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Friday, August 12, 2011
Lee Evans trade helps Boldin, Flacco

By Christopher Harris
ESPN.com

Remember when Lee Evans was kind of awesome?

The year was 2006. "Top Chef" premiered. "The Da Vinci Code" made Tom Hanks' mullet the "it" hairstyle of the millennium. Bob Barker left "The Price Is Right." And Evans caught 82 passes for 1,292 yards and eight TDs, showing the kind of chemistry with J.P. Losman scarcely seen since, well, Bob Barker and the Showcase Showdown.

Since then, however, Evans has perpetually heard that disappointing music that indicates you've just lost the dinette set. His average season in the four years after his breakout? Fifty catches for 764 yards and fewer than five scores. It got to the point where, last season, Evans wasn't a fantasy bust, because nobody expected a bloody thing from him.

Evans, a former No. 13 overall pick and track star, is only 30 years old. He can still run. He's simply been saddled with noodle-armed Trent Edwards and Ryan Fitzpatrick over the past few seasons. Now he's been traded to the Ravens, and will have big-armed Joe Flacco throwing him the rock. Suddenly, some big plays are going to be there again for Evans. Will it be enough to make him ownable in 10-team fantasy leagues?

Well, first let me say: This is a terrific move for the Ravens. They were hoping that first-round pick Torrey Smith would be able to start opposite Anquan Boldin beginning in Week 1, but Thursday night's preseason game -- in which Smith struggled with his route running -- made it clear that this was a long shot. So Baltimore went out and got the guy Smith could be in eight years. Smith is a burner. Evans is a burner. Smith can blow the top off defenses. Evans can blow the top off defenses. But Smith has never done it in the NFL, and Evans has. So now the kid can learn from the veteran, and the Ravens can feel more secure that they cured their offense's biggest problem from last season: There was nobody on the roster who could keep opposing defenses honest.

Some might believe this is bad news for Boldin. I actually think it's good news. I don't imagine that I'll boost his ranking among wide receivers very far, but I'm willing to consider Boldin as a low-level No. 2 fantasy WR now. You know the equation. Safeties can't cheat up. Extra defensive backs can't feel comfortable in their zones. And Boldin can run the kind of crosses, drags and outs that made him a star in Arizona. The tight end candidates, Ed Dickson and Dennis Pitta (who are battling to replace the departed Todd Heap), should have a bit more route-running room, too.

Lee Evans
Lee Evans has caught at least one 50-yard touchdown pass in each of his 7 seasons in Buffalo.

As for Evans himself, I'm willing to consider him in 10-team leagues now, but he's likely to be mighty up and down. He's probably not going to average five catches per game. But if one of those grabs goes 60 yards for a score, well, he'll generate a big fantasy week for you. Mix in a few weeks of two grabs for 17 yards, and you understand my point. Evans helps Flacco, he helps Boldin, he helps the tight ends, heck, he might even help rookie Tandon Doss, who's reportedly been impressive in Ravens camp and could see looks out of the slot. Does Evans help himself? Well, he finds himself in the precarious position of likely being a bye-week fill-in for fantasy, but having so much weekly variability that you're scared to actually use him during bye weeks. I don't mind drafting him, but be prepared to deal him away if one of his few big games comes in September.

Briefly, I should also discuss what's left behind in Buffalo. The target already on Steve Johnson's back (or on his "Why So Serious?" T-shirt) just got bigger. There are no other proven outside receivers on that Bills roster, so Stevie will receive much more attention. But heck, he was getting attention last December, too, and he still produced. Johnson's game isn't beating you with his speed or quickness; it's good, crisp route running and precision and chemistry with Fitzpatrick. There's no reason to think that vanishes along with Evans. I'd still consider Johnson a mid- to low-level No. 2 fantasy wideout for the moment.

Who'll be starting opposite him? Good gravy. It might be David Nelson, a big-bodied kid who had a few nice games at the end of '10. It might be Buster Davis, a former first-round pick and exile from the Chargers who's already solidified himself as a massive draft-day bust. I guess it could be Brad Smith, though he's caught precious few balls as a wideout in his five pro seasons. It could be Roscoe Parrish, who has some good quickness to him but who's never shown an ability to do anything on the outside, and is much better cast as a slot receiver. It could be Donald Jones, an undrafted second-year guy who played in the slot last year after Parrish got hurt. And I suppose it could be project Marcus Easley, the guy with the best size/speed combo in this receiving corps, but headed into his third season he's yet to actually step on the field during the regular season. Did I mention this is a mess? As of now, you don't want to draft any of these guys in any-sized league. Trust me.

Christopher Harris is a fantasy analyst for ESPN.com. He is a six-time Fantasy Sports Writers Association award winner. You can ask him questions at www.facebook.com/writerboy.