Texas A&M WR Mike Evans an intriguing draft prospect
David Beaty remembers exactly when he knew Mike Evans wanted to be more than just a good wide receiver.
It was the first play of Texas A&M’s training camp last summer, when the 6-5 Evans came to the line and got into his stance. Evans crouched down and got himself compact unlike any of his snaps the year before. To Beaty, the Aggies’ wide receivers coach, Evans "looked just like my 6-1 guy," meaning he was loaded tightly to get off the ball and into his route quickly.
That’s when Beaty knew Evans had the potential to be great. Fresh off of an 82-catch season in which he’d made receptions based mostly on pure ability, Evans had worked on his craft.
"He could’ve just elected to say, ‘Hey man, I’m fine. I’m just going to continue to do what I do, go through the motions and I’ll become better just because I’m doing it more.’ But he didn’t do that," Beaty told FOX Sports by phone last week. "He listened, he applied and it made an unbelievable difference for him in his ability to become a better route runner and receiver.
"I just love the kid."
So do teams at the next level.
Evans is expected to be a top-10 pick in next week’s NFL Draft and figures to be the second wide receiver to come off the board, following Clemson’s Sammy Watkins. The Oakland Raiders are a possibility at No. 5, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are lurking at No. 7 and the Detroit Lions are sitting three picks later. Sources have told FOX Sports the New York Giants (12th overall) are very high on Evans, though they’d better trade up if they have plans on nabbing him.
While Watkins is viewed as pretty much a sure thing, Evans might have a higher ceiling. He’s got the prototypical No. 1-receiver body (231 pounds to go with his 6-5 frame) and very good speed (4.53-second 40-yard dash at February’s Scouting Combine), as well as some outstanding body-positioning instincts honed for years on the basketball court.
Which is another reason Evans is an intriguing prospect: he’s only played three years of competitive football, meaning he’s potentially still on the upswing.
"I think I have a high ceiling and can only get better, but I think I’m complete right now," Evans told FOX Sports the other day. "I can go in, compete for a starting job and be a true No. 1 receiver or a good No. 2 receiver."
He continued, "When I first got into college, I was real raw. I didn’t see it, but now looking back, I couldn’t run routes. I was physical but not as physical. But I had great coaches at A&M and I became a student of the game. I worked my butt off to get where I am today. I’m looking forward to getting better."
Evans had 69 catches for 1,394 yards and 12 touchdowns last season. He was Johnny Manziel’s safety blanket and the two close friends often shared a brain when it came to Manziel’s ad libbing.
Their connection ran deep, and Beaty chuckled when he recalled plenty of times over the past two years when Evans and Manziel would jab one another either during practice or a game.
Beaty laughed when he told the story of one game when Manziel prodded Evans following an incomplete pass that sailed well over Evans’ head. Manziel came to the sideline and chided Evans for not getting a hand on a ball that was, in Beaty’s estimation, extremely uncatchable. Beaty got in on the act by telling Evans he’d caught such passes before — even if no one truly believed that statement.
That’s when Manziel suddenly switched corners to defend his guy.
"It’s funny as hell because I said something to Mike and Johnny like, ‘Leave him alone, man. Let him play his game,’" Beaty said, chuckling as if the exchange had just happened. "He was getting after his ass and then he’s like, ‘Coach, leave him alone.’ I’m thinking, ‘But wait, you were just saying the same thing.’ He and I had a great relationship that way. We both looked at each other and smiled. It was intense but it was something that allowed us to enjoy the game. It broke the ice."
Of Manziel and Evans, Beaty said, "They were each other’s biggest critic, each other’s biggest asset. They loved each other but they were also competitors who trolled each other. They could say whatever they want to say about each other, but you better not say it. They were like an old married couple."
The couple seemingly got into a spat on the sideline during the Chick-fil-A Bowl a few months ago when Evans lost his cool early in the game as the Aggies’ offense struggled. Evans was flagged for two personal fouls — one after complaining to an official about a defensive back and another on a late hit. With Duke up 14-3, Manziel bolted to the sideline, threw down his helmet and got into Evans’ face to calm him down.
The situation has been mentioned in a few scouting reports and media reports, with the implication being Evans is a me-first hothead who might be tough to control.
Not the case, said Beaty. Not even close.
"That could be no further from the truth. Mike has no issues with anger," Beaty said. "He’s a competitive guy just like most guys that play at a high level. But he has absolutely no anger issues. That’s ridiculous. If I ever needed to steer him in a different direction, he was always able to refocus and take his energy in that direction."
Evans admits he got too emotional during that first quarter against the Blue Devils.
"I knew it was going to be my last game going into it. I wanted to be perfect and it wasn’t going that well and there were a few plays out of character," he said. "I really don’t care what people say about me, but that’s not the guy I am. I play with passion, don’t get me wrong, but I had one game out of 26 where I lost my composure a little bit. We got it together and came back and won that game. That’s the high point. I don’t really focus on the lows."
The way Beaty recalls the situation, Evans’ shows of emotion that night were about getting the offense as a whole to perform better. Manziel was saying similar things, according to Beaty, and could be seen on camera barking encouragement toward his teammates. Neither player expressed selfish statements, the coach said.
The whole situation was strikingly similar to Dez Bryant’s outburst in the Dallas Cowboys’ loss to the Detroit Lions last year, when he had to be restrained and scolded by teammates Jason Witten and DeMarcus Ware. Days later, audio from NFL Films revealed Bryant was trying to pump up quarterback Tony Romo and wasn’t necessarily throwing a give-me-the-ball, Keyshawn Johnson-type tantrum.
That said, Beaty said he told Evans it was a lesson for both coach and player about the power of cameras and perception.
"When it comes to the sideline, I try to be a leader," Evans said. "People on the outside looking in don’t look on the full story."
The story of Evans that Beaty has told teams is one of a hard-working player who saw the benefits of working on the finer points of his game between 2012 and 2013.
Beaty said Evans lowered his center of gravity and became a better route runner because he was able to get his big body in and out of cuts more smoothly. Evans was also better after the catch, as a few screens and short passes that turned into big gainers in a 287-yard performance against Auburn revealed.
"I was like, ‘Man, this kid’s on his way now. The tools are starting to develop,’" Beaty said, adding: "Listen, he’s not perfect. None of us are. I know I’m talking about all the great things. Don’t get me wrong, I wish I could’ve gotten his weight down lower because I think he’s better at 220 pounds. If I could’ve gotten him there consistently, I think he’d have been really unbelievable. There’s obviously things he’ll work on and he’ll tell you, ‘Flexibility and my weight. My body wants to be heavy, so I’ll watch my weight to be optimum.’"
But aside from those points, Beaty has no issues with his former pupil, whom he says is a better person (and father) than he is a player.
"You ask what the NFL team that takes him is getting? The one thing they’re not getting is an issue," Beaty said. "They’re getting a professional."