Rarely do NFL teams come across a tall wide receiver prospect who is just as quick and skilled as his smaller counterparts.
This year, that player is Texas A&M sophomore draft prospect Mike Evans.
In two seasons, Evans and star quarterback Johnny Manziel hooked up for a staggering 147 catches, 2,427 yards and 17 touchdowns. Last year, against the elite teams of Auburn and Alabama (No. 2 and 3 respectively in the final BCS standings), Evans had a combined 18 catches for 566 yards and five touchdowns.
Evans especially showed his big play potential against Auburn, as he turned a number of screens and short passes into significant gains en route to 287 yards and four touchdowns.
To get a good idea of the mismatch potential for Evans in the NFL, as well as other top receiver prospect Sammy Watkins, check out this tweet featuring their Sport Science video below:
Watkins and Evans are touted as the clear top two receiver prospects in a very deep class at the position.
At 6’5” and 231 pounds, Evans has scouts drooling over his size and impressive 35 1/8-inch reach. Evans is also not afraid of contact, and he will be a menace for opposing defenders in the NFL.
With his height, the caveat is that Evans lacks the breakaway speed of smaller wide receivers. After running a 4.46 40-yard dash at the combine, that concern has dissipated plenty.
Evans’ stock has steadily risen since the combine. Dane Brugler of CBS Sports believes Evans may have even surpassed Watkins as the top receiver:
I've said it before, but it wouldn't be a shock if Mike Evans is the first WR drafted. Despite reports, Watkins isn't the "consensus" top WR— Dane Brugler (@dpbrugler) April 29, 2014
Between Evans and Watkins, there is no wrong answer. Both will be impact players and immediate contributors wherever they end up.
But with an extra four inches and 27 pounds, Evans has a distinct size advantage over the electric Watkins.
Evans was also a former Division I basketball recruit, which explains his soft hands and superb ability in the air in one-on-one situations.
Combined with his ruthless physicality, Evans is also able to pick up plenty of yards after the catch. Evans has translated these advantages into consistent game-changing production, as evidenced by this tweet from Bart Hubbuch of the New York Post:
Per Stats Inc., Texas A&M wide receiver Mike Evans had 24 catches of 25+ yards last season — by far the most of any WR in this year’s draft.— Bart Hubbuch (@HubbuchNYP) May 7, 2014
Most of the time, the speedy, breakaway receivers are the ones that create those big plays.
Recently, taller receivers have also become fast enough to create separation down the sideline. NFL offenses have taken notice, and many teams are scrambling to find these rare athletes.
Bleacher Report’s Chris Hansen has also noticed a sharp increase recently in the demand for Evans, who has been linked anywhere in the top half of the first round:
It's my understanding that Mike Evans will be the object of desire for teams looking to trade up to 5.— Christopher Hansen (@ChrisHansenNFL) May 6, 2014
Currently, the Oakland Raiders hold the No. 5 pick.
Barring a trade, they also have a need at wide receiver and may even pick Evans themselves. So far, we know the team has already ruled out drafting a quarterback. With a deep crop of wide receiver prospects this year, the Raiders should be tempted to pick a playmaker like Evans.
NFL Network’s Daniel Jeremiah tabs the Raiders as the team to draft Evans:
However, there is even a chance Evans is gone before pick No. 5.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers, at pick No. 7, could consider trading up for Evans. They have a star receiver already in Vincent Jackson, but a combination of Jackson and Evans would be a headache for any defense.
According to Mark Passwaters of Rivals.com, an interesting development could take place that affects where Evans goes:
Reports indicate the Bucs have put QB Mike Glennon on the market. Sounds like they have two Aggies (Manziel and Evans) on their list.— Mark Passwaters (@themarkup) May 1, 2014
The Cleveland Browns, at pick No. 4, are a potential suitor for the Bucs or Evans.
They have had a busy offseason, locking up a number of impact players in free agency. The Browns would certainly not be faulted for building on this foundation and picking any of the stud prospects like Evans with a precious No. 4 pick.
But recent history has shown the Browns are not shy about mid-draft trades. In fact, the Browns’ plans may already involve a potential trade:
Both Robinson and Manziel make sense for the Browns on paper. The Browns need a lot of help at quarterback and offensive line. Yet according to ESPN’s Chris Mortensen (@mortreport), it appears the No. 4 pick could be up for grabs.
If the Bucs trade Glennon and the No. 7 pick to the Browns, they could feasibly land Evans with the No. 4 pick.
Once again, though, there is a chance Evans could go even higher.
The St. Louis Rams, holding the No. 2 pick, are another possibility. Rumors have been swirling after this news came out recently:
Evans also worked out with fellow Aggies Manziel and Jake Matthews, a shoo-in first rounder and one of the top offensive lineman in the draft.
The Rams have an abundance of needs, and no one truly knows who their top prospects are. But with the No. 2 and No. 13 pick, they have the potential to make waves in this draft.
It is even possible the Rams do not want Evans at No. 2 and are looking at him if he drops to No. 13.
Evans is a physical specimen with great upside, but he has shown some hotheadedness in his two seasons. He is known to get very emotional and outspoken on the sidelines, which may turn teams away after the recent headaches the Dallas Cowboys have endured with receiver Dez Bryant.
That red flag, which implies he might selfish and hard to control, may be very undeserved for Evans.
Texas A&M wide receiver coach David Beaty gave nothing but praise to Evans in a recent interview with Mike Garafolo of Fox Sports. Here is one of the more notable quotes when asked about the rumors that Evans has anger problems:
"That could be no further from the truth. Mike has no issues with anger. He's a competitive guy just like most guys that play at a high level. But he has absolutely no anger issues. That's ridiculous. If I ever needed to steer him in a different direction, he was always able to refocus and take his energy in that direction."
Evans himself openly talks about his strong competitiveness. He is very coachable and motivated to be an elite wide receiver, and many of his on-field incidents can be characterized as a strong passion to win.
If teams are hesitant and Evans does end up slipping past the top 10, the next logical place for him is No. 12 with the New York Giants.
The Giants have very pressing needs to fill already at offensive line and tight end. As a result, many rumors and mock drafts link them with either tight end Eric Ebron or offensive tackle Zack Martin.
Nonetheless, the loss of Hakeem Nicks leaves a large gap in the offense. If the team does not believe in the development of third-year receiver Reuben Randle, they could look at an elite receiver like Evans at No. 12.
Mike Mayock of NFL Network believes Evans is in play for the Giants, too:
Both Martin and Ebron should become great players, but they have potential caveats of their own.
Martin is a stellar but moderately undersized offensive lineman. Ebron is a very poor blocker but an extraordinary athlete and looks like the next tight end to become an elite pass-catching threat. Furthermore, drafting a tight end at No. 12 is very high.
On the other hand, Evans could slot right into Nicks’ role and play right away, which the Giants value greatly.
Wherever Evans ends up, that team will immediately pick up a big and physically gifted receiver who is motivated to become a top receiver in the league. Evans is one of the many names generating plenty of buzz, and it will be very interesting to see where he ends up on draft day.