While I do agree with most in the industry that Sammy Watkins will likely be the first receiver taken in the draft, for myself, when building my "Dream Team," I prefer size and physicality combating for the ball from my wideouts.
Watching countless tapes on Texas A&M the last two years, there is no doubt that "Johnny Trademark" should be saying, "Without you, I'm nothing," the next time he talks to his favorite target, Mike Evans. The receiver dominated every cornerback he faced not named E.J. Gaines — the Missouri cornerback held the Aggie to 8 yards on four catches in their meeting. It would be sacrilegious for me to liken him to Megatron, Calvin Johnson, but he is the closest to the Detroit Lions standout that you will find in this draft.
Texas A&M University Aggies
Evans has a tall, thick frame, with long arms, large hands, thick thighs and calves and a big bubble. He is smooth skinned with adequate muscle development and possesses a frame that can carry another 10 pounds of bulk.
Evans has deceptive speed, as his long legs let him ride up on the defender quickly while looking effortless in his long stride. He has very good agility and balance with adequate change of direction agility. He shows good overall body control, but sometimes does not play up to his timed speed. With his size and leaping ability, he is a constant mismatch vs. small defenders and has made great use of that fact, as it is rare to see him lose any jump-ball battles. For a player his size, he runs at a nice, low pad level and is a naturally fluid runner. Unlike most big receivers who are long striders, he can bend and get in and out of his breaks smoothly. He shows exceptional body control and balance throughout route progression. He is simply a big man with good athleticism.
Evans is a smart player who needs only normal reps to retain. He plays with good vision and instincts, but needs to improve his timing on jump-ball situations. He understands the coverages and will have no problems grasping the mental side of the playbook. His football awareness skills is exceptional, as he knows how to be an aggressive second-level blocker for the ground game and easily adjusts to situations, whether to break off his route to come back when the quarterback is pressured, or to serve as a lead blocker in the open. Do not think that he lacks experience with just two seasons under his belt, as he is a mature veteran with the ability to easily transfer plays from the chalkboard to the field.
Evans has good toughness battling for the ball, knowing how to use his power and size to easily win jump ball battles. Outside of the 2013 LSU game (three drops), he is not the type that will let a few passes hit the ground. He has excellent leaping ability and is a valid deep threat and big-play specialist, as 27 of his 69 receptions last seasons were for 20 yards or longer. As far as being combative, five of his 11 scoring grabs came inside the red zone, with Evans dragging opponents along for a ride to put six points up on the board. For a player 6:05 and with his jumping skills (37 inches) along with his long reach, it is hard to imagine any of the smaller cornerbacks in the NFL having much success riding up on the Aggie to compete for the ball. He has become very physical working in tight areas and you can see in his training, practices and film study that he does the little extras to improve and wants to get better. He is the team's unquestioned "go-to" receiver, one who is fearless going over the middle and make plays in traffic (on all of his 11 touchdown grabs, at least one defender was run over on Evans' march for a score). He thrives when he has the ball in his hands during pressure situations, and with his size, he consistently puts defenders away with his down-field blocks.
Evans knows how to use his size and arm extension to get a quick release off the snap. He shows good closing speed running under sideline throws and the quickness to get into his routes without being impeded. He shows the burst to escape the press, but looks a bit stiff when changing direction. His size and strength lets him consistently beat the jam and with his deceptive speed, he can run up a cornerback in an instant.
Evans is a good power receiver on crossers and sideline throws, using his strength and size to shield the ball from defenders. He has strong hands to secure the ball before running (no fumbles) and the second gear to turn a short pass into a long gainer. You can see that he can reach top speed instantly, as his cutting ability and second burst can surprise a lethargic defender (see 2013 Alabama and Auburn games). It is rare to see such a big receiver explode out of his cuts and gain ground and separate in space like Evans can. He uses his speed well to get deep, but is best when used on crossers and sideline routes than when going up the seam (better down field than on deep routes, as he tends to lose sight of the ball over his head). He has the quickness to challenge deep and unlike most players his size he does not have to rely on double moves to get open.
With his size, Evans could be very physical in his initial step off the ball, but he also has the quickness to immediately defeat the press. He might appear to look a bit long-legged, but he is very capable of exploding off the line, thanks to maintaining a proper pad level. His burst from his get-off and long arms lets him keep defenders away from his body in attempts to reroute. He shows good stop-and-start quickness working in the flats and underneath. Few players with his long body are capable of generating the elusiveness to avoid, but he is highly effective breaking free down the sidelines. He does not show any hip stiffness when trying to change direction and this allows him to make sharp cuts and elude even the speediest of defenders.
Even when trying to suddenly change direction, it is rare to see Evans take any wasted steps or fail to make sharp cuts. He has above-average body control to break down, but is best when operating along the sidelines, where he can build to top speed and maintain it throughout his route. He will not suffer from what most big receivers experience — rounding off his routes, as he will generally get in and out of his breaks cleanly, especially when having to work in tight quarters. He is also very physical when used on controlled routes, stops and quick slants.
Evans has the second gear to escape or he can use his strength to get physical in attempts to separate. He has that burst along the sidelines that let him escape company on his routes, but he needs to show better hip sink on his cuts. Even with his size, he has the hip wiggle to elude when working in a crowd. Working along the sidelines, he is very effective at using his speed to elude. He also knows how to use his body and has a knack for finding the open spots in the zone. In man coverage, he is very adept at using his burst to separate consistently, as he shows the ability to pull away after the catch once he is in the open field.
