Cincinnati’s rookie class has already proven itself strong, with multiple players picked from all three days of the NFL Draft contributing in positive ways. While some are used to making headlines, a few just needed the right opportunity to breakout. That’s exactly what one late-round pick did in the team’s 34-11 victory.
The Bengals have drafted four running backs since taking Joe Mixon in 2017. Only one of them has scored an NFL touchdown, and his name is Chris Evans.
It didn’t take long for Evans to enter the game and make an impact. As the No. 2 back, he came in for Joe Mixon after Mixon converted his first of five first downs on the day. Two-straight reps as a check-release option came and went and Joe Burrow sought an opportunity for Evans to be involved. Burrow had him out wide against linebacker Jalen Reeves-Maybin, who’s not known for his coverage abilities, made a check at the line, and lobbed one for Evans just shy of the end zone.
Lions are playing cover 1 here. Indicated by the LB over Evans and the deep safety. Chris Evans absolutely toasts this LB at the line of scrimmage during his release and then does a nice job tracking the ball for a touchdown. pic.twitter.com/MsCNbdQ2bK— Mike (Sans) (@bengals_sans) October 19, 2021
Burrow’s pass didn’t land right in Evans’ bread basket, so the rookie back had to make an outstretched effort to secure the ball. Like the natural born receiver he is, Evans reeled it in and landed in the Honolulu Blue end zone.
The catch was nice, the release off the line that left Reeves-Maybin looking like burnt toast was even better. You don’t see that kind of movement off the line by a running back often, against a slow linebacker or not.
Evans tacked on two more receptions and an additional 25 yards to finish with three catches for 49 yards. He also got some work in as a runner (four rushes for 18 yards), but his work as a pass protector was where his value really showed itself. Evans nailed all three of his pass-blocking reps, including one that bought Burrow some time to complete his longest pass of the day.
He even showed out on special teams. What more could you ask from a rookie?
Sure, Evans had a terrific day catching and blocking for Burrow but take a look at his work here on special teams in 1st half. He blocks Jason Cabinda on rush to Huber and then races down after Stanley Morgan misses speedy Kalif Raymond, and has perfect form tackle. #Bengals pic.twitter.com/QwvwS5tWSv— Mike Petraglia (@Trags) October 18, 2021
It’s only fitting all of this would happen 40 miles east of Ann Arbor, where Evans spent years being wasted at Michigan. His lack of playing time, production, and an academic suspension from 2019 ended up tanking his draft stock, all of which allowed the Bengals to snag him at the end of the sixth round. He revealed to reporters after the game he worked security for an event at Ford Field nearly two years prior while he was serving his suspension.
To go back to that state, in that stadium, and do what he did is what empowering sports narratives are made of.
Many, like myself, thought this game would’ve came last week when Joe Mixon was limited against the Green Bay Packers, but it was Samaje Perine being out with COVID-19 that gave Evans the most snaps (16) he’s seen all year. Regardless if Perine returns next week, you have to think Evans keeps more of an involved role going forward.
Evan McPherson needed to forget about that Packers game altogether. Questions were being asked if he was entering some form of a slump after missing three of his last four kicks; two of which were potential game-winners.
Maybe the indoor environment in Detroit helped him get back on track, but McPherson was picture perfect in Week 6. He drilled both of his field goal attempts, one from 38 and one from 40, and perfectly struck his last three extra point attempts after hitting the post on his first.
To no one’s surprise, the Lions weren’t capable of keeping the lid on Ja’Marr Chase’s downfield speed. Add another four receptions and 97 yards to Chase’s incredible rookie season.
The play that seemed to change the game was one we’ve become all too familiar with this year. With less than 30 seconds remaining in the second quarter, Burrow launched a perfect moon ball that traveled exactly 40 air yards to Chase down the right sideline. The 34-yard gain got the offense in McPherson’s field goal range, and they never looked back from going up 10-0 at the half.
Burrow was under pressure on the play, and Chase was covered pretty well when he let go of the ball. It wasn’t just the throw that made such a pristine play happen, it was his ever-growing trust in Chase to stack the cornerback and find the ball that allowed everything to transpire so perfectly.
I like what ESPN’s Bill Barnwell wrote about Chase and Burrow in his latest article regarding the NFL’s most improved teams:
Burrow has also torched teams that have tried to send extra pressure. He has posted a league-best 97.1 QBR against the blitz so far, a season after he ranked 26th in the same category. Chase isn’t an offensive lineman, but adding Burrow’s former LSU teammate gave the quarterback someone he trusts implicitly on hot routes and 50/50 balls, allowing him to get the ball out before the blitz gets home. Chase leads the league in receiving yards (273) when Burrow has been blitzed.
If only there were those who thought of the bolded statement before Chase became a Bengal.
It wasn’t an all-around great outing for Chase, though. While he secured two long receptions and kept pace with the team’s single season receiving record, he let his first catchable pass go through his fingers and into the cornerback Amani Oruwariye’s hands. Burrow’s seventh interception of the year was on Chase, but the rookie obviously responded well.
In a very literal sense, the Bengals had to take the bad with the good when it came to Trey Hill. The rookie notched his first-career start Sunday at right guard, a position he hadn’t played since his freshman year at Georgia in 2018. To call it an up-and-down performance is putting it lightly.
Following some questionable reps in pass protection, Hill was flagged for holding and a false start on back-to-back plays late in the first quarter. Hill would finish the drive, but he was replaced by Jackson Carman the next time the offense took the field. Carman would’ve finished the game with the way he was playing if he didn’t succumb to whatever sickness he was dealing with.
Carman turned in a decent game before vomiting after 23 snaps. He only blocked for six run plays, but he graded out as Pro Football Focus’ third-best guard in that category. Hill also played much better when he came back into the game, but nothing should change between these two rookies. Carman should be the starter as long as he’s healthy. It was nice to watch Hill see the field, but he’s not quite ready to start.
Though he was not drafted by the team, Nick McCloud is indeed a rookie playing for the Bengals. He made his debut Sunday when the Bengals pulled their starting defense late in the fourth quarter. He ended up with 14 snaps, which might be all he sees until Trae Waynes returns. Tre Flowers was not active for this game, but considering his experience, he’ll likely see the field over McCloud going forward.
Cam Sample also benefitted from the game entering garbage time towards the end. He finished with a season-high 35 snaps.
Did Not Play
- Tyler Shelvin (inactive)
- D’Ante Smith (inactive)
- Darius Hodge (inactive)