Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Why Mike Evans is NOT a 1st Round Talent: The Exception vs. The Rule

Yesterday marked the release of my first set of positional rankings on the offensive side of the ball and I got a lot of good interaction and feedback from my list.  However, the predominant question I got had to do with Texas A&M Wide Receiver Mike Evans.  Where was he?  How could I possibly have at least 5 guys rated higher than him?  What gives?  It is an answer that deserves much more than a few tweets, because the answer itself is complicated.  With that said, there is one, simple phrase that can summarize my thoughts on Evans: "Assume you're the rule, NOT the exception."

WR Mike Evans is getting a lot of talk as the top receiver in the class.  But is it legitimate?

The big comparison I've heard from draftniks in regard to Mike Evans is former Florida State stud and reigning Super Bowl champion Anquan Boldin. Why?  Because Boldin ran a slow 40 time (and likely a time similar to what Evans will run) but still found success?  The other comparison I hear is former Charger and current Buccaneer Vincent Jackson.  Again, why?  Because they're both 6'5?  The fact of the matter is, these guys are the exception, not the rule.  What is the rule?  In Jackson's case, it is that a guy of his size can't be a down field, home run threat.  It Boldin's case, it is that a guy who runs so slow can't create separation. 

Yes, there are other guys who are big time receivers:

Vincent Jackson - 6'5, 240 lbs. 4.45 40 yard dash
Brandon Marshall - 6'4, 230 lbs. 4.52 40 yard dash
Demaryius Thomas - 6'3, 230 lbs. 4.38 40 yard dash
Mike Evans - 6'5, 225 lbs. 4.58 (estimated) 40 yard dash

Vincent Jackson is 6'5, 240 pounds.  He is not supposed to be able to run a 4.45, but he does.  The closest comparison to Evans of that group is Brandon Marshall, but Marshall wins his one on ones beyond simply go routes...there's actually some carry over to his success that you'll find in Anquan Boldin.  Anquan Boldin isn't supposed to win individual match ups on the perimeter when only running a 4.7, but he does.  This is where the slope gets slippery, people want to assume that Mike Evans is going to be an exception to the rule as well.  Here are my issues with Mike Evans.  He's a big guy, at 6'5...but you have to look at how he is winning his individual match ups.  A lot of his yardage and big plays come from getting a free run off the line of scrimmage and simply running straight past his defender.  Does that mean Mike Evans has great long speed?  If you're answer is yes, I implore you to go back and check again.  Mike Evans runs what a lot of scouts estimate to be between a 4.55-4.60 40 yard dash.  This isn't a guy that's going to torch NFL corners like he has in college.  So now the discussion shifts over to Boldin.  How does a guy like Anquan Boldin win despite running such a slow time?  Well, because Anquan Boldin has a fluidity about him.  He can accelerate and decelerate throughout his routes to create separation out of his breaks.  It's a level of athleticism that goes beyond just being able to run fast in a straight line.  Boldin runs outstanding routes.  Mike Evans runs slants, gos and comebacks.  That's it.  And when he's running them, he doesn't sell the route to be anything else.  He doesn't plant his foot, sink his hips while throttling down and snap back on his comeback routes.  He closes the cushion on his corner and then simply turns around and runs back to the sideline.  We're talking about a player that is very limited in the route running aspect of his game.  Throughout my evaluations, there are 2 ways for a WR to really hurt himself:  questionable hands and route running.  If you can't run clean routes, you can't create separation.  If you can't create separation, you can't win individual match ups consistently. 

Evans' stock is significantly hurt by his limited route running and lack of fluidity to create separation.

And so now you have a Wide Receiver who has a HUGE frame, but lacks fluidity, lacks long end speed and doesn't run clean routes.  Where is there a comparison there to Vincent Jackson?  It isn't there.  Where is the comparison to Anquan Boldin?  It isn't there.  Those guys are exceptions to the rule based on physical talents that permit them to win one on one.  Mike Evans does not have either the long end speed or the natural fluidity and route running to be an exception to the rule.  There are things that Evans DOES do well.  He has nice ball skills when high pointing footballs.  It goes back to his basketball past.  He will go up and use his size to take balls away from defenders.  He has great strength for a WR.  But these aren't tools that can mask a lack of separation, which will be an issue for Evans at the next level.  You don't have to look any further than Vikings rookie WR Cordarelle Patterson.  Patterson is a much, much more dynamic and explosive athlete than Mike Evans is.  Yet Patterson cannot see the field consistently because of how raw he is running routes.  He only has 150 snaps and 26 targets in 9 games.  He's got 18 catches for 168 yards (9.3 ypc) and just 88 YAC.  1 catch longer than 20 yards.  Patterson is a guy who has a much greater athletic tool set as compared to Evans, but because of the limitations running routes, he can't produce.  Yes, in the long haul as Patterson develops, he stands a chance to offer a great deal of production in the passing game to the Vikings.  But let's transfer this over to Evans.  He's no where near as fast.  He has no where near the change of direction ability.  So you have a guy as athletic as Patterson who can't produce because of a lack of refinement in the route running department, how do you think a guy with a much more limited tool set is going to produce?  Even after Evans develops more routes in his tree, I don't see the kind of natural fluidity to create separation and his lack of long end speed means he has nothing to mask those missing skills. 

If you cannot run clean routes, you cannot win one on one.  Mike Evans is NOT the exception, he's a continuation of the rule.  So what do I see Mike Evans giving a team?  He's certainly a red zone threat.  With so many defenders in such a tight window, the premium for long end speed is essentially negated.  It's all about catching radius, which is why you see so many big bodied tight ends having success inside the 20.  I think Evans can contribute, and contribute productively, as a red zone target in the seam.  He's fast enough to give linebackers fits and tall enough to still be a match up nightmare in the middle for safeties.  But I don't think you take a red zone target and a seam threat in the 1st round as a Wide Receiver.  1st round prospects are supposed to be day 1 starters.  That isn't WR Mike Evans. 

I've evaluated Mike Evans at a 6.84 talent score, which falls into the 4th round range. 

I think it's fair.  He's not an immediate perimeter starter.  He's a role player in my eyes.  His development could increase his role in an offense in years to come, but I don't see a perimeter player who can win and dominate like a lot of people want to see. 

If you cannot create separation, you cannot win.  Mike Evans is the rule, NOT the exception.

1 comment:

  1. You couldn't be more wrong if you tried. Evans ran 4.5 coming into college with no sprint training. Bruce Feldman is with him at his workouts and expects him to run mid 4.4 at Combine. 38" vertical. At 232 pounds. Which doesn't really matter anyway, cause Evans is the baddest ass receiver not in jail awaiting trial on murder charges. He will be first one taken once the NFL guys get him in the room.