The near-term future of offensive linemen may simply be in peril. That’s not a statement specifically directed at the LA Rams, but the sport of football in general. And if the tackles and guards keep getting worse just as the edges and interior pass rushers are getting better, mobile quarterbacks with a quick release and speedy running backs who can forced missed tackles may be more valuable than ever.
In which case, many teams could be in trouble.
The Rams are looking for at least three starting offensive linemen to appear by the start of next season. They don’t have any plan at left tackle other than Andrew Whitworth (and if the 39-year-old misses any amount of time, the problems are exacerbated to levels we can’t comprehend right now) but the other four positions will have camp battles. We can it ‘very likely’ that Rob Havenstein starts and ‘probable’ that Austin Blythe is somewhere too.
But perhaps the best case scenario for right tackle is not Havenstein, but second-year pro Bobby Evans. Were Evans to beat Havenstein for the job, an outcome that seemed likely at times towards the end of 2019, then maybe Sean McVay will get an upgrade at two positions for the price of one, with Havenstein sliding inside to guard.
Maybe the biggest thing standing between Evans and success at tackle is simply that he is an offensive tackle at all.
Bobby Evans was Rivals’ 25th-ranked offensive tackle in the 2015 recruiting class out of Allen High School in Allen, Texas. He was 6’5, 270 pounds, and in spite of his massive size had the smile of someone who is going to be “the fun uncle” at the family picnic one day.
Typically when you see that a player is ranked 25th at his position five years ago that there are a number of pros ahead of him on that list. Let’s take a quick glance at the wide receivers ranked in the top-25 in 2015: Calvin Ridley, Christian Kirk, Van Jefferson, Miles Boykin, K.J. Hill, Auden Tate
Weakside defensive ends: Josh Sweat, Clelin Ferrell, Darrell Taylor, Arden Key, Charles Omenihu.
Defensive tackles: Da’Ron Payne, Christian Wilkins, Neville Gallimore, Jerry Tillery
But of the 24 offensive tackles ranked ahead of Evans in 2015, I don’t recognize any names. It doesn’t mean that they’re nobody, but I think I’m fairly aware of what’s going on and there weren’t any players I’ve seen drafted this year or remember getting drafted in the previous two years. Don’t worry, I did my research.
The top-ranked tackle (Martez Ivey) most recently played in the XFL. Austin Clark (8th) gave up football only one year after going to Virginia Tech. Jack Jones (6th) had a neck injury in 2018 that ended his career. Then there’s Grant Newsome, the 12th-ranked tackle of 2015: he intentionally took a bad hit to his knee against T.J. Watt and Wisconsin in 2016 and the decision nearly cost him his leg and he too retired. And out of 24, I can find seven players who have made the league:
Tyree St. Louis, Mitch Hyatt, Keaton Sutherland, Ryan Bates, and Willie Sweet were undrafted free agent signings. Isaiah Prince was a sixth round pick and was waived as a rookie. Dru Samia was a fourth round pick of the Minnesota Vikings last year and it appears he may have gotten snaps in one or two games.
I think that gives us perspective on two fronts: One is that believe it or not, Bobby Evans emerged from that top-25 as the highest-drafted player in the class when he went to the LA Rams 97th overall last year. And number two is trying to understand the reason behind that.
That either scouting good high school tackles is more difficult than ever or that colleges aren’t doing a good job of developing them or that the finite amount of “big man talent” that we have in America is mostly headed to the defensive side of the ball. It’s a combination of all three.
I’m not going to give you the same amount of research on the players ranked after Evans, but I’ll tell you that again, out of 60 tackles, I only recognize two names: 2020 UDFAs Trey Adams and Calvin Throckmorton. Actually, I recognize a better offensive tackle prospect when you slide over to the 2015 strongside defensive ends: Prince Tega Wanogho, a sixth round pick at tackle for the Philadelphia Eagles.
I suspect you are going to see more and more conversions from the defensive side of the ball if that’s where the talent is. but the inherent problem there is that if they are really talented then they’re too successful at rushing the passer to then switch them over to offense and expect a dramatically different result as far as value.
