If there was a list documenting the NFL’s most underrated careers, Archie Manning’s go-to target would have to be WR Lee Evans. Like most players on my imaginary list, Lee lacks the stats to really back it up. Since being taken 13th overall in 2004, the former Wisconsin Badger has racked up 371 receptions, for 5,781 yards and 43 TDs.
While an outsider may view Lee’s production as disappointing, I attribute it to another stat: 8.
That’s how many QBs Lee has had trying to get him the rock: Drew Bledsoe, J.P. Losman, Shane Matthews, Kelly Holcomb, Trent Edwards, Ryan Fitzpatrick, Brian Brohm, and Fred Jackson (threw him a TD against TEN in ’09). Not to mention Lee has played through three eras: the Mularky Era, Jauron Era, and now the Gailey Era. Considering there were staff changes in between as well, that’s a handful of new systems to learn.
Look at Lee’s production when there has been consistency. As a rookie, he caught 48 passes for 843 yards and 9 TDs while Drew Bledsoe was at the helm. When J.P. took over in ’05, Lee’s numbers naturally dropped. In J.P.’s second season, as the unquestioned starter, Lee caught 82 passes for 1,292 and 8 TDs. Then, QB controversy set in again. With J.P. and Trent splitting time in ’07 (much like the Holcomb-Losman ’05 season), Evans’ stats reverted once again. In ’08, Trent became the unquestioned starter and Lee’s numbers began spiking again, to the tune of 63 catches for 1,017 yards and 3 TDs. To belabor the point, ’09 was similar to ’05 and ’07, with Lee experiencing a drop in production. Lee’s numbers are still relatively down this season, but keep in mind the QB he took reps with all off-season was jettisoned after two games. His rapport with Fitzy is improving, and Lee has a spectacular 3-TD game against the Ravens to show for it.
Despite being undersized at 5-10, Lee is arguably the fastest WR in the league. You need safety help over the top or he’s getting by his man. He has soft hands and can make some acrobatic catches. Recall the blackout game against San Diego in ’08, when Lee caught a pass in the endzone on Quentin Jammer, one of the league’s most physical corners. He trapped the ball one-handed against the side of his helmet. That’s a playmaker. Though I don’t have to play the intangible card, I will. He’s soft-spoken, a great teammate, and a great competitor. He doesn’t throw hissy fits on the field when things go bad, but you can read the frustration on his face when the team is struggling.
At 29, his speed will begin declining in the next few seasons. It’s a shame his career was marred with turmoil within the organization. It’s not like he isn’t compensated fairly, signing a lucrative 4-year, $37.25 million contract extension in 2008. However, I hate the idea that some people have been calling him a bust. He has been anything but that for this team.
Are there any other Bills, former or current, that people would like to nominate for the imaginary list? Please give the player and your argument.