Talent evaluators from around the NFL converged on the campus of Texas A&M for the hyped pro day of quarterback Johnny Manziel. The big stage also provided an opportunity for his favorite target, wide receiver Mike Evans, to make his case as the class' top wideout.
The general consensus throughout the draft process has been that Sammy Watkins of Clemson is the top wideout available. Not every team agrees with that stance, however. Dane Brugler of CBS Sports reports at least two teams view Evans as the best prospect at the position:
Interesting: there are at least 2 NFL teams who have Texas A&M's Mike Evans as the top WR on their draft board #NFLDraft— Dane Brugler (@dpbrugler) March 21, 2014
Evans had two extremely productive seasons working with Manziel in College Station. As a freshman, he made 82 catches for 1,105 yards and five touchdowns. His number of catches dropped as a sophomore, but his yardage increased as he averaged more than 20 yards per grab with 12 touchdowns.
Aside from the numbers, his size helps him stand out. He checked in at 6'5'' and 231 pounds at the NFL Scouting Combine. It gives him a clear edge in that category over the other wideouts projected to go early in the draft, including Watkins.
When you combine that size with an ability to make plays down the field, as illustrated by that high per-catch average, it makes for an intriguing prospect. He definitely has the raw tools to become a No. 1 receiver in the NFL.
His job at the pro day was to show some progress in terms of his route running while also showcasing reliable hands, especially when throws weren't on target.
Brian Smith of the Houston Chronicle noted Evans was hearing earlier in the month that landing in the top 10 was a distinct possibility, so building off that was the ultimate goal:
The good news for both Manziel and Evans was that the workout was heavily attended, giving them a chance to make a major impression with a strong showing. Charles Robinson of Yahoo! Sports called it the biggest turnout he's witnessed:
Johnny Manziel/Mike Evans pro day turnout is easily the biggest I've ever seen.— Charles Robinson (@CharlesRobinson) March 27, 2014
The workout itself was well-crafted to highlight the strengths of both Texas A&M stars. There was a lot of routes based on the same concepts that made the duo successful over the past two years, but also some deep throws that allowed Manziel to show off his arm and Evans to spotlight that big-play ability.
Who should be the first WR taken?
Some of those deep balls from Manziel hung in the air a bit, which forced Evans to adjust on the fly and he did well each time to get his body turned without losing the ball. On one occasion he made a twisting grab, tumbled to the turf and held on throughout the process of the catch.
The 20-year-old prospect also ran precise routes. Of course, that's a factor that should be pretty simple without a defender at the line to play press coverage, but nevertheless it's something scouts were likely watching after some lingering question marks in that area.
During the 45-minute pro day, which also featured other receivers simulating full plays, the only blip for Evans was a brief juggle on one throw. He was able to regather and make the catch, but if anybody was focused on finding a mistake, that was it.
Gil Brandt of NFL.com made a bold declaration following the pro day:
Mike Evans has the best hands I've seen since Calvin Johnson.— Gil Brandt (@Gil_Brandt) March 27, 2014
Mark Passwaters of Rivals was also impressed with Evans' all-around performance:
BTW, @MikeEvans13_ answered all questions as well. Ran all the routes, made all the catches, showed his speed. Great job.— Mark Passwaters (@themarkup) March 27, 2014
Not everybody is buying into the late surge, though. Pete Prisco of CBS Sports states one general manager hasn't been enthralled by the Texas A&M standout:
It's funny the slobbering over Mike Evans today. GM to me the other day at meetings: Not that impressed— Pete Prisco (@PriscoCBS) March 27, 2014
The workout ended with one more deep ball from Manziel to Evans. It was perfectly executed with "Johnny Football" putting a little extra zip on the pass and Evans hauling it in with ease 55 yards later.
Aggies defensive line coach Terry Price passed along the play:
Last pass of pro day. Deep ball to Mike Evans! TD. https://t.co/MWREAxgwnC— Coach Terry Price (@Coach_TPrice) March 27, 2014
Looking ahead toward the draft, Evans is definitely making a strong top-10 case. Even if he doesn't overcome Watkins as the top wide receiver, a good landing spot would be the Buffalo Bills at No. 9 to pair him with Stevie Johnson.
If he does slide beyond the first 10 selections, the Tennessee Titans should be ready to pounce. Picking 11th, the Titans actually have serviceable depth at the position. What they lack is a game-changer capable of becoming the No. 1 weapon. Evans could fill that role within a year or two.
While Manziel stole the spotlight, Evans did more than enough at Thursday's workout to solidify his status.