I say all that to say that if Bobby Evans succeeds, if any offensive linemen succeeds, he is overcoming longer odds today than maybe ever before in football. Especially if that offensive lineman isn’t a first round pick. In the last 10 years, 346 offensive linemen have been drafted between rounds 2-7. Of those, there are 14 players who have made a Pro Bowl. Just nine of those have made multiple Pro Bowls. Just four of those were drafted later than Evans was drafted. And only one player in the last decade in this group was drafted later than Evans (which wasn’t all that late, as you’ll soon see) and made multiple Pro Bowls: David Bakhtiari.
Making a Pro Bowl is not the benchmark of being “good” and many players make a Pro Bowl when others were more deserving, but it is fair to say that colleges haven’t produced many elite offensive linemen in the last decade and especially not after day one.
Evans was the 25th-ranked offensive tackle in 2015 and out of more than 80 names on the list, he actually has a chance to emerge as the best NFL lineman in that group. Yes, I’m talking about the Bobby Evans on the Rams. Who was the Bobby Evans prior to that?
Evans grew up in a die-hard Oklahoma Sooners household in Allen, Texas. His father, Bobby Joe Evans, was a Texas high school basketball star in the mid-90s and he went on to have a short career playing for Oklahoma (5.6 points per game over two seasons), but to be fair he had two kids in that time. Bobby was born in March, ‘97, and he also has an older brother, Tay.
The pair played at Allen High School, one of the most dominant football programs in the country. Not only were the Evans’ brothers highly-ranked prospects in their respective classes, Tay a senior linebacker and Bobby a junior tackle in 2013, but teammate Greg Little was the top-ranked tackle in the country for 2016 and for some, the top overall player in the nation. That’s not all.
Little and Evans were blocking for an elite baseball prospect: Kyler Murray.
In 2019, Allen High School had more players drafted in the first two days of the draft than any college in Texas did.
Their selections mark a staggering three former Allen standouts to have been picked through the first three rounds in the 2019 draft. For comparison’s sake, Texas A&M and TCU both had two players selected during the first three rounds – the only colleges in Texas to do so.
But first came choosing a college, which wasn’t even a thought process for Tay and Bobby Evans. The sons of Bobby Joe both committed to Oklahoma in 2013 and at the time Tay was probably a better prospect, or at least a more well-known one as Bobby hadn’t had much time with varsity yet.
Also along for the trip was Bobby, who, despite not receiving an offer at the same time as his brother, was on the Sooners’ radar.
“I called them afterwards and they said that they wanted to meet me personally,” Bobby said. “He said I seemed like the kind of guy that he would want to offer, but he had to meet me in person.”
Eight days after Tay’s commitment, Bobby made the trip to Norman for an unofficial visit. Also weighing interest from Ole Miss, Texas Tech and Oregon State, those schools fell by the wayside the moment the Sooners made an offer.
“I wasn’t even thinking they were going to offer me, but when they did that was really cool,” Bobby said. “I think me and my brother have a chance to do something pretty special together.”
Bobby’s commitment comes on the heels of a sophomore campaign where he emerged as a diamond in the rough for the Eagles. Not called up to varsity until the playoffs, Bobby served as a blocking tight end for Allen and immediately earned playing time en route to the Eagles’ Class 5A Division I State Championship.
Although varsity film on Bobby is scarce, scouts took notice as the 6-foot-5, 240-pounder ranks No. 210 in the Class of 2015 ESPN national rankings.
“With a lot of kids, I think some of them get offered early and feel like their job is done and they don’t have to work as hard anymore,” Bobby said. “I’ve got to keep working to make sure I keep that scholarship.”
After Tay left for Oklahoma (Tay Evans dealt with injuries and recorded 18 tackles over two seasons in Norman and his current job is rooting for the Sooners and his brother), Evans became a key blocker for Murray, who committed to Texas A&M in May, 2014 to play football and baseball. I can’t say for sure what Evans’ involvement in all these games was because people don’t track linemen like they track QBs who win Gatorade Football Player of the Year, but Murray went 42-0 in high school with three straight state championships in Texas. And Evans was there too.
Here’s tape of Evans as Murray’s left tackle:
And here’s bonus tape of him as a tight end prospect:
Going into college, Evans was listed at 265 pounds, needing to either perhaps bulk up to become a tackle or slim down and become more aerodynamic and fast to be a tight end.
