Player Analysis: Mike Evans, WR, Texas A&M

image via CBS

Name: Mike Evans

Class: Redshirt Sophomore
Height: 6’5″
Weight: 231 lbs.
School: Texas A&M

Strengths: Evans is an absolutely huge receiver in every sense of the word. A former basketball player who uses his size to box out defenders and can go up and highpoint the ball, Evans also makes big catches when the offense needs him to. When he goes up for a catch, his strong hands make it very hard for defensive backs to come down with the ball. All of that makes him a ridiculous red zone target.

image via CBS

After the catch, Evans is awfully hard to take down as his strength and body size allow him to plow through would-be tacklers, dismissing any attempts to arm tackle. Evans’ size and physicality also help him blocking, something he does effectively and aggressively.

Evans is not just physically tough, but mentally tough as well, having stepped up when his team needed him to in big moments throughout his college career. On top of that, he is the type of receiver with a big catch radius and was the recipient of more than a few Johnny Manziel throws where the quarterback put the ball up in the air knowing Evans would make a play.

Weakness: Evans’ speed is does not help him separate and he doesn’t quite have the explosion off the line to force a defender backwards or get past him quickly. A lot of his catches and routes and he needs to refine his route running. Because he gets very little separation, Evans has to rely on his physicality to win catches—sometimes that’s fine, but it often makes his job harder than it needs to be. Evans didn’t have to run a full route tree so there is some concern he might need to catch up at the NFL level.

image via CBS

 

Intangibles: Everything you see and hear about Evans tells you he is a tough player, emotional and fiery during the game and enthusiastic off the field. On occasion, that can get him into trouble and we’ve seen other receivers (the Chicago Bears Alshon Jeffery comes to mind) who struggled against savvy defensive backs who could get in their head. That’s a maturity thing and the best receivers get over it (Jeffery did) but might curtail his success early on. Still, you like a guy who is passionate about the game and if he can keep his emotions under control, that enthusiasm will be an asset to an NFL franchise.

Notes: An interesting though occurred to me about Evans while I was doing an article this week. Daniel Jeremiah and Curtis Conway of NFL Network were discussing Evans recently and the idea came up that, as good as Manziel was, Evans may have made him more than Manziel made Evans.

While we could debate that all day, it reminded me of the 2008 NFL draft, the first year I really covered the draft intently. Early on in the draft process, people were fawning all over Kentucky quarterback Andre Woodson.

image via CBS

As I started to watch Kentucky games, I began to notice Steve Johnson and Keenan Burton making a tremendous amount of plays on balls that were not well thrown. After seeing Johnson work out with Travelle Gaines in Los Angeles, I remember discussing with the people I was with (ESPN Denver Radio’s Cecil Lammey and former BR writer and Footballguys co-owner Sigmund Bloom among them) about how we were getting the feeling that Johnson and Burton were the only reason anyone was talking about Woodson.

Now, this is not to compare Manziel and Woodson—Manziel is a ton more talented and will be a much better NFL player than Woodson ever was. Put that aside.

This is more about things which jumped out at me in terms of what Evans can do for an offense and a young quarterback. I think in our zeal to discuss Manziel, we’ve missed just how vital Evans was to that offense, much like we initially missed how critical Stevie Johnson was to Woodson.

And while Manziel is far more talented than Woodson, he certainly hauls the ball into the air with reckless abandon at times, knowing full well he has a receiver who can make the catch.

Consider that Evans’ 1,394 yards and 12 touchdowns are far and away the best totals on the team. The next closest receiver was Derel Walker, who I don’t have ranked in my top 25, CBS Sports has ranked as their No. 54 receiver and Draftcountdown.com’s Scott Wright doesn’t even have ranked.

And Walker still falls short of Evans’ by 576 yards, 18 catches and seven touchdowns (though his 800 plus receiving yards are worthy of note). Evans accounted for just under a third of Manziel’s 37 touchdown passes and 33 percent of his 4114 passing yards.

Again, this isn’t to downplay what Manziel did, as if he couldn’t have without Evans (an interesting but off-topic discussion)m so much as to point out how important Evans was—and how important he could be for his new quarterback.

image via CBS

Player Analysis: Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M

screencap courtesy CBS Sports

Name: Johnny Manziel

Class: Redshirt Sophomore
Height: 5’11”
Weight: 207 lbs.
School: Texas A&M

Strengths: Manziel’s game is predicated on mobility, as his ability to move outside the pocket is outstanding and he is far more comfortable throwing on the move than staying home in the pocket. However, Manziel also made some big improvements as a pocket passer this past season, though there is still room for improvement. Manziel told the media at the Combine that while sometimes you need to move outside of the pocket “I want to be a guy who can drop back and go through my progressions, go through my reads and really take what’s given to me by the defense.” Manziel does do a good job of keeping his eyes downfield even when scrambling and can look a defender off when moving, so that he can get a receiver open. Manziel is not afraid to throw the ball up and let his receiver make a play, something he did frequently with Mike Evans in 2013. While he wants to continue to be a mobile quarterback, Manziel has acknowledged that he will have to play smarter in the NFL to stay healthy, telling the press at the combine,

screencap courtesy CBS Sports

“You have to be on the field, you have to be healthy to be a great player. Stay healthy, be able to slide, pick your poison really when you need to go out and get a first down and when you need to do some things. Stay healthy, slide when you need to and have better ball security, which is what I’m working on as well.”  Manziel isn’t a big guy but he has large hands, which should help him with ball security. Quite often played big in big situations during his collegiate career and finds a way to sustain drives when his team needs him to. Was wildly successful in his two years starting.

