INDIANAPOLIS––Don't be fooled just because Mike Evans didn't put up a top 10 40 time at the NFL Combine. The Texas A&M wide receiver had a monster workout.
For a man measuring in at 6-5 and 231 lbs., Evans' time of 4.53 seconds and the fluidity he displayed in position drills has his stock pointing skyward in the run up to the NFL Draft in May.
Part of the credit for Evans' preparations goes to former Packers great and Pro Football Hall of Famer James Lofton, who's been mentoring Evans since his 2013 season ended.
"Keeping my arms moving when I'm running routes," said Evans on what he's been learning from Lofton, "just stay low and just get in and out of my cuts."
Lofton has been coming out to George Whitfield's pre-draft camp in San Diego where Evans has been training for the Combine.
Whitfield has gained a reputation as a quarterback guru, preparing players like Cam Newton in the past for the NFL Draft and now notably working with Evans' teammate, Johnny Manziel. So while Whitfield works with the QBs, Lofton can work with the guys catching the passes.
For as much as Lofton is cluing in Evans on tricks of the trade, he's also giving life lessons on what takes places outside the lines.
"Just being a great guy, just growing up as a man," said Evans. "He's teaching me to be a better football player as well, but he's teaching me a lot of off-the-field things, too."
Evans has a long way to get to the same level as Lofton, although the two share some similarities.
In back-to-back seasons with the Packers in 1983 and '84, Lofton led the NFL in yards per catch, averaging 22.4 and 22.0 yards respectively those two years.
Similarly, one of the Evans' most impressive qualities his his ability to get downfield, especially considering his size. He averaged 20.2 yards per catch in 2013, ranking seventh in major college football but tops among receivers who averaged at least four receptions per game. At the Combine, Evans called his best route the vertical.
In total, Evans caught 69 passes for 1,394 yards and a dozen touchdowns as a redshirt sophomore, declaring for the NFL Draft when the season ended––as early as rules allow. He was named a first-team All-American by several outlets, including the Walter Camp Foundation and CBSSports.com.
Of course, playing with an improvisational quarterback like Manziel benefitted Evans as well.
"I got a couple of garbage catches when he was scrambling all the time," said Evans. "He throws great balls all the time. He throws it away from the defender, where only I can get it. So, he's a great passer and a great quarterback."
Evans' height also plays to his advantage in a fashion very much like Calvin Johnson and Brandon Marshall in today's NFL. Evans checked in with a 37-inch vertical that will help in jump-ball situations.
"You have to have good eye-hand coordination, timing with the ball," said Evans. "There are a lot of smaller guys that are good at jump balls as well. Being quick off the ground (is key)."
While he has a ton going in his favor, it's not all roses for Evans, however.
Draft analyst Mike Mayock of the NFL Network thinks there's one thing above all others that Evans needs to work at in order to become a polished professional receiver.
"Because of his height/weight/speed ratio, he's got great hands; and I think the one thing he has to learn is he has to become a better route runner," said Mayock. "Because of his quarterback and the style of play at Texas A&M, most of his catches were verticals, back shoulder fades and wide receiver screens.
"At the next level, that's great, and it can get him production early, but he's going to have to learn how to run routes. I think that's part of any young wide receiver, but specifically for a kid that has not learned a whole lot because he has not played a lot."
Evans could become the next James Lofton in more ways than one, perhaps being a realistic target of the Packers if he's still available with the 21st overall selection.
There's some dispute whether Evans will last that long with the Ravens, Giants and Jets all in need of a wide receiver prior to the Packers' pick. But if those teams happen to address other positions, the Packers may not be able to pass up Evans despite more obvious needs on the defensive side of the football.
Brian Carriveau is the author of the book "It's Just a Game: Big League Drama in Small Town America," and editor of Cheesehead TV's "Pro Football Draft Preview." To contact Brian, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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