The Michigan Wolverines had a deep stable of running backs last season, which may have actually been a detriment to the guys in the room. The biggest example of this comes in the form of Chris Evans, who found himself with a limited amount of work in his final season in Ann Arbor.
Evans, a four-star recruit in Michigan’s 2016 recruiting class, finished his Michigan career with 1,795 yards and 15 touchdowns in 320 carries. He was thought to be another versatile weapon in Josh Gattis’ offense, but was only given 16 carries throughout the 2020 campaign and finished with just 73 yards rushing on the season. Despite this, he has emerged as one of the biggest sleepers at the running back position in the 2021 NFL Draft class.
Here is a look at what he brings to the table for the Cincinnati Bengals and how he fits best at the next level.
Height/Weight: 5-foot-11, 211 pounds
Position: Running Back
Projected: 5th-6th round
Pro Day Results: Hands: 9 6/8 inches | Wingspan: 76 inches | Arm Length: 32.5 inches | 40-Yard Dash: 4.44 seconds | Vertical Jump: 40.5 inches | Broad Jump: 10-foot-7 | 3-Cone Drill: 6.56 seconds | Pro Agility: 4.14 seconds | 60-Yard Shuttle: DNP | Bench: 20 reps
NFL role: Developmental No. 2 running back
- A ton of tread on his tires compared to other running backs who spent four years in college
- Has the ability to be a Swiss Army knife out of the backfield and provides the ability to catch the ball and be a threat on third downs
- Short-area quickness is impressive, has a nice amount of bounce to his game
- Solid physical build and will run through defenders on occasion, more power than meets the eye
- Good anticipatory runner and takes hits well, does not fall down easy or fall prey to arm tackles
- Did not play in 2019 due to academic issue and has only 16 carries total since the end of the 2018 season
- Doesn’t have a standout trait that separates him from his peers in the class
- Despite his speed, not exactly a home run hitter and burst leaves a bit to be desired
- Ball security has been an issue in the past
- Durability is a question given how little he has played over the last few years, how much of a role is he going to be able to handle?
Evans might be the toughest running back evaluation in this class given that he had only 16 carries in 2020 after missing all of the 2019 season. Despite this, Jim Nagy of the Senior Bowl told us in an offseason chat that Evans is considered one of the draft’s dirty little secrets in NFL front offices.
“The league is more than aware of him. You don’t find 220 pound guys that can detach as route runners and get open and catch the ball down the field as naturally as he does. So he’s kind of that positionless player that the league wants to go to on both sides of the ball, like you can move the ball around. This happens every year when you’re in draft meetings and you inevitably have scouts describe guys as ‘this guy is going to be a better pro than he was a college player.’ And I think Chris Evans is going to be a great example of that.”
The draft is all about projection instead of past production, so the traits alone have Evans as someone who has a shot to crack an NFL roster. He is a tough runner with the ability to change pace as a third-down receiver out of the backfield. A lot of scout-types have praised Evans for the way he moves in a phone booth — elusiveness in short areas, for the uninitiated — and the way he holds up when defenders make contact.
Evans’ NFL future is going to largely depend on the opportunity. His best fit is going to be with a team that has an established starter, which could allow for him to battle for a No. 2 role in a rotation. Given his ability to catch the ball, he has plenty of value in a three-back stable, as well. It would not be a surprise to see him turn a few spot starts into a featured role down the road, but there are a lot of unknowns with his game.