The Cincinnati Bengals have picked up some interesting draft picks in 2021. The Bengals used a sixth round pick on a running back that they hope can fill a very specific role.
Chris Evans not only made an impression on the Bengals’ coaching staff, but also on Sports Illustrated writer Albert Breer. In his column Monday Morning Quarterback, Breer called Evans a “fun dark horse.”
Here’s what he said about Evans.
Just the fourth(!) Michigan running back drafted since 2000, Evans had a very weird college career. His first three years (2016 to ’18), he was a versatile scatback for the Wolverines, rushing for 1,722 yards and averaging 5.6 yards per carry, with 40 catches and 16 touchdowns from scrimmage. Then, academic issues cost him the 2019 season, and he struggled to find his footing in a new offense during last year’s COVID-wracked season. So can he be the guy he was in his first three years in Ann Arbor? The Bengals, having just lost Gio Bernard (a back with a similar skill set), bet a sixth-round pick he can be. And he gave his new coaches reason to believe the last couple days, showing that he’s a smooth athlete with excellent hands, and fits athletically on an NFL field. There’s a long way to go (remember, pass-blocking will be a big part of playing the role Bernard did), but early on he looks like a guy the Bengals should be able to move all around the formation.
While the “receiving back” tag doesn’t describe Bernard completely, it is a role where the Bengals have no clear replacement. Evans, who was a slot receiver in his first few years at Michigan, can not only fill that role, but expand it.
The NFL seems to be trending in the direction of making running backs split out wide. Reports have come out from Pittsburgh and Jacksonville that say their rookie running backs have been lining up outside of the backfield. Since Burrow prefers an empty backfield, Evans will probably play out wide quite a bit.
Evans will even wear Bernard’s number 25, so the parallel is too easy.