Sammy Watkins and Mike Evans are regarded as the top two wide receivers in this years draft class. Most draft analysts place Watkins before Evans in their rankings, but I think that certain teams will rank them differently. They are two very different receivers, and some teams might be looking for more of the traits that Evans offers over those that Watkins brings to the table.
Watkins is a quick and elusive receiver. At 6’1”, 211 pounds, Watkins has good size but also offers 4.39 40-yard dash speed. He’s more complete as a receiver than Evans, being versatile enough to line up outside, in the slot or even in the backfield. He has the speed to take simple plays for big gains.
Here, Watkins lines up outside. This is just a basic screen play, designed to get the ball in Watkins hands quickly and allow him to use his speed and elusiveness.
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Clemson block the screen play well, and Watkins is able to get past the line of scrimmage untouched. He gets up to speed quickly and begins to burst into the open field.
He’s eventually chased out of bounds, but not before he picks up 26 yards on the play. Most offenses are happy with a gain of four or five yards on a screen, so to pick up 26 yards speaks to Watkins ability.
Clemson moved Watkins all over the formation and often lined him up in the backfield or ran jet sweeps to him.
On this play, Watkins runs across the field in motion. The ball is snapped and then immediately dumped off to Watkins as he passes the quarterback.
As Watkins crosses the line of scrimmage, he faces an unblocked defender. But that isn’t a problem for Watkins, who simply cuts sharply inside to avoid the tackle.
After passing the first down marker, Watkins walks through an arm tackle to continue his run.
Watkins gets taken out of bounds, but only after picking up another big gain. The open-field elusiveness is exceptional from Watkins. That play should have been a three yard gain at most, with an unblocked defender in position to make the play. But Watkins makes one cut and turns it into a huge gain.
But Watkins offers more than quick plays from behind the line of scrimmage. He’s also a good route runner that can run the entire route tree. His speed makes him a legitimate deep threat to the defense.
This play is designed to take advantage of man coverage. Watkins lines up in the slot and runs a wheel route up the sideline. The outside receiver will run a post route to create traffic for the corner covering Watkins.
As Watkins works outside, the corner is cut off by the post route. That gives Watkins a step and makes him and easy touchdown throw.
But the quarterback under-throws the ball, forcing Watkins to make an adjustment back to the ball and giving the defender a chance to recover. Watkins does a fantastic job high-pointing the ball over the top of the corner, instead of waiting for it to come to him.
Watkins will be a fantastic weapon in most NFL offenses, but a creative offensive coordinator that is willing to move him around to create the best match ups will maximize his potential. But some teams already have a shifty receiver like Watkins and need a big guy to partner him on the other side. Those are the teams that will favor Evans.
Evans is a huge bodied receiver, measuring in at 6’5”, 231 pounds. Combine that size with a 37” vertical jump and you have a massive catching radius. Quarterbacks love a receiver that they can throw the ball up to and trust they will go up and get it. Johnny Manziel made plenty of spectacular plays, but a lot of them wouldn’t have been so impressive if Evans wasn’t the receiver on the end of them.
Here, Manziel has just pulled off another one of his trademark scrambles from the pocket and spots Evans down-field. Evans has a defender tight to him, but Manziel decides to lob it up to him anyway.
By the time the ball arrives, Evans has two more defenders closing in on him, along with the defender that was already covering him. But Evans uses every bit of that 6’5” frame and 37” vertical to go up and high-point the football and shield it from the defenders. Evans pulls in the grab and gets knocked out of bounds on the three yard line. It’s worth noting, Texas A&M were down by 14 with just 30 seconds left in the game at this point, but that didn’t stop Evans from giving his all to go up and get the ball.
This is what Evans is all about. He’ll probably be limited to just a few routes early in his career. I doubt many teams will move him around and line him up in the slot like they would Watkins. But if you put Evans on the outside and let him run slants, go routes and back-shoulder fades, then you’ll get the most out of him.
Evans lines up on the numbers on this play. Manziel is looking to hit him on the back-shoulder fade.
Despite being well covered, Manziel puts the ball in the air, trusting Evans to come down with it. Evans does an excellent job locating the ball in the air and making adjustments to it.
Evans twists his body in the air to shield the ball away from the defender. The defender couldn’t have had any better coverage, but the placement of the throw combined with Evans size to shield the ball away from him makes it almost impossible to cover.
Manziel and Evans linked up like his every game. The back-shoulder fade is becoming increasing popular in the NFL because its incredibly difficult to stop if executed correctly. Not many receivers coming out of college will have run this play as often or as effectively as Evans has.
Watkins and Evans are two very different receivers. While many will have Watkins ahead of Evans, I don’t doubt that there are teams that are looking for a taller, more physical receiver and have Evans ranked higher. Either way, both should be gone very early in the first round and both will make their new quarterbacks very happy.