For Mike Evans, size wasn't a question. Neither was collegiate production. He had both of those in spades and NFL teams knew it. For Evans, it was all about athleticism. How fast he ran the 40-yard dash, and how agile he was in shuttle drills.
If Sunday's on-field portion of the 2014 NFL Scouting Combine is any indication, Evans may have established himself as the second-best receiver behind Sammy Watkins for May's NFL draft. The former Texas A&M product had a stellar athletic outing for a receiver his size and performed well in the on-field portion of drills to impress scouts and media members alike.
Here's a snapshot of how he did in the athletic testing drills:
|Height||Weight||Arm length||Hand size||40-yard dash||Bench press||Vertical Jump||Broad Jump||3-Cone||20 YD Shuttle||60 YD Shuttle|
|6'5"||231 lbs||35 1/8"||9 5/8"||4.53 seconds||12||37"||-||7.08||4.26||11.58|
The most important drill for Evans on Sunday was unquestionably his 40-yard dash. Measuring in at 6'5" and 231 pounds, Evans is an unnaturally large athlete even for the unnaturally large world of the NFL. While every team and player dreams of finding its next Calvin Johnson, big receivers also run the risk of being slower or having weight issues.
For every Calvin Johnson, there's a Mike Williams (USC version) who can scare teams off. One bad 40 time for Evans and suddenly he could have dropped behind Marqise Lee and even saw his first-round grade drop to late had he struggled.
Luckily, Evans has measurable quickness that left many surprised. After a solid 4.5-second run in his first attempt, Evans outdid himself with an unofficial 4.47-second sprint in his second attempt. The time was officially altered to 4.53 seconds, but reaction was understandably and overwhelmingly positive:
Mike Evans got a 4.47 on his second 40 attempt. Pretty crazy for a 231-pounder.— Doug Kyed (@DougKyedNESN) February 23, 2014
That said, there are some who think Evans left some time on the field. ESPN's Josina Anderson, who intently watched Evans' run and used to run track, highlighted some hitches in the wideout's gait that could be rectified with simple coaching:
Mike Evans lumbering too much through that 40. Left time on the track. He tried to use his upper body too much to stabilize & create power— Josina Anderson (@JosinaAnderson) February 23, 2014
Evans has the strength in his lower trunk to run a faster time w/ coaching. He has to coordinate his movement better . Strengthen back/core— Josina Anderson (@JosinaAnderson) February 23, 2014
If Anderson is correct, her thoughts should come as a boon, not a discredit to Evans' performance. Teams consistently work with prospects to improve their strides, and core strengthening is one of the hallmarks of NFL training. If Evans left a tenth of a second on the field Sunday, then he's a 6'5", 231-pound receiver who could consistently run a 4.4-second 40-yard dash.
Evans added to his impressive 40 time with a solid figure in the vertical jump. He wasn't one of the top performers at 37 inches, but it's still a very good number for someone his size. As Daniel Jeremiah of NFL.com points out, it's easy to see how Evans made spectacular catches in college:
Mike Evans- 6'4 3/4, 231, 35 1/8 inch arms, 37 inch vertical jump. That is an insane catch radius!!— Daniel Jeremiah (@MoveTheSticks) February 23, 2014
The only place where Evans was a relative disappointment was on the bench. His 12 reps at 225 pounds was near the bottom tier of receivers who participated in the drill, and he had four fewer than the more diminutive Watkins. That shouldn't dissuade evaluators much—especially considering Evans' performance in the on-field drills.
Running through a series of route combinations across multiple drills, Evans looked every bit like the star he was in college. His routes were crisp and fluid, and his hands every bit as strong as they were when he would grab Johnny Manziel heaves out of the sky in College Station.
It's inherently difficult to judge players at the scouting combine during on-field drills. They are working through mostly unnatural situations, in a stadium and with quarterbacks with whom they are unfamiliar. Simple things like catching the ball and running a straight-line route are typically enough to receive passing grades. Still, Shane P. Hallam was one of many folks who were impressed with the way Evans handled himself in the receiving portion:
Mike Evans looked effortless going through the gauntlet, stayed in line and used his hands instead of body to catch.— Shane P. Hallam (@ShanePHallam) February 23, 2014
Heading into workouts, Evans made slight waves with his comments to reporters. He not only boasted about being the best receiver in a deep class at the position, but he also gave himself some lofty Pro Bowl comparisons to live up to.
“I get a lot of Vincent Jackson comparisons. That’s a great comparison,’’ Evans told the gathered reporters. “But I think Brandon Marshall. He’s vicious after the catch, big receiver who can go up and get it, catch it real well."
Who will be the best receiver in the 2014 NFL Draft?
Both big, athletic targets, Marshall and Jackson have a combined eight Pro Bowls to their names. Those guys were also drafted far behind where Evans projects. Marshall was a fourth-round pick in 2006 and Jackson a second-rounder in 2005.
Evans, if he wasn't before, is pretty much a guarantee to be drafted in the first round in May. In all likelihood, with NFL teams desperate for elite receivers, Evans is good bet for a top-15 selection. It's highly unlikely he'll wind up surpassing Watkins for the top overall receiver taken, but he compares well to Lee, who measured in just shy of 6'0" in Indy.
That means a bigger payday for Evans than Marshall and Jackson got with their first contracts. It also means a ton more pressure. First-year wide receivers often struggle to pick up the complexities of NFL route combinations and hybrid defenses, but they are being given less time to acclimate than ever. While Marshall and Jackson were allowed to develop as projects, Evans will be viewed as an instant starter by whatever team drafts him and expected to perform as such.
Only time will tell if that's an accurate representation of Evans' value. For now, at least NFL teams know the physical tools match the collegiate production.
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