Weakness: While he has worked on his pocket-passing skills, Manziel still leaves the pocket too early at times. His height and build are concerns given his tendency to run and whether he can stay healthy in the NFL is a big concern. Was able to have Evans bail him out on big throws, but needs to be more picky about when he risks it, and may lack a receiver like Evans at the next level making those throws more dangerous. Manziel has not done a ton of work under center, and will need to further adjust an already sometimes questionable technique. While he can stretch a play out, he sometimes does it for too long—occasionally tossing up some ill-advised passes. There are times he just needs to get rid of the ball and he hasn’t done so consistently. While he had a great two years at A&M,  it was only two years so his experience as a collegiate starter is minimal. As he mentioned at the combine, learning to slide, staying healthy and ball security are things he is working on. The biggest concern from a football standpoint comes down to whether he can adapt to the speed of the NFL and overcome issues with his height. A guy like Russell Wilson is a success because he does a tremendous job lining up his offensive line to give himself passing lanes to see through. Can Manziel learn to do that, or something like it? That’s a real concern.

Screencap courtesy CBS Sports

Intangibles: Much has been made of Manziel’s off-the-field lifestyle in college—maybe too much.  It’s hard to begrudge a young man some fun in college, but the real issue is whether he can become an adult and a professional and put funtime aside now that college is over.  Certainly there have been many kids coming out of college under less of a spotlight who failed. Manziel was adamant that his college time is over and he;s ready to work, saying at the combine, “I believe whenever I decided to make this decision to turn professional it was a time to really put my college years in the past. This is a job now. There’s guys’ families, coaches’ families and jobs and all kinds of things on the line.” Manziel passed on numerous chances to get his face in front of the camera during the Super Bowl and declined, deciding instead to remain focused on football and improving his game. That speaks volumes to me. There have also been questions about how much he is dedicated to football and how hard he works. Without being at Texas A&M when he works, all I can do is relay what I have been told and what I have read.  I have heard plenty from people who say Manziel is a hard worker and puts in a ton of time during the week.  While I may not have all the inside scoop, I’ve heard enough to think that he has every intention (and ability) to put in the hours to get better. Of course, as they say on Game of Thrones: words are wind. He will have to prove it.

Notes:  A lot has been written about who Manziel is and what he’s about. It’s hard to avoid getting swept up in the persona we see in the media and have relayed to us via media repeating things agenda driven scouts tell them.  This is not to dismiss Manziel’s off-field issues. Prior to seeing him speak at the combine, Manziel came off to me as a bit of an entitled brat. Certainly you aren’t out of your mind tho think that if he changes, maybe he reverts once he gets to his goals. But if you get past the narrative, there’s a lot more to him and I feel as though we are writing him off unfairly from a personality standpoint. That said, there are issues from a football standpoint which are also a concern, not the least of which is the fundamental question of whether he can avoid injury and make better decisions.

Of the quarterbacks in this class, I feel Manziel has the highest ceiling and the most exciting upside. However, his floor is lower than either Bridgewater or Bortles as well. A team will have to build an offense around him in a way you don’t need to with other quarterbacks and while some could, overall that’s not a tendency a lot of NFL coaches have.

All that said, if in the right spot, Manziel has the chance to be a tremendous quarterback in the NFL and for that upside, I’ve ranked him as high as I have.

Manziel’s Twitter Issues Highlight Challenges Facing Today’s Student-Athletes (Bleacher Report)

If you haven’t looked up Wright Thompson’s piece on Johnny Manziel at ESPN.com, do it.

I was moved to ponder how the new age of social media is challenging athletes about how they conduct themselves as well as what colleges (and major league teams) need to help them navigate it.

You can see the whole piece here, but here is a snippet:

By now, everyone has probably read Wright Thompson’s excellent piece on Johnny Manziel over at ESPN.

If you haven’t, take a few minutes and do so, because it’s fascinating.

For extra credit, read the comments, which are almost as fascinating as the article itself.

Since the article hit, there has been a wide range of reaction (perfectly represented by the comments on the article, by the way) about what the article means and who Johnny Football is.

The turmoil around Manziel highlights how athletes today are faced with challenges that athletes 10 or even five years ago weren’t confronted with.

Social media, especially Twitter, is a benefit and a curse.

Once upon a time, if you were a football player at Michigan and wanted to go to a party at Michigan State, you might get away with it.

Maybe someone would make a call to a local radio show and say something or perhaps the trip might end up in your student newspaper.

As long as you stayed out of trouble, though, you were probably fine.

Now, with Twitter, Facebook, Vine, YouTube, Tumblr and numerous other social media sites, you cannot burp without someone posting about it.

The most fascinating thing about articles like mine or Thompson’s is the venom regarding Manziel and his actions. It’s not that he’s acting out, mind you—it’s that his family has money.

That might say more about us than him.