Jameis Winston enjoys rare connection with Mike Evans

TAMPA, Fla. -- Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide receiver Mike Evans caught two touchdown passes from quarterback Jameis Winston in Tuesday's first minicamp practice and proceeded to dunk over the goal post twice to celebrate.

It wasn't a particularly good day for the receiving corps, whom head coach Dirk Koetter chided for putting too many balls on the ground, but the Winston-to-Evans connection looked strong.

"How much he means to me and this team is indescribable," said Winston, who wasn't particularly happy Evans came in at No. 29 in the NFL Network's recent Top 100 list. He thought he should have been in the top 10.

"He's the best receiver in the league," Winston said. "You think about the receivers that are in our conference -- Julio Jones is going to be placed probably before him, but Mike is every bit of Julio. And I commend Julio because he's a monster too, but I love Mike. I love our guys."

On one play Tuesday, Winston climbed up into the pocket amid pressure, jumped to throw the ball over a sea of defenders and hit Evans with his jumpshot. Granted, it would have been a sack if players were allowed to hit and tackle. But the improvisation that made the two so successful last season and created a handful of dazzling highlights was still apparent, as it's been throughout OTAs.

The two are always operating on the same wavelength.

"It has to be like that," Winston said. "All the great quarterbacks and receiver duos have that connection, and we've had a pretty good connection. Our connection has grown, actually, over the past two years and now I'm expecting it to go up another notch now that we've been together, we're comfortable with each other and he's as amazing as he is."

The connection was born out of necessity two years ago, when the receiving group was marred by injuries. With no Vincent Jackson or Louis Murphy to throw to, Winston made Evans the most targeted receiver in the league. It wasn't something the two were quite ready for, and Evans' red-zone production fell from 12 touchdowns to three his sophomore season.

By 2016, they were in sync. There were fewer drops. They still had to force things, but Evans matched his rookie haul of 12 touchdowns and became just the fourth receiver in NFL history to record 1,000 receiving yards in his first three seasons. Only five players have now accomplished that feat.

"I always want to have a good connection with my receivers, but the connection that me and Mike Evans have is like no other," said Winston, who believes that's only going to get better with the addition of a true speed threat in DeSean Jackson.

Winston hit Jackson on a beautiful deep pass along the far sideline Tuesday. Teams won't be able to roll coverage either players' way. They'll also think twice about who they choose to shadow with their top cornerback.

"I mean, when you've got a guy like [DeSean], imagine if I had Mike one-on-one all those times I had to improvise," Winston said with a chuckle. "I'll leave it at that."