Each day leading up to the 2018 NFL draft, I’ll break down one of my top 50 prospects. In some cases, we had to make tough omissions because of injuries, poor pre-draft workouts or incomplete information. For more complete scouting reports on all the prospects, check out the Pro Football Weekly 2018 Draft Guide, which is available for order now.
29. Alabama LB Rashaan Evans
6-foot-2, 233 pounds
Key stats: In six career FBS playoff-game appearances, including three championship games, Evans racked up 38 tackles, 4.5 sacks and 1.5 tackles for loss — despite not starting the first two.
The skinny: Auburn, Alabama native and five-star recruit risked his and his family’s welfare (we wish we were kidding) by going to play for the Crimson Tide. He got on the field extensively as a freshman but mostly on special teams, where Evans made his impact felt with a team-best 12 tackles; Evans also pitched in as a reserve on defense with 15 tackles, including two for losses.
As a sophomore, Evans was a reserve on defense, gradually increasing his role. He totaled 15 tackles in 2015 but finished with a flurry — a two-sack performance in the national championship victory against Clemson and Deshaun Watson. In 2016, Evans made 53 tackles and four sacks in 14 games, but 18 of those tackles came in his first two starts in the two playoff games.
Evans finally got his shot to start full time as a senior with Reuben Foster off to the NFL and responded as an All-SEC first-team selection, despite missing two games. He led the team with 74 tackles (13 for loss) and added six sacks and three passes broken up. Evans was invited to the Senior Bowl but passed on playing in the game. He attended the NFL scouting combine and performed all the drills except the 40-yard dash, bench press and 60-yard shuttle.
Upside: Lives in the backfield — 13 tackles for loss and six sacks last season (despite missing two games with injury). Finisher who closes on the ball with intent and typically makes the play he seeks to make. Sniffs out delays, draws, short crossers and screens and often makes ballcarriers pay on those plays. Has bad intentions as a hitter.
Nice rangy play speed — reacts quickly and can make plays sideline to sideline. Good short-area quickness and reactionary skills. Big, strong hands to stack and shed blocks. Plays with an edge — not passive in his approach. Seeks to lay the lumber and will take on blocks violently, even against far bigger offensive linemen.
Still growing as a player. Had to bide his time behind one of the most talented group of linebackers in college football the past few seasons but showed improved instincts for the position over time. Watch Evans (No. 32) smell the cutback run, change direction, close down the running lane, square his pads and stone 226-pound LSU running back Darrel Williams:
Big-game experience — six playoff games and three national title appearances, and he seemed to have some of his biggest games on the biggest stages. Positional versatility, playing both inside and out and used as edge rusher. Confident player — believes he’ll be great. Steeped in NFL-type environment in Tuscaloosa.
Downside: Marginal height, weight, length and testing numbers — short arms and good but hardly great athletic traits. Scouts have no 40 time on record for Evans because he skipped running it at the combine, Bama’s main pro day as well as on their retest day this week (which angered scouts who believed he’d run the last time and made the trip to watch him).
Will over-pursue and be hyper-aggressive at times. Appeared more effective when exploiting good matchups (blitzing vs. running backs, singled up against tight ends, e.g.) rather than whipping quality pass blockers. Used primarily as situational pass rusher his first few seasons on defense. Wasn’t given full role until last season, so his positional instincts and experience must be considered carefully. Coverage skills might not be fully developed yet.
Can clean up his tackling in space, as seen on this high tackle attempt vs. Tennessee — Evans reads the play nicely but just doesn’t take RB John Kelly down:
Is he a playmaker? Zero interceptions, two forced fumbles in 42 games. Despite 15 sacks in that period, he might be too light to be a consistent pass-rush force in the NFL. Operated in front of an exceptional defensive line for three years and had a lot of clean lanes to make plays.
Health concerns must be vetted. Missed two games with a groin injury and appeared to be affected by it most of the season thereafter. In those regards, there’s perhaps a bit more of a boom/bust quality to his game at the next level.
Best-suited destination: We could envision Evans as a “Mike” or “Jack” linebacker for odd-front teams or a “Mike” or “Will” on even-front defenses. His ability to rush the passer should give him a role on defense right away, and he’s shown the ability to impact special teams while he grew into a role at Bama. Among the teams that could be a good fit for Evans include the Cincinnati Bengals, Philadelphia Eagles, Pittsburgh Steelers, Los Angeles Rams, Indianapolis Colts, Oakland Raiders, Miami Dolphins, Los Angeles Chargers, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Dallas Cowboys, Detroit Lions, New England Patriots and Washington.
Quotable: “He’s a 2 [second-round pick] in my mind. We’re still working out final grades, but I know I am not going to be putting him in my top 20 picks or whatever. We typically will have anywhere from 15 to 20 guys with [first-round grades]. I feel like we’ve been waiting for him since he had the big game two years ago against Clemson [two sacks in the 2015 title game] to really break out and you finally saw it. Good player, just not a great one to me.” — national scout
Player comp: Jordan Hicks
Expected draft range: Top-40 pick
50. Oregon RB Royce Freeman
49. South Dakota State TE Dallas Goedert
48. LSU DE-LB Arden Key
47. Ohio State C Billy Price
46. Alabama S Ronnie Harrison
45. Oklahoma State QB Mason Rudolph
44. Texas A&M S Armani Watts
43. South Carolina TE Hayden Hurst
42. UCF CB Mike Hughes
41. USC RB Ronald Jones II
40. Maryland WR D.J. Moore
39. UTEP OG Will Hernandez
38. Stanford DT Harrison Phillips
37. Ohio State DE Sam Hubbard
36. Stanford S Justin Reid
35. Oregon OT Tyrell Crosby
34. SMU WR Courtland Sutton
33. Penn State TE Mike Gesicki
32. Colorado CB Isaiah Oliver
31. Georgia OL Isaiah Wynn
30. Texas A and M WR Christian Kirk