The Tampa Bay Buccaneers added a safety in the second round of the 2017 NFL draft, but it wasn’t who you thought it would be. They took Texas A&M’s Justin Evans, a slightly undersized but speedy defensive back whose name I hadn’t really seen mentioned around the Bucs.
Tampa Bay had been repeatedly connected to Obi Melifonwu and Budda Baker, but the latter was gone and the former is falling a long, long way. Evans was a bit of an unknown, though, so we don’t have a ton of information on him. When that happens, it’s always a good idea to look at what the scouts are saying.
So let’s start with Lance Zierlein of NFL.com, who does so much work on every relevant prospect, it’s ridiculous. Long story short: he needs to add more weight and misses too many tackles, but he hits, throws his body around and has the range and talent to be a quality deep safety.
Soft-spoken but carries a walloping stick. Plays the game with an elevated sense of urgency and excitement. He is a little undersized, but has plus speed, is an extremely physical hitter and can play deep or near the line of scrimmage. Athleticism and ball skills might lead a team to test him out as a slot corner. Regardless of where he plays, he has the talent to become a plus NFL starter and a potential Day 2 (Rounds 2-3) draft selection.
That more or less fits what Bob McGinn of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel heard from his collection of scouts, who never seem to completely agree on any prospect.
Played better in 2015 than in ’16. “You’ve got to love his very reckless style,” one scout said. “Throws his body around. Supports the run. Misses a lot of tackles. There’s going to be a role for this guy. He should be a heck of a special-teams player as well.” Out of Wiggins, Miss., he started out with two seasons in junior college. Wonderlic of 25. “Better version of (Alabama’s Eddie) Jackson,” said another scout. “Good athlete, not a special athlete. He will mix it up. Probably be a backup who ends up being one of those bargain starters.”
Everything is full speed all the time for Evans, which is both a positive and negative trait. While he demonstrates outstanding range, both from a traditional cover-1 alignment on passing plays and against runs in front, he is too often out of control and unable to adjust once in attack mode. When he is in position in coverage, he does an outstanding job of turning and locating the ball in the air, and is able to consistently reach around for break-ups without going through or wrapping his back hand around his man and taking interference penalties.
Basically, Evans is a highly talented, somewhat reckless safety who will make a ton of splash plays, miss a few too many tackles, and needs to learn to calm down a little at the NFL level. If the Bucs can get him to do that, they might have a special player. If they can’t, they will at minimum have a quality special teamer who could do some work in sub packages on defense.