Zach Evans is finding new life as the running back with the Ole Miss Rebels, but how has his 2023 NFL Draft scouting report been impacted by the transition? Has Evans now shown enough to deliver on his promise and become an early-round pick in the 2023 NFL Draft? Let’s take a closer look.
Zach Evans NFL Draft Profile
Coming from the same 2020 recruiting class as Bijan Robinson and Jahmyr Gibbs, Evans has been compared to them every step of the way. But we’ve heard about this class and its intrigue for a while now. Let’s learn more about Evans himself — who’s quietly embarked on a resurgent path since his initial commitment.
Evans was, in fact, the No. 2 overall RB in the 2020 class and a five-star recruit, right on Robinson’s tail for the RB1 mantle. Both backs brought coveted size and athleticism, but Evans’ natural talent was the subject of undaunted excitement. Evans came out of high school with a laser-timed 4.51 40-yard dash, a freakish 3.84 shuttle time, and a 37.2″ vertical.
Evans had speed, explosiveness, size, and star treatment. After accruing nearly 5,000 yards and 76 touchdowns in high school, Evans signed with the TCU Horned Frogs. He’d average over seven yards per carry across two seasons with TCU before making the highly-publicized decision to transfer to Ole Miss.
Now, at Ole Miss, Evans has maintained a role in one of the deepest RB rooms in the league. Through six games, he has 79 carries for 469 yards and six touchdowns. He’s once again producing at a hyper-efficient clip — but as an NFL Draft prospect, what in particular has Evans shown?
- Position: Running Back
- School: Ole Miss
- Current Year: Junior
- Height/Weight: 6’0″, 215 pounds
Zach Evans Scouting Report
Evans is endlessly compared to Robinson and Gibbs. It comes with the territory of hailing from their recruiting class. While Evans might not be at that level as a prospect, he is a very good 2023 NFL Draft prospect in his own right, and he has comparable upside to his counterparts.
You often hear about how smooth and natural Evans is as a runner. That’s certainly one of his most marketable traits, but the size at which he does his work is also appealing. Evans passes the eye test with a compact, well-proportioned 6’0″, 215-pound frame. He has good mass and solid density, and his frame is easily projectable to the next level.
With his frame, Evans also brings elite long-track explosiveness and exceptional long-strider acceleration in space. He can surge upfield through open lanes, and with his explosiveness, he can destroy opposing tackling angles. Evans glides as a runner and picks up speed very easily in open space. And once in space, he has enough long speed to stretch open seams and create separation after overtaking defenders.
Evans is an explosive threat at RB, but with his size, he also brings a desirable degree of balance, both against contact and in non-contact situations. When faced with resistance, Evans has legitimate contact balance. He can absorb hits, churn his legs, and squirm through arm tackles.
To that end, Evans can absorb contact with his midsection and roll his hips through contact to gain extra yards. He actively uses his hips to absorb contact and can step through arm tackles as well, recollecting his feet while maintaining speed.
Additionally, Evans is very well-balanced when stacking acute angle adjustments and accelerating upfield. He can gallop around solo defenders at the line and quickly recollect his stride in space.
Evans’ contact balance stems naturally from his frame, and it allows him to work through tackles to a degree. But his balance and fluidity as a runner is perhaps his best trait overall.
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Evans can effortlessly sustain acceleration upfield through cuts, and lean into direction changes while exploding into space. He’s a flexible runner who very naturally carries speed through successive motions. Evans can also use curvilinear acceleration to quickly peel around blockers and into open space, like a motorcycle hugging a tight curve.
Evans is a fluid athlete who has the special ability to stress defenders laterally while moving vertically. But he also has the minute twitch and loose hips to adjust attack angles at a moment’s notice and erode tackling angles with acceleration.
He can use a smooth dead-leg move to disrupt tackling angles, and he’s shown himself to be an agile lateral athlete who can levy quick cuts at high speeds to shift around defenders. He’s also shown he can chop his feet in space and vary stride lengths to accentuate cuts and get defenders off-balance.
With his tools as a runner, Evans also displays a serviceable floor with his overall vision and creative instincts. He’s not elite in either area, but Evans has shown he can recognize cutback lanes at the second level and snake through those lanes with smooth athleticism.
He’s fairly decisive in picking out initial lanes and can cover ground with efficiency in tight quarters. Moreover, Evans flashes good spatial awareness in the backfield. He’ll lean away from surging edge defenders and hide behind lead blockers before breaking off into space.
