Mike Evans the perfect example of tough scouting

September 17th, 2013 | Written by Rob Staton

Scouting wide receivers is hard. Most of the time.

Anyone could watch A.J. Green at Georgia and see he was going to be a star. He was on a different technical level to any receiver going into the NFL in recent history.

Route running, hands, competitive spirit, athleticism, character. Green had everything.

And for the last two years he’s made Andy Dalton look like an acceptable starting quarterback. That’s good for Dalton, but bad for Bengals fans who, you know, want to compete for a Super Bowl.

Guys like Green are the major exception though. The only receiver I’ve seen that gets close to his level of polish entering the league is DeAndre Hopkins — and we started to see glimpses of his natural ability on Sunday. You could probably add Julio Jones to the list too.

The rest are a complete mixed bag that are almost impossible to judge with any certainty.

You’re throwing darts with this position.

Most of the time you take a chance on rare size and speed. Some prospects dominate — like Calvin Johnson. Others look clumsy, struggle to raise their game to the next level or become frustrated within a struggling offense.

(see: Jonathan Baldwin)

It’s about so much more than physical talent when you talk about first round picks who need to have an impact quickly. You absolutely have to have — in my opinion — an understanding of route concepts in college. It’s the only way you’ll transition quickly. DeAndre Hopkins used to reel off play calls and discuss specific routes during interviews at Clemson. The guy gets it.

Other players feature in these wide open spread offenses that require very little thought. This hand signal means to run a crosser. This number means go deep. You get the picture.

Those guys often come into the league not really knowing what they’re doing or why. They take an age to adjust in a league that demands instant gratification.

Receivers also need to be fiercely competitive for me if they’re going to go early. Why? See the Anquan Boldin vs Richard Sherman contest on Sunday. In college you might be able to run routes untouched, gliding past cornerbacks who don’t jam you on the line and get in your face.

In the NFL, you’ll get it every time you line up.

Wide receivers have to be sparky, scratchy, tetchy individuals who feel humiliated when they lose even one battle. It needs to burn in their mind like wildfire until the next snap.

“Next time I’ll get you.”

Hands are vital, but that’s obvious. Hands without route-intelligence and competitive spirit are worthless. They have to come as a package.

If they tick those boxes — then (and only then) I want to talk about physical skills.

Height, speed, reach.

That’s just how I approach the position these days. Not because I’m speaking from any position of authority. Not because I’ve read up on how the teams act. Mainly it’s because too often I fell for the guy with height and reach and too often those players didn’t work out on physical qualities alone.

Sadly, nowhere near enough receivers in college are ready for the NFL. It’s too easy in college. When you find the guy who is ready, you better draft him.

So when I come across Mike Evans, there’s immediate suspicion.

As impressive as the numbers were against Alabama, he basically makes a series of catches foreign to what he can expect in the NFL. Against Alabama, he gets downfield and wins jump balls. No jam at the line. All the passes are uncontested. He’s covered, but the defensive back isn’t playing the ball.

Without wishing to undermine his massive game, a lot of those catches are… well… easy. At least for him with his height advantage.

Stuff like this doesn’t happen all that often at the next level. Maybe against the Washington Redskins secondary, but yeah.

Seattle could use a 6-5 receiver with size who can win jump balls and be a factor in the red zone. Evans, with his basketball background, looks the part. And yet I have no idea what kind of prospect he’s going to be at the next level.

There’s no real evidence on tape that he’s a great route runner or understands route concepts. Neither is there a great deal of evidence he’s a fighter capable of dealing with the physical demands of the NFL. How will he do when there’s another pair of hands going after those jump balls?

And yet there’s no real evidence to the contrary either. Nothing to suggest he won’t be just as much of a force.

I suppose you could argue the fact he put up nearly 300 yards on a Nick Saban secondary is something. Is this ‘Bama secondary quite as good as previous seasons though? That’s debatable.

I do like the way he came back to the quarterback at 1:10, adjusting to Johnny Manziel leaving the pocket and giving his quarterback a target. I do like his body control and the way he high points the football. I like the way he appears capable of making a huge play like the 96-yard catch and run for a score.

But as I said, how do we determine whether this guy can be a success at the next level based on the video above?

I’m not sure we’ll ever know, without the ability to sit down and talk about him. Without the chance to speak to coaches about him. Without the chance to dig into his work ethic and discover whether he’s the type of guy who wants to be the best. Badly.

Such is the fallacy of what we do. It’s why for the most part blogging about the NFL Draft is a futile exercise. We only ever scratch the surface. And yet we’re ready and willing to praise and condemn in equal measure.

If the Seahawks drafted Mike Evans on the basis of performances like the one against Alabama, I’d be excited to see how he works out as the teams ‘big man’ at receiver. But I’ll have no qualifications to judge whether it’s a good decision. Not based off tape like above.

