On a cloudless day, running on an artificial-turf soccer field, Mike Evans began a series of routes with three other receivers. The Texas A&M receiver made Virginia Tech quarterback Logan Thomas look good more than once.
“He’s worth at least three wins,” said Thomas, whose Hokies went 8-5.
As Evans ran a slant, Hall of Famer James Lofton encouraged with the same word over and over again: “Run! Run! Run! Run! Run!”
For his size, his skills and his stats, Evans’ speed might be the determining factor in exactly how high he goes.
“I’m going to run faster than what everybody expects,” Evans said last week. “I’ve been hearing 4.6, 4.7. They’re going to be surprised.”
Speed coach Ryan Flaherty, who counts Vincent Jackson and Cam Newton among alumni of his Prolific Athletes facility, has Evans ready to run at the NFL Scouting Combine this weekend. Jackson, whom Evans favorably compares in size, ran a 4.46 at his Pro Day in 2005.
Evans expects something under 4.5, a number that might surprise everyone except those who see him daily.
“I think that he has really good game speed,” said Lofton, a former NFL assistant coach hired to coach Evans on the finer points of the position. “Is Larry Fitzgerald real fast? Is Anquan Boldin real fast? I would venture to say Mike is probably faster than those two guys. Is he Jacoby Jones fast? Probably not. Jacoby Jones ran 4.34 at the combine.
“All I know is: If I’m playing defensive back, I’m hoping I’ve got help over the top if [Evans is] playing out there.”
Evans stands 6-foot-5, weighs 225 pounds and runs faster than most think.
He averaged 20.2 yards per catch last season, the highest average of any receiver in FBS with at least 45 catches. He had a nation-leading 17 catches of 30 yards and ranked second nationally with 28 catches of 20-plus yards. In 2012, his redshirt freshman season, Evans had 18 catches of at least 20 yards, including seven of 30-plus.
Evans projects as a first-rounder, possibly a top-10 choice. Mock drafts have him going anywhere and everywhere from Tampa Bay at No. 7 to Detroit at No. 10 to Pittsburgh at No. 15.
Evans always dreamed of being a top pick, but in basketball, not football. He starred in hoops at Galveston Ball High School and received a late scholarship offer from the University of Texas in that sport. Football, though, became his first love after his return to the field as a senior following a three-year hiatus.
The Aggies signed a raw talent who morphed into one of the top receivers in the country. He ended his two-year career starting all 26 games and becoming Johnny Manziel’s favorite target. Evans caught 151 passes for 2,499 yards and 17 touchdowns.
“He’s going to be an even better pro than he was as a college player,” said Manziel, who rented a house with Evans in San Diego while preparing for the May 8 draft. “He’s an extremely dedicated and hungry guy. He has a different hunger than I have because his situation is so different than mine. It’s a common story about people who come from nothing and get to the NFL and want to provide for their family.
“He really loves the game of football. I think he’s angry at how much he’s been disrespected. He was a two-star prospect who was a basketball star. He’s a special talent. He’s got a great work ethic. The sky’s the limit for him — an absolute All-Pro in my mind.”
Evans, 20, remembers his father, Mike Evans Jr., with every step he takes. He also has his father’s nickname — Mickey — tattooed on his right arm. Mickey Evans was murdered when Mike was in the fourth grade.
Evans wants to be a success not only for himself but also for his mother, Heather Kilgore, and his 22-month-old daughter, Mackenzie.
“Growing up in Galveston, Texas, not too many people make it out of there,” Evans said. “I did. I had a great support system. Without them, I wouldn’t be anywhere.”
Evans is going somewhere fast, maybe faster than most think.