Last week, we took a look at an elite safety prospect in Ohio State’s Malik Hooker. He’s everything you want from a potential free safety: athleticism, range, instincts, tackling ability, and love of the game. The only problem is that he’s likely a top-10 pick, and the Falcons are picking 31st overall. These are the problems that arise when your team makes the Super Bowl.
But, what if I told you there was another safety prospect out there that had athleticism, range, instincts, and a love of the game? What if I told you that player could likely be had with our third round pick? Sure, he’s not quite the elite prospect that Hooker is, but he isn’t going to demand an elite pick.
That player is Justin Evans. He’s got great athleticism and impressive range to go along with a physical style of play and a ball-hawking attitude in the secondary. Let’s take a closer look at his game.
S Justin Evans
Evans is a supremely talented athlete that displays exceptional range at the safety position. He's a smooth, easy mover with good speed and lateral agility to keep up with receivers down the field. Evans is an acrobat in the air, with an ability to make plays on the ball that are quite rare, even in the NFL. He reads the QB well and is a dangerous lurker, with the instincts to jump routes crossing into his zone and the awareness to corral loose or poorly thrown balls.
Evans is a physical player that goes for the big hit on every play. When he connects, he's clearly a powerful player, particularly when coming downhill. He's displayed versatility by playing both single-high and in-the-box, as well as on special teams as a kick and punt returner. Evans also has the ability to succeed in both zone and man coverage, and was occasionally matched up one-on-one with slot WRs. Coaches rave about his high football character and passion for the game.
Coverage technique is middling--Evans seems to mostly rely on his athleticism to stick with receivers. Savvy route runners or bigger, physical players can still give him fits. His tackling technique is quite poor, but not due to lack of effort. Tends to lead with shoulder to lay the wood but fails to wrap-up, allowing opponents to escape. Evans also needs to improve the angles he takes to the ball. Will often overshoot runners heading his way or come in behind receivers after the catch.
Evans is undersized to play in the box and often was run over by bigger offensive players. He'll need to add 10-15 lbs. to play that role consistently in the NFL. He struggles to get off blocks by stronger or bigger players on screens and downfield plays. Evans is clearly a developmental player at this point in his career and will likely need a year to adjust his game and body to the NFL before being thrust into a starting role.
Grade: 3 (3rd round)
Dan Quinn has made it abundantly clear that he is looking for players that fit the “fast and physical” mantra he has established in Atlanta. Evans, to me, clearly fulfills that requirement. He’s a special athlete with exceptional ball skills who doesn’t shy away from contact.
Evans isn’t a finished product. He needs work, particularly with his tackling technique, but we’ve seen Quinn improve the tackling of many players on the roster. Deion Jones was knocked for being a poor tackler coming out of the draft (remember him getting trucked by Jake Coker?), but Jones never lacked physicality. Evans is the same way. You can teach a player better technique, but you can’t teach someone to love dishing out big hits.
With the Falcons having a solid starter in Ricardo Allen, Evans is a logical choice to take in the mid-rounds. Evans can spend his first season as quality depth (and perhaps even compete for the returner role) while improving his tackling and coverage technique. To get a player with his range, instincts, and ball-hawking ability in Atlanta could be a major boon in years to come.
What do you think about Evans? Is he potentially worth a Day 2 pick for the Falcons? Who are some other mid-round safety prospects that you think the Falcons could target?