2023 NFL Draft Rookie Profile: Zach Evans (Fantasy Football)
By now, we all know that Bijan Robinson is a generational prospect and will be the first running back selected in the 2023 NFL Draft. Three years ago, Zach Evans was considered only slightly behind Bijan as a five-star high school recruit. Their paths have had different trajectories over the past three years. In this article, let’s take a closer look at the up-and-down journey that Evans has been on over those three years
Editors Note: This article is part of our Rookie Profile series going on until the 2023 NFL Draft. For more on each rookie, check out Andy, Mike, and Jason’s exclusive rookie rankings and production profiles found only in the Dynasty Pass, part of the UDK+ for 2023.
|Year||School||Games||Attempts||Yards||Yards/Att||Rush TDs||Rec||Receiving Yards||Yards/Rec||Rec TDs|
Evans was one of the highest-rated high school football players in his class. In fact, according to 247 Sports, he was the second-ranked running back of the class behind only Bijan Robinson. He shined in the Under Armour All-America Game, earning MVP honors. He initially committed to play college football at the University of Georgia but was eventually released from his commitment there. He ended up committing to play for Gary Patterson at TCU, becoming the first five-star recruit in school history.
Even as a touted recruit, he was not handed the starting job. His 415 rushing yards were third on the team behind Darwin Barlow (428) and quarterback Max Duggan (526). He was dominant to start his sophomore campaign, averaging 7.9 yards/carry and scoring five touchdowns over his first five games. Unfortunately, he suffered a turf toe injury in the sixth game that ended up costing him the rest of the season. The injury also opened up more opportunities for Kendre Miller, another back that is expected to get selected in the upcoming NFL Draft. Evans entered the transfer portal after his sophomore season, ultimately heading to play for Ole Miss.
Evans had his most productive season yet in 2022 with Ole Miss, playing in the SEC no less. As productive as he was, Evans was easily outproduced by teammate Quinshon Judkins, who rushed for over 1,500 yards and 16 touchdowns in the same backfield. After his up and down three collegiate seasons, Evans declared for the NFL Draft.
|Height||Weight||40-Yard Dash*||Three-cone*||Broad Jump*||Breakout Age|
*Recorded at Ole Miss Pro Day
Evans was listed at 215 pounds on the Ole Miss roster but weighed in significantly lighter at 202 pounds at the combine. That makes him slightly undersized compared to the average NFL RB1, as noted in the UDK+ Production Profiles. He did not participate in any athletic testing at the combine due to a hamstring injury. However, he was good to go at the Ole Miss pro day at the end of March. His 4.45 second forty time would have been more impressive if he had recorded it at the combine instead, but it’s still a good number. There is little doubt that Evans has the physical traits needed to play running back in the NFL.
What’s on Tape
Games Viewed: Texas (2021), Texas Tech (2021), Auburn (2022), Texas A&M (2022), Troy (2022), Alabama (2022), Georgia Tech (2022), Kentucky (2022)
1. Evans has a great combination of vision and footwork
When watching Evans on tape, it quickly became clear that he is a great natural runner of the ball. He has the patience to let the play develop in front of him and then burst through the hole when it appears. If that hole happens to appear away from its designed gap, Evans has the vision and footwork to change course and take advantage. His film was littered with examples of him cutting to an opening on the backside of a play, like the one seen in the clip below.
2. He has no problem lowering his shoulder and finishing a run strong
Evans would never be categorized as a power back, but that doesn’t mean he can’t be powerful. He routinely lowers his shoulder and falls forward when tackled. The clip below is just one example of him initiating contact and running over a defensive back.
3. Shotgun snaps
Every clip I watched of Evans featured the offense running out of shotgun or pistol formations. The TCU and Ole Miss offenses frequently used him on zone-read runs, which are an ideal fit for his run style. That style of offense has its place in the NFL, but it isn’t featured nearly as much as it is in the schemes that Evans played in.
What’s NOT on Tape
1. Dominating a backfield
Evans never owned a backfield over his three collegiate seasons. Even his most productive season was overshadowed by a true freshman at Ole Miss. His 25% team rushing attempt share is the lowest in the class, right behind Roschon Johnson at 26%. There doesn’t seem to be any specific reason that Evans can’t take over a backfield, but it’s concerning that he was never able to do so at the college level.
Evans wasn’t asked to catch many passes in college, and he wasn’t great at it when he was. The passes that went his way were simple screens and swing passes. In total, he brought in 30 receptions over three seasons and was credited with five drops. He isn’t likely to be utilized much as a pass-catcher at the next level.
3. Anything at an elite level
Evans does a lot of things really well, but nothing on film popped as elite. He’s a smooth runner that hits holes and finishes runs falling forward but doesn’t bring much else to the table. His PFF elusiveness rating of 86 was 68th amongst qualified rushers last season, and his 36 missed tackles forced ranked 76th.
Despite his pedigree as a five-star recruit, Evans feels like a player that has never quite lived up to his potential. He projects to be a day-three pick in the NFL draft, which gives him a wide range of outcomes for fantasy football. His best-case scenario for 2023 is to land on a team that can use him as part of a committee. He could also be a solid backup to a more established veteran, giving him time to learn and grow into becoming a potential starter in future seasons. He won’t be handed a starting job, giving him little value in redraft leagues when August rolls around. He’s more appealing in dynasty rookie drafts, where he’s part of a deep but relatively average class of running backs after Bijan Robinson. He’s another low-risk, high-reward back in the 2023 running back class.