When talking about “breakout” players, the definition of the term can be subjective. For some, it points to a player who might make a jump from starter to potential Pro Bowler, while for others it’s simply a younger player being thrust into a high-profile role and showing productivity.
For a guy like Jordan Evans, a sixth round selection by the Cincinnati Bengals this year, it’s about filling a niche role as a rookie to help the team. Usually, day three picks can have a hard time even making a club, particularly when a team like Cincinnati added 11 total rookies in this year’s class, but Evans brings some attributes this defense has sorely lacked in recent years.
While he will be slated behind some other linebackers on the defense, he could be a very helpful contributor right away in pass defense packages.
Why he could be a breakout player:
Size/speed/athleticism: The Bengals made it known that they wanted to get younger and faster at many spots this offseason. It’s why they selected many of the quicker and more agile players in this year’s draft and hope it will pay immediate dividends on the field. Evans has a lot of polishing to do in other facets of being an NFL linebacker, but with his 6’2”, 233-pound frame and 4.6 speed, he could be a nice rotational piece in pass coverage and on special teams.
A good complementary piece in the linebacker group: Though the Bengals added some younger, faster players this year, they still mostly employ big thumpers. Vontaze Burfict is their most polished all-around linebacker, with Kevin Minter now manning the inside.
Still, Paul Guenther has been looking for an able pass-coverage player for the past couple of years, especially with the Emmanuel Lamur experiment fizzling out. Evans and Nick Vigil figure to be the two guys the team will use to cover running backs and tight ends.
College production: Evans had a very nice statistical year as a senior for the Sooners. He racked up 98 total tackles, four interceptions, eight passes defended, as well as one forced fumble and recovery each. Two of those four interceptions were returned for touchdowns, showing he can pop a game-changing play on defense.
What he needs to prove in 2017:
Playing more physical: Even with the nice pre-draft workout numbers and college production, the big knock on Evans has been his lack of physicality. He has good instincts and range, but he’ll need to work on his tackling, show that he can stack up against bigger backs and tight ends, as well as improve on block-shedding.
Ability to immediately contribute: While this seems like an opportune year for Marvin Lewis to properly use a lot of his young, unproven players, he recently made an interesting statement on Evans, in regards to how linebackers grow in the team’s system.
“It’s a common progression in what you see in guys from their first year to their second year,” Lewis said. “They spend their first year getting prepared to get here. After that, they figure out what it is. He’s (Vigil) had a whole season of eating better and training, and now he’s going to grow as a man. That’s why you want the guys that look like that coming out of college. Jordan Evans is a good example of that this year.”
This might be a hint that Evans won’t be seeing the field too often early on in his rookie year.
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