- College: Ole Miss
- Height: 6’0″ | Weight: 215 lbs.
- Age: 21.7-year-old Junior
- Archetype: One-Cut | Modifier: Primary RB
- Games Watched (2022): Tulsa, Kentucky, Auburn, Georgia Tech, Central Arkansas, and Troy
- NFL Draft Projection: Late Day-2/Early Day-3
The first-ever five-star recruit to sign with the Horned Frogs, Evans had a twisting recruiting path. Courted by nearly every blue-blood program in the country, Evans was a highly accomplished high school athlete. Ranked behind only Bijan Robinson in the 2020 high school class at running back, TCU landed the coveted local product several months after Evans backed out of a Georgia letter of intent. Disciplinary problems that led to Evans missing a portion of his final high school season raised a few red flags. However, it appeared TCU had gotten a terrific stroke of recruiting luck.
Transfer to Ole Miss
Despite tantalizing flashes, especially as a freshman, the Houston native could never fully ingratiate himself with coaches and fans. A last-ditch attempt from LaDainian Tomlinson to keep Evans in Fort Worth failed, and Evans announced his intentions to transfer. Ole Miss, a blue-blood that formerly recruited Evans, was front of the line. Despite visiting other SEC schools, Evans eventually settled on the Runnin’ Rebels.
Evans saw an uptick in workload and production in his junior season for Ole Miss. However, it’s worth noting that he was out-shown regularly by true freshman Quinshon Judkins. While the two formed one of the best backfields in the country, Judkins led Ole Miss runners in carries, catches, and scrimmage yards. Despite this supporting role, Evans continues to flash immense promise on film. As he transitions to the NFL, his low mileage status and athletic profile make for an intriguing NFL and dynasty draft prospect. A devy darling, let’s see if the hype can match the film for this high-upside prospect.
Evans has an exceptionally well-rounded athletic profile. Long speed, change of direction, and lateral burst all rate above average on tape, even amongst this talented running back class. However, his best trait is his forward acceleration. When presented with a clear running lane, Evans accelerates effortlessly into the second level of defenses, routinely beating pursuit angles.
A run to daylight back, Evans recognizes the cat blitz and thinks better of the designed play. A large cutback lane opens, and Evans uses his rare athletic gifts to beat an arm tackle and leave the rest of the Yellowjacket defenders in the dust.
This clip is a perfect example of the rare forward burst Evans possesses. Again, presented with a clear avenue to the second level of the defense, Evans hits the jets and wrecks the tackling angles of two defenders, who ultimately crash into one another.
Bend the Edge
Evans has rare forward acceleration but also has the lower body flexibility to accelerate on a curved route. Accompanied by the ability to change direction and punish defenders for over-pursuing, Evans comfortably turns the edge on the sweep and wide zone concepts.
After baiting a defender into committing upfield, Evans easily wins the edge and accelerates into the secondary. With little to be gained from a cutback, Evans finishes the run with a bit of attitude. Underutilized but emerging in dramatic flashes, Zach will occasionally showcase this finishing power.
As an athlete, we’ve mainly looked at movement skills for the draft hopeful. One of the more impressive runs I found for Evans, this play encompasses his athletic gifts well. He demonstrates in this clip the lateral burst, acceleration, and change of direction skills highlighted above. However, the more notable aspect of the play is at the tackle point.
A jump cut and forward burst behind the line of scrimmage carry Evans to the second level. After making a linebacker and safety miss in the open field, Evans is hit by a defender from the side. Not only should this knock Evans off-balance, but the defender also manages to wrap the runner’s leg. Despite this, Zach displays good contact balance and scary lower body strength, carrying a defender for five extra yards on one leg. While blunt force and a bully mentality don’t permeate throughout Evan’s film, he can create yards after contact.
Similar to high-pedigree runners like Ken Walker in recent years, Evans deserves an incomplete when evaluating pass-catching skills. Ole Miss runs a very RPO-heavy scheme that does not regularly target running backs from the backfield. Despite this, we can make some determinations and projections with limited opportunity.