Expanding on Evans’ creative instincts, the Ole Miss RB has shown he can use attack angles upfield to manipulate DBs into playing into a blocker’s leverage, then pry around the other side of blocks.
He can press upfield in space, then sink his hips and carry acceleration through direction changes, exploding through seams. Evans is unnaturally comfortable running with lean, which allows him to pressure angles in space with ease.
While Evans isn’t overly physical stylistically, he does have a baseline level of willing physicality. The Rebels runner has a willingness to lower his shoulder and finish forward on runs, accelerating into contact, and he can methodically scrape out extra yardage through tackles.
Going further, Evans can use swift cuts and stiff arms in immediate succession to displace and disassemble would-be tacklers. He doesn’t win with brute force, but he knows how to use targeted physicality to stay on his feet.
On passing downs, Evans’ value is still being deciphered. But even without volume, his traits translate as a pass catcher. He’s shown he can guide the ball in with his hands and reset his feet ahead of catches to account for RAC, and he’s a venerable RAC threat with his combination of explosiveness, fluidity, and contact balance.
And as a pass blocker, he can at least square up blitzing defenders and surge into contact with his pads.
Evans’ Areas for Improvement
Evans has a relatively all-encompassing physical skill set, but he’ll need to keep honing his vision and creation capacity as he makes the transition to the NFL.
Evans’ initial attack angles can improve at times. He sometimes directs himself into contact around the perimeter. To that end, the Ole Miss RB has room to diagnose optimal lanes a bit earlier during the exchange.
When the box is crowded, Evans doesn’t always recognize space to work with outside, and he can get tunnel vision working forward. He’ll, at times, prematurely commit to congested lanes with defenders crashing down, and he doesn’t have elite reaction quickness when he needs to adapt.
Above anything else in this department, Evans can be more patient and aware of his full surroundings heading up lanes. He sometimes passes up cutback opportunities and surges into congestion.
While Evans has the requisite foot speed and lateral agility, he has more of a straight-line style as a runner and isn’t always quick to vary his stride lengths and create. Additionally, he sometimes predetermines attack angles and isn’t able to adapt when encountering early contact.
Expanding on this, Evans can do a better job employing quick stride variations and setup footwork behind the line in order to adapt when needed. He sometimes flattens and retreats upfield when faced with threats of early contact in the backfield, which can result in losses.
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Furthermore, at times, Evans can be quicker to redirect to space when walled off. He sometimes lingers in the backfield and gets enveloped by defenders.
Moving elsewhere, Evans doesn’t carry elite mass or momentum into contact and can be brought down by strong solo hits. While he has good size, the Ole Miss RB isn’t quite large or dense enough to bowl through tacklers and plow through congested areas consistently.
Among other things, Evans can better leverage his elite explosiveness on his initial cuts upfield at times, and overall, he’s better served with space to open up his strides. As a pass blocker, his form can improve, as he sometimes simply obstructs his body while lowering his eyes, failing to engage with his hands. And finally, Evans’ ball security can wane when he’s forced to create.
Current Draft Projection for Ole Miss RB Zach Evans
Evans will be an interesting case study in the 2023 NFL Draft. He’s an incredibly efficient runner who has the talent, the production, and the recruiting pedigree. As of now, he grades as a Day 2 pick on my board.
But where he falls on that spectrum will be up to NFL teams. All it takes is one team to fall in love with his potential fit in their offense, and he could go very early in the 32-100 range.
The main appeal with Evans comes from his mix of explosiveness, fluidity, and balance as a runner at 215 pounds. He’s one of the smoothest pure runners in the nation, and his ability to pressure and adjust angles as a long-strider up small seams is rivaled by few.
Evans also has enough functional vision and decisiveness to find those seams, and he has the contact balance to withstand a degree of adversity in space.
With Evans, however, there is room to be more consistent as a processor off his initial steps, and he’s not an elite creator with less space to work with. He sometimes struggles to vary his stride lengths and adapt when faced with early contact.
As exciting as Evans is in space, he is a relatively space-dependent back. Add on an uncertain projection as a receiver and as a pass blocker, and that might knock him down for some.
Nevertheless, Evans has the tools to be a multi-phase threat, and especially in zone-heavy running schemes, where Evans has more space to survey lanes and open up his strides, he could be a truly dangerous component for an offense.
His sheer fluidity and burst in space, combined with his ability to work through contact, makes him a definite early-round prospect.