TAMPA — As a freshman quarterback at Marshall, Byron Leftwich used to throw passes to Randy Moss, who would come back to the campus in Huntington, W.Va. to work out following his rookie year with the Minnesota Vikings.
Now the Bucs offensive coordinator has another tall, acrobatic receiver to get the football to in Mike Evans.
Moss and Evans’ careers have a chance to intersect Sunday with Leftwich watching. If Evans has 76 yards receiving Sunday against the Saints, he will join Moss as the only players in NFL history to have six consecutive 1,000-yard receiving seasons to begin their careers.
“It’s very unique to see guys that tall and that long be able to make the plays that they make," Leftwich said. "That’s the first thing I told Mike when I first met Mike. Not to compare Mike to Randy, right? You’re talking about a Hall of Fame guy, you’re talking about a guy in his sixth year. But at the same time, having an opportunity to throw to Randy when I was a young football player in college, seeing Mike, seeing how they both move, how they’re both able to put their body in position to make certain plays. For them to be tall, they do unique things to be tall wide receivers.’’
Evans, 26, is on pace for a career-high 1,642 receiving yards this season. He’s second in the NFL with 924 receiving yards and tied for first with seven touchdown receptions. At 6-foot-5, 225-pounds, Moss has always been his receiving idol. What would the record mean?
“It means a lot, a guy that I’ve looked up to.,’’ Evans said. “Everybody has looked up to. He has a catch named after him. How cool is that? It’s just great. It would be cool to be just me and him and then hopefully, I’ll stay healthy next year and surpass him. That would be cool.’’
It may even more if Evans matches Moss Sunday against the Saints. In Week 5, Evans was held to three targets and without a catch Oct. 6 in the Bucs’ 34-27 loss at New Orleans. Saints cornerback Marshon Lattimore, who received a lot of the credit for shutting down Evans, will not play Sunday due to a hamstring injury.
Leftwich also will have to have a better game plan to prevent the Saints from taking their best player on offense out of the game.
“We’ll put him in different places,’’ Leftwich said. “We’ll move him around. We’ll go to him when he gets his one-on-one matchups. When a guy is that special, when a guy is that good, the ball will find its way to him more than not. It didn’t that game."
Evans has created a lot of opportunities for fellow receiver Chris Godwin. With most teams rolling coverage to Evans’ side, the Bucs slot receiver is fourth in the NFL with 62 receptions for 840 yards and six touchdowns.
“I’m pretty lucky to have that guy, Mike Evans,’’ quarterback Jameis Winston said. “He’s definitely going to be a Hall of Famer one day."
That is not as far-fetched as you may think. Evans has 449 receptions for 7,027 yards and 47 touchdowns. If he averages 1,000-yards receiving for the next seven seasons, he would finish with more than 14,000 yards, which would currently rank among the top 12 all-time.
“I love Jameis. That’s very, very premature but I appreciate the support,’’ Evans said. “I got a lot, a lot of work to do starting this Sunday.’’
Got two minutes? That’s when Jameis Winston is at his best. The Bucs quarterback has put his team in position to score at the end of the last four halves of football he’s played, producing three touchdowns and a missed field goal.
Winston is first in the NFL with 567 passing yards in the final two minutes of halves, the most in the NFL. His 41 completions in those situations ranks second. Winston’s eight touchdowns at the end of halves this season are the most in the league by three.
“He’s been doing this the whole time,’’ Leftwich said. “I think he makes a lot of positive plays, more times than not. More times than not. Guys like to pick out what he didn’t do so well in a game, but you watch him week in and week out, I mean I see it every day. I see this guy playing well every day. I believe he’s going to play well every day in practice and in a game. I have that much confidence in him. We’ll see.’’
Contact Rick Stroud at email@example.com. Follow @NFLStroud