At 6’5, 265 pounds, Evans has plenty of necessary development before he ends up as an offensive tackle in college, making him a developmental project at the next level.
Evans made the move to left tackle as a junior after working as a blocking tight end as a sophomore and appeared to noticeably add mass to his lower body, which helped him drive block opponents off the line of scrimmage. In fact, Evans has good strength for his size, as many high school offensive tackles at his weight struggle to create displacement.
His mobility that allows him to pull and acquire defenders in space also makes him an effective pass protector because of his body quickness. And once he gets his hands placed and extended, it’s difficult for opponents to disengage.
He enrolled early at Oklahoma (as a tackle) but that didn’t stop him from redshirting in 2015. As a redshirt freshman the next year, Evans ended up starting 12 games at right tackle opposite of Orlando Brown, a player who similarly emerged as a better NFL prospect than he was a college prospect. Brown may also, perfectly enough, be the best third round tackle draft pick of at least the last 10 years.
Evans was an honorable mention All-Big 12 pick, as well as making the Academic team, in both 2016 and 2017. The pair bookended the offensive line for quarterback Baker Mayfield in both seasons as the team went 23-4, the second of which came in the first year of the Lincoln Riley era. That offense in 2017 featured Mayfield winning the Heisman, Marquise Brown and CeeDee Lamb at receiver, Mark Andrews at tight end, and an offensive line room with at least five future NFL players.
Oh, and the backup was Kyler Murray.
Wanting to escape a situation with the Aggies and head coach Kevin Sumlin, Murray transferred to Oklahoma, joining his former left tackle (slash tight end) in high school.
You could’ve gone to a number of places. Why did you choose to transfer to Oklahoma?
Murray: It was a no-brainer for me with Coach (Bob) Stoops, Coach Lincoln (Riley). Just the trust I had in them, the stability here. Coach Linc is one of, if not the best OC in the country. Then you look at the guys around you that you’re playing with. We have all the talent in the world here. Add that with Coach Schmitty (strength coach Jerry Schmidt) in the weight room and it doesn’t get much better. Playing in a city like Norman, where it’s all about Oklahoma football. A no-brainer for me.
Before Murray would take over for Mayfield in 2018 and win a Heisman of his own, Evans was making strides as a right tackle and perhaps one with higher upside than Brown.
With his family cheering him on, it’s already been a special season for Evans, who OU coaches say is grading out as well as anyone on the offensive line, including mammoth NFL draft prospect Orlando Brown.
Evans was a starter last season as a freshman, but Brown says he’s seen Evans make two years’ worth of progress in one offseason. Evans says he knew he was reaching a new level when fiery offensive line coach Bill Bedenbaugh started yelling at him more.
“Bobby is just so steady,” coach Lincoln Riley said last week. “He’s kind of sneaky good. Orlando gets a lot of the attention out there, and rightfully so. He’s a great player. But Bobby’s been just as valuable.”
But after Evans’ redshirt sophomore season, with Brown now as a rookie tackle on the Baltimore Ravens set to start blocking for Lamar Jackson soon enough, expectations were high that Bobby’s move to the left side would result in a boost to his draft stock for NFL teams. I didn’t have to look far to find a “way too early mock draft” (which are very useful, you’ll see) that had Evans getting drafted in the first round.
CBS Sports projected him to the San Francisco 49ers at pick 18.
Riding high expectations in 2018, the Sooners ended up making the College Football Playoffs behind the Heisman performance of Murray, who threw for 42 touchdowns, seven interceptions, 4,361 yards, and rushing for 1,001 yards and 12 touchdowns. Evans and company also blocked for Kennedy Brooks (1,056 rushing yards, 12 touchdowns) and Trey Sermon (947 rushing yards, 13 touchdowns) that season. The Oklahoma offensive line won the Joe Moore Award for the best o-line in the country.
Oklahoma was the number one scoring team in the nation at 48.4 points per game (in the Big-12) and 101st in points allowed. They spotted Alabama a 28-0 lead in the Orange Bowl though and couldn’t complete the comeback. Evans had started the whole season at left tackle, displaying durability and versatility over his three years with the team.
He declared for the draft on January 9, 2019.
