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Is Mike Evans a Good Fit for the Detroit Lions?

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Is Mike Evans a Good Fit for the Detroit Lions?
Nam Y. Huh/Associated Press

After an impressive 2014 NFL Scouting Combine, Texas A&M wide receiver Mike Evans is one of the players most linked to the Detroit Lions with the 10th overall pick in the upcoming draft.

It's an easy connection to make. The Lions desperately need major upgrades at the wide receiver spots opposite Calvin Johnson, and Evans is a physical monster with two of the most eye-popping performances in college football last season. 

At almost 6'5" and a shredded 231 pounds, with 35-inch arms and an official 4.53 seconds in the 40-yard dash (all per NFL.com), the redshirt sophomore from Galveston, TX certainly fits the prototype teams want at wideout. 

After Evans aced his combine performance, many mock drafts naturally decided to pair Detroit and Evans. One of those is Bleacher Report's own Matt Miller, who had this to say in his post-combine mock draft:

Imagine an offense with Calvin Johnson, Reggie Bush and Joseph Fauria joined by Mike Evans—that's immediately one of the best matchup offenses in the NFL. Oh, and they would also have Matthew Stafford, one of the game's best arms, delivering dimes to the targets. 

With Clemson's Sammy Watkins destined to be long gone before Detroit picks, Evans is the most rational option for those who want to assign the Lions a wide receiver.

Unfortunately, it's one of those seemingly great ideas that winds up better in theory than in practice. 

I sat down and watched several games of Evans recently, to break down his every move and sum up if he fits what Detroit needs. Here are the Texas A&M games I watched, either from my DVR or courtesy of Draft Breakdown

  • Alabama, 2012
  • Florida, 2012, a game I also attended in person
  • Alabama, 2013
  • LSU, 2013
  • Auburn, 2013
  • Missouri, 2013
  • Arkansas, 2013
  • SMU, 2013
  • Duke, 2013

 

And the conclusion I came to after breaking down Evans in those games is that it's not a marriage made in heaven.

Evans is going to be a good, perhaps even a great, NFL wideout. But in Detroit, he does not fit what the team sorely needs. 

Here's why...

Lack of Short-Area Quickness

One of the downsides of being so big and long is that Evans does not possess much quickness. He has impressive top-end speed, but it takes him a few steps to get going. 

Ryan McCrystal brought up these same issues in his report on Evans for Bleacher Report:

Acceleration is average at best, hindering his ability to get over the top of the defense.

He's a long strider who takes time to get up to full speed, which limits his ability to quickly break free off the snap.

This is not a deal-breaker for Evans as a NFL receiver, but it makes him a misfit for what the Lions really lack at wide receiver. 

Detroit needs a wideout who can get open in a single step, quick off the line and able to immediately create separation for himself with quick, crisp feet. 

Issues in Structured Offense

This is not necessarily his fault, Aggies coach Kevin Sumlin definitely catered his offense to the free-wheeling skills of dynamo quarterback Johnny Manziel. Yet, Evans has scant experience operating in the more structured, pro-style offense the Lions will run.

In the Aggies set offense, Evans had very little variety. He lined up split wide right more than 90 percent of the time in the games I studied, including a full 100 percent in some. More than 85 percent of his pass play snaps outside the red zone resulted in one of three basic routes:

  • A three to five step hitch
  • An up/post option to go deep
  • An intermediate drag route across the middle

Of course, in the course of Manziel being Johnny Football, Evans wound up doing a whole lot more, but those were the designed bases for the preponderance of his work. 

Detroit demands a lot more from its receivers than those basic routes. While it's unclear exactly what it will look like under new head coach Jim Caldwell and offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi, suffice to say it's not going to resemble an offense geared for Manziel's unique skills. 

This is one issue that Evans can fix on his own, and perhaps remedy it quickly. Mistaking inexperience at something for the inability to do it can prove foolish. Still, there will be a learning curve for Evans to master more intricate routes and coverage reads.

Fundamental Flaws

Another issue which repeatedly stood out in watching Evans is his propensity to push off in order to create space for himself. 

While many NFL receivers, notably bigger ones, use their hands and strength in this manner, Evans has no concept of subtlety. It's obvious from the first play on Draft Breakdown's cut-up of the LSU game last fall:

That's offensive pass interference in the NFL, and it's something that Evans will get flagged for a lot. It's a tough habit to break, and having long arms makes concealing pushes and shoves pretty difficult. 

His blocking technique is also quite primitive. Again, Evans' great size plays against him here. He's consistently too high with his hands when trying to engage corners that are often six or more inches shorter than he is. 

In addition, he struggles to gain any sort of leverage because of his upright technique and the awkward position he has to put his body in to get low. 

Also, for a big receiver, he doesn't win jump balls as often as he should. He certainly comes down with a fair share, but in the games I watched he caught just 17-of-31 50-50 balls, throws that are up for grabs to the player that wants it more.

Should the Lions take Mike Evans with the 10th pick?

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That's not bad, but when he's so much bigger and stronger than his combatant, that figure should be a lot higher. 

These are things that Evans will get better at with more experience. Progress is indeed visible from his early games as a redshirt freshman in 2012 to the end of his Aggies career. These are not effort problems, but they are indeed problems. 

Taking Evans at No. 10 overall will mean more will be expected of Evans than he is capable of delivering right off the bat. And it's no guarantee he will ever improve his issues.

Positional Redundancy

This is another thing that's really out of Evans' control. Yet it still impacts why he's not the wisest choice for Detroit in the first round.

What is the one thing the returning receivers in Detroit all have? Size.

Here are the top three returning receivers on the roster and their official size listings from the team's website:

Size of Detroit's Top Three Returning Receivers
Player Height Weight
Calvin Johnson 6'5" 236
Kris Durham 6'6" 216
Joseph Fauria 6'7" 255

DetroitLions.com

 

The one thing the Lions have in abundance here is size. While it wouldn't hurt adding the hulking Evans to the mix, Detroit would be better served diversifying the receiving corps.

Mike Evans offers a lot of upside and should become a very good NFL wide receiver in time, but the Detroit Lions are better off finding a different option at the No. 10 overall pick. 

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