PROSPECT SUMMARY - CHRIS EVANS
Michigan running back Chris Evans presents as an appealing Day 3 gamble for an NFL franchise to take. Evans has all of the physical skills necessary to be an impact ball-carrier, but his pathway to the NFL has been marred by some bumps in the road along the way. Evans missed the entire 2019 season due to academic suspension and his return in 2020 was him only used sparingly—so there’s a two-year gap between his high-impact play and when an NFL team will need to make an investment in him. But Evans offers the density, contact balance, and cutting ability that you need to create added yardage and big runs on your own—and he does offer skills that should translate on third downs as well. Evans is a dark horse because of the unknown variables at play, but a team that can build out the proper infrastructure and support system around him may reap the benefits of this physically talented back.
Ideal Role: Developmental starter.
Scheme Fit: Scheme flexible.
Written by Kyle Crabbs
Games watched: Purdue (2017), Minnesota (2017), Wisconsin (2018), Ohio State (2018), Penn State (2020)
Best Game Studied: Minnesota (2017)
Worst Game Studied: Wisconsin (2018)
Vision: Evans illustrates some notable anticipation with his cuts and does well to selectively pick his point of entry into the defense. There are a lot of broken ankles to be found thanks to last moment cuts. When he presses playside, he does well to navigate, not just where he’s won up front, but where linebackers are pressing to and if he can peel back across the grain. Has a knack for creating one-on-one misses in the open field.
Footwork: Precision in the feet is impressive; he tempers pace and urgency pressing the line of scrimmage to stay controlled and ready to redirect. He’s capable of some really impressive work to open himself or bounce laterally as needed—and because of his foot speed, he maintains contact balance along the way. Regardless of if he’s pressing into dive concepts or working off tackle or outside, he’s calculated pressing the LOS before pressing on the gas pedal.
Contact Balance: This is one of Evans’ better qualities. He’s built low and dense but has nimble feet to reset his base as he takes contact. Arm tackles aren’t going to get the job done unless you’re catching him coming right out of the mesh point. He does well to stay square when his initial lane is bottled up to slide and find a crease to at least minimize losses.
Durability: This is a two-sided coin. On the plus side, Evans enters the NFL with an extremely low workload and his body should be fresh after missing 2019 and seeing a limited role in 2020. But on the other side, Evans is unproven in his efforts to be an every-down back or featured player. He’s got the skill set of a centerpiece, but not having the resume to back it will cause some apprehension—and rightfully so.
Explosiveness: He’s more dynamic in short spaces (including laterally) than he is down the field in a 50-yard footrace. Evans is quite bouncy on lateral cuts and offers significant power when he decides to run through you instead of around you.
Versatility: Evans definitely has every-down back abilities. He’s a natural runner with the ability to catch the ball cleanly and the physicality to be a viable pass protection back. Evans’ receiving skills are strong enough that he’s a sensible play in two-back sets as well. As a ball-carrier, he’ll beat you in just about every way besides pure speed in the open field.
Elusiveness: For a bigger back, there’s a lot of wiggle and elusiveness here. Evans shows swervy hips and can cut on high-degree angles in order to break pursuit challenges. He’ll run through lateral challenges on the second level and he’s got adequate long speed in the open field. He’s not a track star and faster DBs will chase him down, but even then he feels pressure around him and will look to stutter into more angles.
Ball Security: Evans has been a rotational piece of the puzzle for the Wolverines and mistakes like fumbles have led to disappearing acts for the remainder of the game. He’s a physical runner and will reduce surface area prior to contact to avoid ball exposure, but Evans hasn’t been immune from an errant handle or two in the past. All in all, consider him no bigger risk than most other backs.
Passing Down Skills: You get a lot to work with here. The Wolverines used him a great deal in the screen game and he sells his blocks well before flipping back to the ball. Evans catches the ball away from his frame and is comfortable seeing the ball into his hands, which allows for greater reaction windows by avoiding having to get his chest in front of the football. Evans will separate from LBs on routes out of the backfield with adjusted speeds and running to leverage.
Discipline: Initial play execution is strong—he’ll get on the rails coming out of the mesh point and into his reads. He’ll take design if it is there and then allow his vision and feel to create once he’s hit the B-level. He's capable of calling audibles to peel backside, but Michigan afforded him plenty of pulls to fall behind and he’s developed good habits on that front.
Prospect Comparison: Jay Ajayi (2015 NFL Draft, Miami Dolphins)
TDN Consensus: To Be Determined
Kyle Crabbs: 74/100