Such is the difficulty of trying to project receivers without obvious crossover traits.

If only guys like A.J. Green and DeAndre Hopkins were more common.

10 Responses to “Mike Evans the perfect example of tough scouting”

  1. Nolan says:

    Yes that is the case… Rob just a thought but have you ever tried to interview the players or the coaches? I mean with social media and e-mail these people have never been more available. They might be willing to do an interview with you.

    • Rob Staton says:

      I’ve done interviews in the past but it’s really dependant on time and the schools. Southern Miss were really accommodating when I requested to speak with Austin Davis and set the whole thing up. Other schools don’t return emails. I suspect if I mail Texas A&M requesting an interview it’ll get short shrift.

      Plus I also think there’s a certain danger when you cross journalism with a form of test. If people know you’re doing an interview in order to try and make judgements on their worth as a prospect, they won’t answer the phone. And they don’t have to prove anything to me. They just have to prove stuff to the teams.

  2. Turp says:

    if the Hawks are going to have any shot at drafting him, then he’s gotta have something bad that causes him to drop to the end of R1 :) . On the surface he seems like a physical talent that will probably need the 3 year NFL learning curve most NFL WR face (used to be the rule in fantasy football, year 3 is the big year for breakouts!). Until then, a team could probably use him strictly as a jump ball threat.

    I love that Hopkins is tearing it up in the NFL already because he looked so polished at Clemson. Not many WR in college that come up with that kind of complete skillset.

    • Rob Staton says:

      Watching the Texans on Sunday… it was like he was still at Clemson. Hopkins hasn’t missed a beat. He’s just carried on at the next level. That’s purely down to his understanding of the game, technical quality and competitive nature. He doesn’t have to be 6-4 and run a 4.4 to be a major weapon.

      • Alex says:

        I’m very glad that the Texans drafted Hopkins. I had hoped that Hopkins would either go to the Seahawks (my NFC team) or the Texans (current residence). I actually thought Hopkins would be the perfect receiver for this team because of his competitive nature and attitude. He just seemed to fit into Carroll’s type of player. Of course, any hope of the Seahawks drafting Hopkins evaporated the moment the Seahawks traded their pick for Harvin…, so yeah.

        • Turp says:

          Your scouting on Hopkins last year was spot on, Rob. I watched the Texans on Sunday as well, and his route running and hands were still superb.

  3. Brendan Scolari says:

    Great piece Rob. It’s so tough to judge Evans because he’s so much more physically imposing than college DB’s.

  4. Miles says:

    I personally think Mike Evans is going to be very very good in the NFL. I know he doesn’t run complicated routes; he’s not yet as intelligent as NFL receivers, yadda yadda yadda. But I just think the way he catches the ball, the way he produces, the way he goes up and beats corners, he has everything he needs to quickly develop into a Pro Bowl-caliber receiver. But that’s just me saying that :P ; We’ll see what he does in 12 months-ish.

  5. Attyla the Hawk says:

    Personally, I really like this WR class. A couple of players that really should be on our radar as day 2/3 options:

    Jordan Taylor Rice
    Allen Robinson Penn State

    These two have terrific WR skills. Robinson is silky smooth — a bigger, slower Percy Harvin type. Harvin is just ridiculously elite speed wise. Robinson is still fast. They both move very similar like running backs with the ball. Robinson has outstanding catching skills — catches away from his body but also demonstrates a strong instinct of when to let the ball come into the body. Often times, the correct way to catch a ball is to let it get to you. He has excellent yard after catch ability, and can often absorb and bounce free of contact. Very Tate like although he doesn’t have the shake/juke ability of Tate, he is much larger and deflects contact and retains balance in the same way. He delivers punishment when he runs and is an above average run blocker.

    Both of these players exhibit excellent route running. Their cuts are very crisp. Robinson has more speed. Both are large players in height and weight. Both excellent at winning the 50-50 ball. Taylor is eye popping in that regard. Robinson is the more likely of the two to get separation as his combination of speed and route running allows for that. Robinson has better after the catch ability.

    Another that I like a lot:

    Jared Abbrederis Wisconsin

    He is deceptively fast. Also another excellent route runner with good hands. I’d be shocked if he didn’t run a 4.4 at the combine. He is slighter than Taylor and Robinson. But has great ability to fight for balls. Very good hands catcher who also has outstanding special teams value as a returner.

    I know the big names are going to dominate the discussion in the coming months. But this is a very good draft class IMO for WRs if some/most of these guys declare. It’s a draft I’d be comfortable if Seattle double dipped and picked up more than one — not necessarily on day one either. These three guys show a lot of polish and exhibit a great deal of WR skills that in my opinion translate to development as a pro very well. All three of them are featured as outside receivers, with Robinson also capable of being featured in the slot. Where Harvin is a slot WR, Robinson has the versatility to do both.