Mike Evans is unanimously ranked among the best receivers in the 2014 draft class. The first thing everybody notices about Evans is his commanding frame – at 6’5” he stands eye to eye with the likes of Calvin Johnson and Vincent Jackson, making scouts salivate over his potential.
A redshirt sophomore, Evans has posted two consecutive 1000 yard seasons – 2012 saw him haul in 82 catches for 1105 yards and 5 touchdowns, and while 2013 saw his receptions total drop to 69, his receiving yards shot up to 1394 (second in the SEC) as he also pulled in 12 touchdowns – joint top in his conference.
While he may owe a lot of thanks to 2012 Heisman winner Johnny Manziel, he’s put in a number of performances that can’t be ignored. 7 catches 279 yards and a touchdown against Alabama – not exactly famed for having a sloppy defence – and 11 catches for 287 yards and 4 (yes, four) touchdowns against the National Championship game runner-up Auburn. This article attempts to break down different aspects of his game.
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Evans isn’t the quickest player in the world, but that doesn’t mean his movement is sluggish. For a man of his size, he can show quick movement to get around defenders and occasionally make overenthusiastic tacklers miss. His good balance, body control and athleticism lead to situations where he can use his agility to step outside of a defender’s grasp, though dancing around hoards of defenders won’t happen often. 7.5/10
A big, strong, hard working guy, Evans is everything you want from a receiver in terms of blocking. He’s always willing to throw himself into a block, and if there’s nobody near him then he’ll eagerly go searching for somebody to get in the way of. On a couple of occasions, a slight lack of awareness will lead to letting his block release half a second early, but more often than not his blocking is a big advantage, and on occasion he can totally overwhelm a smaller defensive back. Due to blocking not being a vital part of a receiver’s game, his score has been lowered for the purpose of balance. 6/10
Although Evans does not possess elite hands, and isn’t one to throw up hundreds of highlight reel, stickem-controversy-inducing catches every game, there is little cause for concern in his catching ability, as he seems capable of holding onto the ball from a variety of different body positions, with defensive backs draped all over him. He was Johnny Manziel’s safety blanket over the last two years, a reliable figure on the outside, and his good hands are one of the reasons for this. However, he does occasionally have lapses of concentration leading to big drops. The gif below shows an extreme example of what happens when he takes his eye off the ball at the wrong time. 8/10
For a 6’5” man, Evans can struggle with getting away at the line. His lack of explosive acceleration means it is rare for him to leave a DB in the dust straight from snap, and his press-shedding leaves some room for improvement. It’s not a disaster for him, as often his size means he can find a way to get loose, though decent press defenders cause him trouble. He improved in this aspect through 2013, though he still has some work to do, as occasionally a defender can jam him completely out of the play. 7/10
Evans’ route running isn’t ideal. While he doesn’t ever look lazy in his cuts, he’s not particularly sharp either, rarely creating a lot of separation by throwing a receiver off with a clever, quick step. His route tree at Texas A&M was rather simple – what he did, he did reasonably well, but there’s a lot that we haven’t yet seen from him. It’s a developing part of his game, which NFL coaches should be able to help him improve. He does, however, show strengths in improvisational route running, as Manziel’s tendency to extend plays on the fly means Evans has to be able to react to scrambles out of the pocket and adjust his run. 7.5/10
Catch in Traffic
Everyone tires of hearing how Jimmy Graham, Antonio Gates and Julius Thomas use their basketball ability to fight for the ball, but for now I’ll stick to the boring and obvious – as a high school basketball star, contested catches are Evans’ main strength. As a big receiver, one thing you hope to see from him is the ability to go above defenders, challenge for the ball and come down with it himself. Evans certainly shows very little signs of struggling in this area, as time and time again Manziel will throw it up for him to challenge a DB, and Evans will use his size to his advantage, high-point the ball and make a reception. Seemingly unafraid of contact, he’s happy to challenge anybody for a catch, and more often than not, Mike Evans will win. 9.5/10
With a projected 40 time of around 4.55, it is clear Evans does not possess elite, top-end speed. This is no major concern, it’s certainly not slow, and it’s enough that when he gets into the open field, he can use the space to his advantage and keep all but the fastest defenders from catching him too easily. On top of this, his ability to win the ball with defenders all over him means getting wide open isn’t too vital a concern. However, his lack of explosiveness means that it’s infrequent he’s bursting past defenders for an easy, over the top home run. There will be a lot of eyes on his 40 yard dash at the combine. 8/10
Yards After Catch
Again, Evans’ respectable speed means that in the open field, he can get a reasonable amount of yards after the catch, but a lack of real explosiveness means he doesn’t quite have the “make-em-miss” ability to dance out of a hole of three defenders and rocket away. Despite this, Evans is a strong and energetic runner, who will regularly find himself using his strong lower body to fight defenders and drag an extra few yards out of the play. If he has good blocking from his other receivers, he uses it to his advantage to get room to get his speed up. 8/10
Evans’ ability to use his huge frame is another of his major strengths. His body control comes in handy in his regular contested catches, as he cleverly manages to position himself between the ball and a defender to improve his odds of making the reception even further. He also manages to make catches from a variety of different angles, from over the shoulder balls to leaping up to high point a long pass. 9/10
One concern from Evans is his tendency to draw penalties. Being a fighter when it comes to playing for the ball, he can sometimes get too physical and end up with his hands all over defenders, drawing offensive pass interference flags. This can lead to occasional suggestions of a lack of discipline – this particular issue was highlighted to a huge audience in the Chick-Fil-A Bowl as two such penalties drew an emotional reaction, leading to quarterback Johnny Manziel needing to approach and reprimand Evans on the sideline. However, it can certainly be seen as a positive that Evans is at the level he is having only played competitive football for two years. There is still a lot of room to coach his considerable natural talents up, and it appears as if he has no character concerns to speak of, including no indication that he takes too relaxed an approach in training. One may also ask if having a top-level college quarterback makes Evans look better than he actually is. 8/10
Mike Evans can surely expect to hear his name on the first day of the draft. His size and frame makes him the kind of prospect any coach would love to have, and while (as with the vast majority of college players) there are things that need to be refined, there don’t seem to be any major red flags which would scare teams away. While his lack of explosiveness may cost him from being one of the absolute top receivers, there is enough of him that teams needing a receiver will think long and hard come May. Pro comparison: Vincent Jackson
78.5 – Top 16 pick.