Oklahoma OT Bobby Evans Jr. is leaving school and turning pro: pic.twitter.com/KUILxEezdN— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) January 9, 2019
Five days later, Murray declared for the draft, making it clear by that point that as a legitimate NFL prospect now that he would forego his other opportunity to be one of the top-ranked prospects for the Oakland A’s, who had selected him with the ninth overall pick in the 2018 MLB draft.
Over at Walter Football, Evans was ranked as the 20th-best offensive tackle prospect in the 2019 NFL Draft, projected go to “rounds 4-6.”
4/24/19: Evans was an okay college blocker, but when I spoke to team sources, they weren’t high on him for the NFL. They saw Evans as more of a third-day pick even though he had received some projections of going in the top half of the 2019 NFL Draft. While he played left tackle for Oklahoma, sources say that Evans moves like a right tackle and does not have left-tackle athleticism. He also is not powerful, and that makes him a poor fit at right tackle in the NFL for running the ball. Evans will probably have to move inside to guard as a pro, but he is going to need developmental time to get stronger. Evans looks like a pick for Day 3 during the 2019 NFL Draft.
He was ranked behind such players as:
- 3. Cody Ford, his college teammate at Oklahoma
- 5. Greg Little, his high school teammate at Allen
- 11. David Edwards, a respected run blocker from Wisconsin
- 16. Ryan Bates, remember him?
- 19. Mitch Hyatt, remember him?
SI agreed, also ranking him 20th. All of those players were still ranked ahead of him, but they minced words a bit on his abilities in run blocking.
He was a little better at right tackle his sophomore year than he was at left tackle last year. Evans is at his best mauling in the run game and could end up inside, but his length (343⁄4-inch arms) mitigates his lack of elite athleticism and gives him a chance to stay at tackle.
CBS Sports had him 17th and in the “useful swing tackles, depth, developmental blockers” tier.
But one place that was higher on Evans than those publications was ProFootballFocus. They ranked Evans 12th in the class, noting that he allowed “just 20 total pressures across his 441 pass-blocking snaps in 2018” and that he he earned similar grades as a right tackle in 2016 and 2017.
One place he could have changed some minds, better or worse, was at the 2019 NFL Scouting Combine. Perhaps surprising athleticism, or more length than expected, would boost his stock. Instead, I can’t say that much was gained.
Evans measured 6’4, 213 pounds, ran a 5.2 in the 40-yard dash, and did 22 reps on the bench. Evans was listed among the guards, his projected NFL position, and he was tied for fourth-fastest in the 40, but his reps were towards the bottom of those who did the bench, and he didn’t participate in any other drills. He is roughly the same height, weight, and speed of Zack Martin, but also plenty of players who aren’t great.
Most of them definitely are interior offensive linemen. There aren’t many tackles who are the size that Evans was as the combine.
What Evans did gain perhaps was a little bit of that length he desired: 34.75” arms. That may give him an edge necessary to maybe compete at right tackle at the next level. NFL.com compared him to Daryl Williams, a starting right tackle for the Carolina Panthers. Tackle? Guard? Center?
The LA Rams were interested.
13 offensive linemen were drafted in the first two rounds, including Little and Ford going back-to-back at 37 and 38. In round three, after 32 players and four more offensive linemen were drafted, the Rams picked Bobby Evans with the 97th overall pick in the 2019 NFL Draft.
During the pick, they call Evans “sticky at the second level” but a solid, pulling run blocker. He was the Rams fourth pick of the draft and in the fifth round they would pick David Edwards, the tackle out of Wisconsin.
At the time he was drafted, there were not many expectations for Evans to contribute as a rookie. LA was most set at the two tackle positions, but there also wasn’t nearly as much concern for another season of Austin Blythe at right guard. Joseph Noteboom, a third round pick a year before Evans, would end up winning the job at left guard.
Evans had to wait his turn at Allen. He had to wait his turn at Oklahoma. He worked with some of the best tackles at those levels both times. And now he was going to be taking notes from Andrew Whitworth. It wasn’t a bad situation, even if it was one where again he would have to wait.
“Coming out and being on the same field as these guys like Aaron Donald and all those guys, it’s crazy. Like, ‘Wow, these guys are superstars, but I’m on the same field as them.’ So it’s been a pretty cool experience,” Evans said.
