Rookie outside linebacker Jordan Evans was a man on a mission Thursday night as he got the start for the Cincinnati Bengals in the preseason finale agains the Indianapolis Colts.
Evans, a sixth-round selection for Cincinnati in the 2017 NFL Draft, was all over the field and finished as the Bengals’ leading tackler with six total tackles, including three solos, one tackle for loss, two passes defensed and one quarterback hit.
With his efforts, the former Oklahoma Sooner certainly made his case to contribute on defense during Vontaze Burfict’s three game suspension to open the season.
“I could see Jordan Evans because he was in open space,” said Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis after the game. “He demonstrated what we’ve seen from him the entire time. I can’t be more excited about a young player than I am about him.”
Evans boasts outstanding speed, having run a 4.50 second 40-yard dash at his pro day, and had a very productive career for the Sooners. He finished the 2016 season with 98 total tackles and four interceptions, two of which he returned for touchdowns. Evans was also credited with eight passes defensed and forced and recovered one fumble.
The biggest knocks against him were said to be his lack of physicality and his tendency to miss tackles. None of those were evident Thursday night, which has been the case all preseason.
In this first play, Evans, who is lined up as the weakside linebacker, knifes into the backfield and runs through the attempted block of Colts’ offensive guard Adam Redmond to drop running back Troymaine Pope for a loss.
In this next play, Evans, who this time is lined up on the strongside of the defensive alignment, slides down the line to drop Pope for a minimal gain.
Finally, Evans is shown blitzing off the right side of the defense as he bulls through Colts’ offensive tackle Le’Raven Clark on his way to the quarterback. Although Evans does not get the sack on this fourth-down play in the redzone, he is able to hit the arm of quarterback Scott Tolzien before he could get his pass off to a seemingly wide-open receiver over the middle of the field.
In addition to his stellar run defense, Evans was also in all of the right places for the Bengals in an area that has proven to be their Achilles Heel in recent years – covering running backs and tight ends. Early on, Evans had outstanding coverage on Pope on a checkdown pass out of the backfield on a play that resulted in a short gain.
Then, in the second quarter, Evans and middle linebacker Hardy Nickerson teamed up to force an incomplete pass intended for tight end Henry Krieger-Coble. Moments later, Evans had blanket coverage on Krieger-Coble as another pass to the tight end fell incomplete.
In fact, Evans was so impressive Thursday night that Pro Football Focus awarded him a game ball after handing out an overall score of 96.2.
There is no denying the fact that Burfict will be sorely missed throughout the three games of his suspension, but if players like Evans and Hardy Nickerson Jr.—who also seemed to be a disruptive force on Thursday night—continue to step up, it is entirely possible the Bengals can weather his absence.