vincent Jackson sidelined with a knee injury and Louis Murphy done for the year with a knee injury, Evans is getting more attention from defenses, but he is building a chemistry with rookie quarterback Jameis Winston.
As part of a deep and talented class of rookie receivers last season — seven of them had at least six touchdowns — Evans and Beckham will be evaluated against each other. Evans said he tries not to focus on individual opponents but added he's looking forward to another head-to-head meeting with Beckham.
"I measure myself against everybody," Evans said. "But he's one of the best, so I measure myself against him."
Contact Greg Auman at [email protected] and (813) 310-2690. Follow @gregauman.