He’s a prospect with all the pedigree and athleticism, but does Ole Miss RB Zach Evans present early-round appeal with his full 2023 NFL Draft scouting report? Here’s an in-depth look at the Rebels runner’s game and how he translates to the NFL level with his pallet of traits.
Zach Evans NFL Draft Profile
- Position: Running Back
- School: Ole Miss
- Current Year: Junior
- Height/Weight: 5’11”, 202 pounds
- Length: 31 5/8″
- Hand: 10 1/4″
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.
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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 averaged over seven yards per carry across two seasons with TCU before making the highly-publicized decision to transfer to Ole Miss.
The breakout of Quinshon Judkins in 2022 prevented Evans from taking on a workhorse role with the Rebels, but he was still able to produce at a hyper-efficient clip during his time in Oxford. Evans ended the 2022 campaign with 144 carries for 936 yards and nine touchdowns, as well as 12 catches for 119 yards and an additional score.
Evans declared for the NFL Draft after his year at Ole Miss, and though he joins an incredibly deep, competitive RB class, his natural talent makes him hard to rule out at any point.
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 isn’t at that level as a prospect, he could provide appealing value for teams later on in the 2023 NFL Draft.
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 5;11″, 202-pound frame. He has decent mass and solid density, and his frame is easily projectable in a change-of-pace role.
At that size, 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 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.
Going further, Evans 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 flashes of serviceable utility with his overall vision and creative instincts. He’s far from elite in both areas, but Evans has shown he can recognize cutback lanes at the second level and snake through those lanes with smooth athleticism.
Evans is 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 best using his creative instincts up seams and in extended spaces. Elaborating on that point, the Ole Miss RB 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 could eventually 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 has a respectable RAC profile with his combination of explosiveness, fluidity, and contact balance.
Finally, as a pass blocker, Evans 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. He’s not an elite processor, and that can hinder his progress early in reps.
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 to create, he has more of a straight-line style as a runner and isn’t always quick to vary his stride lengths and adapt. Additionally, he sometimes predetermines attack angles and isn’t able to adjust 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. Overall, he lacks the creative instincts to adequately maximize his athletic traits in tight spaces. If he doesn’t have obvious lanes to work with, he can be very inconsistent.
Moving elsewhere, Evans doesn’t carry elite mass or momentum into contact and can be brought down by strong solo hits. While he has a compact frame, the Ole Miss RB isn’t quite large or dense enough to bowl through tacklers and plow through congested areas consistently, as his 202-pound weigh-in indicates.
There’s room to project when talking about Evans as a pass-catching threat, but he’s still far from a guarantee in that phase. His traits translate in the RAC phase, but Evans hasn’t consistently shown he can provide versatility in the passing game. He doesn’t have an expansive route tree and can be inconsistent with his catching technique.
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 — something that contributed to three fumbles in 2022.
Current Draft Projection for Ole Miss RB Zach Evans
Evans has talent and recruiting pedigree on his side, but he grades out as an early Day 3 prospect on my board, regardless. In a deep RB class, where versatility is valued, Evans’ skill set is a bit too one-dimensional to lock him into the early rounds, and whispers of character uncertainty also hold weight in his evaluation.
The main appeal with Evans comes from his mix of explosiveness, fluidity, and balance as a runner at over 200 pounds. He’s one of the smoothest pure runners in the class, and his ability to pressure and adjust angles as a long-strider up small seams is rivaled by few. His blend of explosiveness and flexibility when streaking upfield is valuable, and it makes him a big-play threat on outside/wide-zone plays.
Also appealing is Evans’ reasonable degree of contact balance in space, as he’s shown he can step through arm tackles and absorb contact to a degree. But beyond his physical traits, however, Evans has room to be a more reliable processor and creator, and his profile is lacking a number of components vital for draft security.
Evans doesn’t have enough mass to carry appeal as a workhorse. He’s not proficient enough as a receiver to provide immediate passing-down versatility, and he’s not strong enough as a pass protector to give coaches solace in the backfield on third downs. Meanwhile, as a runner — his primary mode — Evans isn’t an elite creator, and he 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 his lack of dimensions is concerning, especially in a modern NFL, where versatility is becoming more and more valuable.
Evans does have the tools to be a multi-phase threat, and in zone-heavy running schemes, where Evans has more space to survey lanes and open up his strides, he could be a truly dangerous rotational component for an offense. The ultimate variable in his progression is whether he can add more versatility to his game. He has starting upside but might ultimately settle as a rotational piece.