Ole Miss running back Zach Evans has had a rough path to the 2023 NFL Draft.
He transferred from TCU to Ole Miss prior to the 2022 season after two disappointing years at TCU. But then Ole Miss had a disappointing 2022 season while TCU rode a 13-2 record to the College Football Playoffs national championship.
Then, Evans suffered a hamstring injury shortly before the 2023 NFL Scouting Combine and was unable to work out. He’s clearly an athletic and competitive player on the field, but wasn’t able to compete at the Combine and raise his profile with his workout. But Evans has the traits to help a team at the NFL level, particularly one that’s adept at manipulating the defense.
The New York Giants may yet invest in the running back position, so could Evans’ tough-minded running style appeal?
Prospect: Zach Evans (6)
Games Watched: vs. Troy (2022), vs. Georgia Tech (2022), vs. Auburn (2022), vs. Texas A&M (2022)
Red Flags: hamstring (2023)
Weight: 202 pounds
Arm length: 31 5/8 inches
Hand size: 10 1⁄4 inches
Games Played: 27
Yards (YPC): 1,999 (6.9 per carry)
Yards (YPC): 325 (10.8 per catch)
Total Touchdowns (rushing/receiving): 20 (18 rushing, 2 receiving)
Games Played: 12
Yards (YPC): 936 (6.5 per carry)
Yards (YPC): 119 (9.9 per catch)
Total Touchdowns (rushing/receiving): 10 (9 rushing, 1 receiving)
Best: Vision, burst, competitive toughness, contact balance, athleticism
Worst: Pass protection, receiving, play strength
Projection: A rotational running back in a spread-based offense.
Ole Miss running back Zach Evans is a tough-minded and athletic downhill runner.
He is slightly undersized compared to the current trends among NFL teams for starting running backs. Evans is 5-foot-11, 202 pounds, but is a very tough runner who doesn’t shy away from contact or finishing his runs by delivering hits to defenders.
Evans primarily ran out of the shotgun formation in Mississippi’s spread offense, though at times he split out as a receiver as well. He’s a fairly patient runner behind the line of scrimmage, who does a good job of waiting for his linemen to establish their blocks. While Evans isn’t a particularly nuanced runner, he understands how to alter his path to affect defenders. He uses his path behind the line of scrimmage to help set up his blockers before using a good jump-cut to attack his intended hole.
Evans has a very good burst through the hole and is able to alter his speed on the fly to force defenders to take bad angles. He has very good vision in the backfield and in space, allowing him to make those alterations, as well as drop his hips and change his center of gravity to run through glancing blows.
Evans’ burst, toughness, and contact balance allow him to effectively run between the tackles, and he has enough speed to gain the edge in off-tackle runs as well.
Whether between the tackles, off-tackle, at the line of scrimmage, or at the second level, Evans runs with great toughness. He routinely picks up yards after contact and consistently falls forward to maximize his YAC when being tackled.
While Evans was split out at receiver, and put in space as a check-down option, he has little experience catching the ball. He has big hands (and not just for his size), but he doesn’t appear comfortable catching passes. He will “fight” the ball and isn’t a natural “hands” catcher. Likewise, there are some questions regarding his ball security after three fumbles in 2022. Those fumbles could be the result of Evans fighting for extra yardage, but it’s something teams will need to investigate.
Evans was also more commonly used in “scat protection” as a checkdown option than as a pass protector at Ole Miss. When he was in pass protection, he seemed to know where to go, but didn’t really “attack” defenders with the same aggression with which he runs.
Overall Grade: 6.7
Ole Miss running back Zach Evans projects as a rotational running back in an offense that is based on spread principles, at least to start his career.
Evans is a tough one-cut downhill runner who hits the hole hard and fast, and should excel between the 20s and when the offense forces a light box on the defense. Evans has the vision and burst to exploit quickly closing holes, enough contact balance to run through arm tackles, and is very good at forcing opponents to take bad angles. Teams could also consider him for short-yardage situations, as his burst is an asset when the game speeds up.
Teams may want Evans to become a reliable and practiced pass protector before putting him on the field on third downs. Likewise, his inexperience as a receiver will likely be a knock on him, as teams increasingly use running backs in the passing game.
Evans will likely have to distinguish himself on special teams before he sees the field on offense. Teams might want to try him as a kick returner, at least in camp. His questionable hands are a concern here, but his vision, acceleration, and toughness could lend themselves to a dangerous kick returner.