Several designed plays can give us some insight into Evans’ receiving potential. Here we see a well-designed QB Power fake allows Evans to run an uncontested rail route upfield. A slight bobble initially, but good to see Evans not use his body as a crutch to catch the ball. A couple of concentration drops exist in his film. However, an excellent open-space player, I project Evans as at least an average pass-catcher moving into the NFL.
We’ve touched on this idea briefly in the strengths section of Evans’ film. Evans can be a more physical and punishing player. He just regularly chooses evasion over violence. However, considering his athletic ability, this shouldn’t necessarily be viewed as a negative. Evans becoming more selective when evading tacklers will become important at the next level. Similar to David Montgomery as a collegiate RB, there are plenty of moments where the first and even second defenders cannot get Evans down. However, he isn’t creating enough yardage after contact because he is dancing and wrestling with tacklers instead of plowing forward. This weakness is based less on ability and more on mentality, which is coachable as Evans matures.
Once again, another skill set that is far more of a projection than a definite evaluation. RPO-centric playbooks rarely ask running backs to block for many of the same reasons that they do not throw them the ball. Evans has several positive examples as the lead blocker on QB-Power or out of two-back sets. However, the opportunities to evaluate Evans by diagnosing the blitz, setting his feet, and blocking an oncoming rusher are minimal. His pass-pro transition will be a storyline to follow as Evans begins his first NFL season. Getting up to speed quickly in this area will be essential for a team hoping to maximize his playing time as a rookie.
- Upside Prospect Comp: Dalvin Cook
- Floor Prospect Comp: Miles Sanders
- Prospect Position Ranking and Tier: RB5 at the top of Tier 3.
- SuperFlex Draft Range: Late 1st Rd through Middle 2nd Rd.
In a class full of well-established bell-cow runners and a wide variety of different archetypes of backs, it is fair to point out that Evans is one of the more risky profiles at RB. Coaching conflicts arose in high school and college, leading to missed playing time, a drawn-out recruitment process, and eventual transfer. Still ranked highly by myself and many others, Evans will be one of the more compelling profiles to watch on draft weekend. How will the NFL weigh the brilliant flashes familiar to a former 5-star recruit vs. the limited touch opportunities throughout college?
Evans has the upside to develop into precisely what the high school recruiters envisioned, the second-best running back in the class behind only Bijan Robinson. I would not be surprised if several dynasty and draft experts still have him ranked accordingly. However, with Evans, NFL evaluators will be forced to project much more than other backs in the class. With more experienced, equally impressive runners like Sean Tucker, Zach Charbonnet, Tank Bigsby, and former teammate Kendre Miller all nipping at Evans’ heels, I expect Evans slips a shade further in the NFL Draft than most are anticipating. Unfortunately, Day-3 isn’t entirely out of the conversation.
Dynasty Draft Advice
While I’m willing to eventually get back on board the hype train if draft capital exceeds my current expectation, Evans carries high name value and Devy cache. As analysts, we don’t dislike players, especially players as talented as Evans. However, I’m avoiding Evans’ at the current price in dynasty leagues in favor of a top receiver or Sean Tucker and Zach Charbonnet. If the status quo remains, I expect Evans to be the third running back off your dynasty rookie board. In a class this strong, your dynasty standings will move based on the couple of teams that DON’T hit in the first round. Evans is a homerun swing I’m not advising you to take in 2023 until the 2nd round of SuperFlex drafts.
NFL Combine starts this week, and there has never been a better time to begin diving deep into all these rookies. For all you hands-on dynasty managers, few things can replicate the value of getting eyes on these players yourself. The Prospect Film Room has you covered, with All-22 film cutups of your favorite prospects continuously being added. The 2023 Rookie Profile series is in full swing for those looking for our film evaluations. Click the link for all the great work done by the #NerdsStaff. Give yourself the gift of relentless dominance in your leagues with a NerdHerd subscription.