While Clemson's Sammy Watkins is universally acclaimed as the best wide receiver in the 2014 draft, Mike Evans of Texas A&M is going to make someone a nice "consolation" prize.
At 6-5, 231 pounds, Evans is just a couple of cheeseburgers shy of tight end size. Yet he ran a surprisingly fast 4.53 at the combine. He was team captain last season -- as a sophomore. He has great hands. And when it comes to contested passes, he wins most of the jump balls.
There's a reason for the latter. Evans is a relative newcomer to the gridiron -- he didn't go out for football until his senior season at Galveston (Texas) High School. Basketball was his game and he excelled at it, averaging 18.3 points, 8.4 rebounds, and 5.2 assists per game as a senior.
In fact, he had a scholarship offer to play basketball at the University of Texas, but after just that one season of high school football he decided on Texas A&M and wide receiver.
"It's helped a lot," Evans said of his basketball background. "If there's a jump ball in the air, treat it like a rebound. It help me get off the press, use my quickness -- like when I used to dribble. Everything just incorporates into football."
Evans proved to be a quick study for the Aggies. After a redshirt year in 2011, he caught 82 passes for 1,105 in 2012. Impressive numbers to be sure, but even more so when you consider he played more than half of the year with a nagging hamstring injury.
Although his catch total went down this past season (69), his overall numbers were even better. His 1,394 receiving yards set a single-season school record, and his per catch average of 20.2 yards led the Southeastern Conference (among players with at least 40 catches).
And he showed up big in the big games: a school-record 279 yards against Alabama, followed by a new school-record 287 yards later in the season against Auburn.
So was it Johnny Manziel who made Evans? Or the other way around?
"A little bit of both," Evans said.
Life with Manziel meant being ready for anything. But because of Manziel's improvisational skills, Evans' development as a route-runner suffered.
"Sometimes I broke off my route early because you never know what he's going to do; you never know where the play is going to end up," Evans said. "Whenever he's running, we had scramble drill rules, but in the heat of the moment you're just trying to get open."
Many of Evans' catches came on "go" routes straight down the field, back-shoulder fades, and wide receiver screens.
"At the next level, that's great and can get him production early, but he's going to have to learn how to run routes," NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock said. "I think that's part of it (for) any young wide receiver, but specifically for a kid that hasn't learned a whole lot because he hasn't played a lot."
Evans knows his route-running needs polish, but he's working on it, including sessions early in the pre-draft process with Hall of Famer James Lofton in San Diego.
"Everybody can improve on route-running," Evans said. "That's a (good) quality to have. My freshman year, I felt my route-running wasn't as good. This past year, I felt I improved. But I have a high ceiling. I think I'm one of the best players in this draft, and I think I can just get better."
There appears to be no disagreement on that in NFL circles. Evans almost certainly will be the second wide receiver off the board on Thursday, and some NFL clubs consider him among the top seven or eight players in the entire draft.
As was the case with Watkins, the Rams had Evans in for a "top-30" visit at Rams Park, and also held a private workout for him on his college campus.
If the Rams pass on Watkins at No. 2 overall, will they consider taking Evans in a trade-down scenario? Or in the unlikely scenario of Evans slipping out of the top 10, do they consider him at No. 13 overall?
Doesn't seem likely, but if the Rams are losing patience with Brian Quick's development, Evans is far and away the best big receiver in this draft.
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