Evans also talked about the Rams’ offensive line group and the guys like Andrew Whitworth and Rob Havenstein, who he’ll be learning from.
“I know that I respect their game and those are some big ole’ dudes – like 6-foot-6, 6-foot-7,” Evans said. “I respect them a lot and I know they’ve been playing ball a while, so just to learn from them is a good experience.”
Les Snead was most excited about his versatility when he selected Evans.
“We still needed depth, so that’s where we added Evans tonight. And he’s the guy who’s played right and left tackle for Oklahoma, and as you know, Aaron Kromer – he’s going to slide him in at left guard and right guard, too. So, there’s some versatility there. He’s a really smart and intelligent player there that can learn all four,” Snead said after Day 2.
“Any time a guy can play two positions like that, starting right and going to the left, you got to love his versatility and his athleticism that he’s showing,” Kromer said following the third-round selection.
But Snead and Sean McVay saw 2019 as purely a developmental year for Evans and Edwards, but as often happens in football, that wasn’t going to be possible because of injuries.
After making the final-53 as one of the three o-line backups next to Edwards and Jamil Demby, Evans stayed out of the games until October 20 against the Atlanta Falcons. He played four snaps in that game on offense and nine on special teams. He’s play the next week on special teams, but it wasn’t until November 17 that Evans would have to be counted on as a starting NFL tackle.
An injury to Havenstein forced McVay to start Evans at right tackle against the Chicago Bears. His first assignment: Khalil Mack. The Rams allowed zero sacks and won 17-7.
Evans started the final seven games of the season at right tackle, playing in every snap over that period of time save for a few in Week 16 against the San Francisco 49ers. Other than a 45-6 loss to the Ravens, LA was able to put up points like they were accustomed to before Evans.
“I’ve been really impressed with him, you look at some of the players that he’s gone against, the caliber of big-time guys and the way that he’s been able to perform,” McVay said. “He’s got great play energy. If you watch him, the excitement, the way that he helps his teammates up, finishes blocks, gets excited when guys score. He’s got a nice enthusiasm about himself that you get excited about. I’ve been very pleased with Bobby.”
"They got dogs up front across the board. So, you really got to be mindful who you are going against."@BobbyEvans44 on facing the Seahawks defense, how the OL has progressed + more. pic.twitter.com/UL2EIsvKWh— Los Angeles Rams (@RamsNFL) December 7, 2019
Evans was an adequate player, but nobody came away with extraordinary confidence that he had a short or long-term future at right tackle. However, the Rams can instead focus on the fact that Evans was a) considered a project who needed time to develop and instead started seven ‘OK’ games and b) has probably always been more of an NFL guard than a tackle.
The performances of Evans, Edwards, Havenstein, Noteboom, Blythe, Austin Corbett, Brian Allen, and even Whitworth left LA fans wanting more o-line chips added to the pot from the 2020 NFL Draft, but Snead steered clear of that group until round seven. There is no more competition coming this year except most likely from within.
How does Evans fit within that within?
Havenstein is a clear favorite to be the starting right tackle, but obviously Kromer, McVay, and Snead had hope at the time of Evans’ selection for him to be a potential starting left or right guard anyway. The other option being that if Evans is as good as Havenstein — even if that just means that Havenstein isn’t as good as he used to be — then he could start at right tackle and Havenstein might have a higher ceiling as a guard. Plus, the team may choose to release Havenstein next year if he doesn’t bounce back, so that gives Evans more of a head start.
At guard though, not much is in Evans way if he wants to prove that he can be just as solid and versatile in the NFL as he was at Oklahoma. There’s not a single player on the roster who looks like the obvious choice to start on either the left or right side and Evans now has a few hundred professional snaps under his belt. And he only turned 23 in March.
I sense there is not a lot of hope in the ten or so guys who are competing to start on the offensive line for the Rams next year, including Evans. I would stress that there probably isn’t a ton of hope floating around for offensive lines on many teams right now. The talent there has been depleted and that is especially true of taking tackles on days two and three. But Evans has survived the 2015 recruiting class. He’s survived living the shadows of other tackles over and over again. He’s seen Little’s stock go down just as Orlando’s stock went up. I don’t know where his stock really is right now ...
But the fact that he’s still got some buying power is an accomplishment in and of itself.