Evans has the body control to get to the difficult throws, and he is equally effective working in the open and in a crowd. He is too physical to worry about hearing footsteps, and outside of losing his concentration when challenged by 5:11 Missouri cornerback E.J. Gaines, he does a very nice job of looking the ball in. He has had very few passes deflected or thrown to him that he did not get to (lost just 6-of-37 jump-ball battles in 2013). He maintains very good ball concentration when a defender is draped all over him. He tracks the ball well when it is in the air, but there will be times when he loses sight of the pass when it is over the wrong shoulder (see 2013 LSU game). He has the long arms and body control to go over people to get to the ball and does it with great regularity (see 2013 Alabama, Arkansas and auburn games). He does know how to get open and understands sticks and boundaries, doing a nice job of keeping his feet in bounds, pulling in 22-of-25 balls thrown to him along the sidelines. He also excels at coming back to help when the QB is pressured.
Evans has the body control to make the difficult off-target catches, especially on those thrown low or behind him (only slight deficiency is when the ball comes over his wrong shoulder). He gets his feet down properly when working along the side-lines, but must be more alert to the quarterback scramble. He is a big target who can't be rerouted by a strong hand push and has learned how to use his long arms to go over defenders. He tracks the ball well in flight and has the athleticism to contort his body to make the grab.
Evans has the long legs and arms, combined with excellent elevation to get to the pass at its high point. He can be very explosive in his rise and shows natural hand extension to reach and pluck away from the frame. He uses his size well in man coverage attacking the high pass and has demonstrated very good ability to be consistent when working in traffic.
Evans shows he can reach and pluck for the ball away from his frame. Outside of the 2013 LSU game (three drops), there was just one other bobbled pass by the Aggie in his last 26 appearances. He has big mitts for hands and secures the ball well after the catch, having never fumbled the ball during his career. He also generates a strong jolt with them to defeat the press and works hard with his hands to sustain when blocking in-line. He is a natural hands catcher that can make the difficult grab, but when he drops some, it is usually due to concentration issues. It is rare to see him use his body to field the ball, as he is perfectly capable of extending for the ball.
Run After the Catch
Evans is a terrific load to bring down after the catch. He is a strong open field runner who will drag defenders when fighting for extra yardage. Even though he is a big receiver, he impresses me with his hip shake and he runs with the power needed to break tackles consistently. At 6:04, 231, you would not expect him to "get small" and slip past the crowd, but he has learned to stay low in his pads and knows how to utilize his size and strength to fight for yardage. He runs hard and once he breaks free, his burst lets him beat even the speedy defenders in attempts to take the ball to the house (see 2013 Alabama, Auburn and Vanderbilt games).
Evans could be just like a tight end when blocking in-line. He uses his hands with force to lock on and sustain and can generate devastating cut blocks in the open. He can be dominant vs. defensive backs and shows good angles getting out when trying to neutralize second level defenders. He stays low in his pads and shows good intent when delivering his hand punch vs. the bull rush. You can see on film his ability to go after people down field and he consistently stays on his blocks.
CALVIN JOHNSON, Detroit: There is only one Megatron, but Evans comes as close as any receiver in this draft can in matching Johnson's athletic ability. He is that rare-sized athlete with excellent timed speed, great leaping ability, long arms and good strength. He is a physical open field runner who knows how to use his hands to get a clean release vs. the jam. He pushes off the defender well to gain separation after the catch in man coverage and has the leg drive to break tackles. He uses his frame well to screen off defenders from the ball, but needs to do a better job of judging the ball when working in a crowd.
Evans is a very effective blocker who can hit with force. He is a great playmaker when working along the sidelines and most defensive backs can't handle the mismatch created by his burst, acceleration and long stride to gobble up the cushion and ride up on the cornerback. He has huge hands and long arms to look the ball in and does not use his body as a crutch, doing a nice job of plucking the ball outside the frame.
Evans is a smooth open-field runner who has good hip snap when changing direction, along with the quick feet to get in and out of his breaks. He shows above-average precision in his route progression and it is rare to see him round his cuts or take soft angles. Evans has very good timing going up for jump balls, and with his long stride, he covers ground quickly and is able to get deep to challenge the secondary. He also seems to be equally effective on controlled routes and sideline patterns as he is when attacking the seam.
Overall, Evans has exceptional size and extension ability to get to the off-target throws. He is a threat to catch the ball on fade and post routes, but is best when working along the sidelines, where he can use his reach to get to the poorly thrown ball. He has explosive initial quickness off the snap, building to top speed in an instant. Few defensive backs can handle him once Evans gobbles up the cushion.
Much like Johnson, with Evans' speed, size and long reach, it will be a hard afternoon for pro defenders to cover him once he develops better timing on jump balls. To say that he ranks with the elite in this draft would be an understatement. With his athletic skills and end zone production, he is certainly worthy of being a top 10 choice. If he ever ends up with Detroit, Matthew Stafford would be smiling like a Cheshire cat, grinning from ear to ear with Evans and Johnson as potential "nuclear" weapons.
Dave-Te' Thomas has more than 40 years of experience scouting for the NFL. With the NFL Draft Report, Thomas handles a staff that evaluates and tests college players before the draft and prepares the NFL's official Draft Packet, which is distributed to all 32 teams prior to the draft. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.