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: Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson

screencap via ABC Sports

Name: Sammy Watkins
Class: Junior
Height: 6’1″
Weight: 211 lbs.
School: Clemson

Strengths: There is so much to like about Watkins, one could go on for days. Watkins accelerates smoothly, getting to an impressive top speed easily and can fly past a corner who gives him space off the line. He possesses great footwork as well though, and is able to beat press-coverage off the line by outmaneuvering the defender and then turning on his speed.

Watkins also shows more than one gear both in route running and after-the-catch yards, easily going from half to full speed while juking defenders. Was called upon to catch a lot of screen passes from quarterback Tajh Boyd, but showed a propensity to add bonus yards after the catch, both with his own speed and by wisely setting up and following his blockers. Watkins has great hands, helped by his habit of looking the ball into them as he makes a catch. He can adjust to off-target throws and snatch the ball out of the air quickly if he can’t get underneath it.

Watkins can go vertical for big yards, run short routes and then add to them with great ability after the catch and shows the toughness to initiate contact as well as effectively block on run plays. Watkins is also very versatile, having lined up in the slot, out wide or in the backfield.

Weakness: Watkins’ height isn’t considered ideal, nor is his build. While he posted a nice 40-yard time at the combine, there are still a few questions about his top-end speed, though a lot less. Watkins needs to polish his route running a little bit and isn’t prone to go across the middle, though was rarely asked to do that anyway. As a punt returner he had a few botched punts in college.

Intangibles: Everything you hear is he is a hard worker and a solid teammate. There are no off-the-field issues, and he doesn’t take foolish penalties on-field. Watkins seems to ignore trash-talking, though there are some masters in trash talking at the NFL level who will test him.

Notes: There is a difference between game speed and 40-yard speed. While Watkins had a nice 40-yard time, it wasn’t something I was worried about anyway. Watkins’s acceleration, smoothness and overall speed combine to make him play far faster than he was expected to time. After having watched a ton of games of Watkins, charted his receptions and watched the things he did when not targeted (blocking, for example) I really feel as though his potential is through the roof.