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October 23, 2013

Evans' size, strength, hands make him top WR

Before the 2013 season, no Texas A&M wide receiver had ever racked up more than one 200-yard receiving game in their career. In the span of five games, Mike Evans has done it twice.

In games against Auburn and Alabama, Evans totaled up 566 yards and 5 touchdowns on 18 receptions for an average of 31 yards a catch. After compiling up his first 1,000 yard season as a redshirt freshman, Evans has already blown past that plateau in just seven games, with 43 catches for 1,024 (an average of 23.8 YPC) and 9 scores. Even his head coach is impressed with him.

"He's a really good player. You can go back to two-a-days when I said he was one of the better players in the country before the season even started. I'll stick with that," Kevin Sumlin said Tuesday. "I don't think anyone would argue with that based on his performance and his consistency with his performance over the last seven games. He's improved from a year ago from a numbers standpoint. How he approaches the game, even without the ball in his hands, it's hard to argue he's not one of the best players in the country."

So what makes him so good? Let's take a look.

Size and strength. Evans is 6 feet, 5 inches tall and weighs 225 pounds. This makes him a nightmare to tackle in the open field (gifs of him slamming Arkansas and Oklahoma defensive backs to the turf are very popular on A&M sites), but make it tough to slow him down at the line of scrimmage. If you try to jam him, he can push a defensive back off the line or just run right through him. Once he has the ball in his hands, most safeties and corners simply cannot tackle him on their own.

Blocking. The mantra of the Aggie receiver corps is, "You don't block, you don't play." As evidenced by Sumlin's comments about his play away from the ball, Evans is an outstanding and willing blocker for both the running game and for his receivers. He's a smart blocker, as well, knowing exactly what his limits are in terms of illegal blocks below the waist and from behind. During A&M's game-winning drive against Ole Miss, he provided a key block for Johnny Manziel on a run to get into field goal range that sent the partisan crowd at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium into a frenzy, but a replay showed that the block was not from behind and the block was clean. Against SMU, a block allowed Malcome Kennedy to score on a touchdown pass uncontested. He may be the best blocking receiver in college football.

Leaping ability. His catch on 3rd and 19 at Oxford last year, coupled with his leap over an Ole Miss defender two weekends ago, has seared his jumping ability into the minds of Rebels fans for years. He also showed it off on a scoring catch against Arkansas and several times against Auburn.

"When Johnny throws him a jump ball, it's always like: 'Alright, will the defender knock him down this time? Nope he caught it,'" Kennedy said. "It's just something that he continues to do, and he's become great at it. He's perfected it really."

Route running. Players of Evans' size that run quality routes are exceedingly rare. As one of the exceptions to the rule, Evans' timing on cuts is excellent and the cuts themselves are crisp. He has an excellent rapport with Johnny Manziel and has developed the ability to help his quarterback out once the scramble drill begins by getting and staying open.

Hands. The most remarkable and overlooked part of Evans' game is his ability to catch virtually every throw made his way. Drops are exceedingly rare. During the Auburn game, Evans was targeted 14 times; he caught 11 and got his hands on two more passes where he came over the top of a defender to make a play. The third was overthrown. The two plays where Evans touched the ball but did not catch it were amazing effort plays on his part to get to the ball. In essence, there were 11 passes thrown his way that were catchable, and he got them all. This is not a unique occurrence.

Understanding of the game. Even though he's really only played four seasons of football (his senior year at Galveston Ball and three years at A&M), Evans has been a very quick study when it comes to knowing what a receiver is supposed to do and how they do it. On his 22-yard completion to get A&M inside the red zone late in the game against Auburn, Evans came back from a pass from Manziel and watched it in before turning and heading upfield. A former NFL player saw the play and said, "half the receivers in the league don't come back to the ball like that. He gets it."

Guts. Last year, Evans played more than half the season with a lingering hamstring problem but refused to sit out unless the pain was unbearable. He twisted his ankle on a touchdown catch against Arkansas to the point that most players would have been done for the night; he came back in and made a key fourth-quarter reception.

"He's one of the toughest kids I've ever been around," offensive coordinator Clarence McKinney said. "He plays hurt and he gives you everything he has."

The will to win. After the missed horsecollar call on Manziel and what he believed was pass interference on the play before in the end zone, Evans stormed off the field and screamed at the officials using "colorful metaphors" before heading to the locker room after the Auburn game. It was an example of the intensity Evans brings not only to each game, but practices as well.

"He plays that way, he plays with a chip on his shoulder," Sumlin said. "Again, he's one of the guys that he doesn't say much. Doesn't say much at practice or around everybody but he speaks with his play, and anybody who pours as much into it as he does, I can see where he'd be upset."

With six games left in the 2013 season, it is likely Aggie fans will see Evans torch every single-season record held by an A&M receiver and then see him taken in the first round of the 2014 NFL Draft. If that happens, it probably won't come as a shock to McKinney.

"I can't say that I've coached a better wide receiver than Mike," he said. "He's extremely talented. He works hard at it."


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