Zach Evans waited far longer to hear his name called on draft day than he would’ve preferred. Heading into the draft, Evans carried a third-fourth round grade coming out of Ole Miss. That is why it was surprising for him to wait until the sixth before the Los Angeles Rams traded up to select him as the 215th overall pick in the 2023 NFL Draft.
Minor character concerns put a dent in his draft stock but LA didn’t seem fazed by it one bit. His explosive play and burst is what led the Rams to trade up for him in the sixth round. Sean McVay and Les Snead for the most part let the draft come to them. However, Evans was too good to let him slip through their fingers.
confirmation bias: mcvay and the rams letting the draft come to them with a tier-based approach, with the specific exception of zach evans and his "special traits" pic.twitter.com/t22AC0Cwgr— noah hills (@noahmoreparties) May 1, 2023
To understand Zach Evans better as a prospect, I’ll address his production in college, learning why he might’ve dropped so far in the draft and what his role in LA’s offense could be in ‘23.
From the Horned Frogs to the Rebels with love
Zach Evans began his collegiate career as a five-star recruit at TCU, the highest ever player signed in the program’s history. In just 15 games with the Horned Frogs, Evans amassed 1,063 yards and nine touchdowns on 146 carries for a 7.3 yards per carry average. When he was on the field, he looked every bit the part of a five-star athlete.
Zach Evans is TCU’s highest-rated recruit ever— Pick Six Previews (@PickSixPreviews) September 25, 2021
Certainly looks the part today, unstoppable pic.twitter.com/stRVEdyOGp
TCU Running game is all that ⬇️— D210SPORTS (@D210S) October 16, 2021
Zach Evans is the first Horned Frog since 2002 with 4 consecutive 100-yard rushing games.
Kendre Miller (7.84) & Evans (7.82) rank 1st and 2nd nationally among active players in career yds per carry average.#GoFrogs#TCUvsOU pic.twitter.com/9fDabC42DD
After two seasons in Fort Worth, Evans sent shockwaves across the campus once he announced he would be transferring to Mississippi. Maybe not so shocking in hindsight. TCU was undergoing a coaching change and Evans had Ole Miss on his list of schools before committing to the Horned Frogs. Not even legendary alum LaDainian Tomlinson could convince the young back to remove his name from the transfer portal.
“Zach has to make his own decision,” Tomlinson said via 247Sports. “But I hope to have a chance to talk and converse with him before he makes the final decision. When I was here more than 20 years ago, I threatened to transfer too. I was having a tough year and a coaching change, and I wanted to leave as well. But I didn’t. And it worked out pretty good.”
Sonny Dykes’ first season at the school was one of the most unexpected rides in college football history as TCU went an astonishing 13-2 and reached the College Football Playoff. National championship shellacking aside, the Horned Frogs were flourishing in Evans’ absence. His backup Kendre Miller was a touchdown magnet, totaling 17 scores on the ground. Miller ended up being drafted three rounds ahead of Evans by the Saints.
Funny how Zach Evans just got drafted 3 rounds lower than his TCU backup. Should've stayed home. The grass ain't always greener on the other side pic.twitter.com/nQ5qwaQrtN— Coogs R Us (@DirtySouthScout) April 30, 2023
Mississippi suffered through an inconsistent 8-5 campaign in Evans’ lone season on the team. Ole Miss began the year 7-0 before dropping five of their last six. Evans started eight of the 12 games he played in 2022, producing 144 carries for 936 yards and nine touchdowns. His rushing average of 6.5 yards per carry was tied for the 10th-highest average in the FBS. Just imagine him doing this to members of the 49ers defense:
Zach Evans introducing himself pic.twitter.com/PnVTnp5CwQ— Rams Brothers (@RamsBrothers) April 29, 2023
From my lips to God’s ears.
Cell phone gate and leaving TCU at the altar
The character concerns surrounding Zach Evans likely came from a pair of incidents in his senior year of high school. Evans missed three games total due to “disciplinary reasons”. One of those included being sent home from a state title game over cell phone usage. Yes, you read that right.
Evans got into an argument with his coaches over a violation of his team’s cell phone policy. High schoolers are on their phones all the time so this incident could be boiled down to basic immaturity. Although using it during what was his school’s biggest game of the season was a little troubling.
Colleges didn’t seem to mind as Evans had visits scheduled with Alabama, LSU, Texas A&M, Georgia, Ole Miss and Tennessee among others. He had signed a letter of intent with Georgia and had an inside track towards joining the Bulldogs. Instead, Evans continued to put off announcing where he wanted to play and Georgia had enough, removing the five-star back from his letter of intent. Georgia would be okay after this by the way for anyone who was worried about them.
The problem those in the media had with Evans is how he selected the Horned Frogs. TCU wasn’t a school he was linked to previously which is why the signing appeared suspicious. It seemed as though Evans put on his remaining options on a dartboard and went wherever it landed. TCU was the lucky victim for a couple seasons.
Evans never appeared thrilled to play in Fort Worth and was ready to ditch the school the first chance he got. Kind of like the Rams moving on from St. Louis to Los Angeles. Never thought you’d read a sentence like that on here huh? He was eying greener pastures before ever setting foot on campus. Evans may have been a five-star athlete on the field but was a one-star communicator off it.
Despite reassuring TCU’s new coaching staff multiple times that he wouldn’t transfer out of the program, Evans bolted. Rather than tell them in-person, he shifted to social media to announce his intentions to leave via this tweet:
For I know the plans I have for you, Declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.— Zach Evans (@Runzekerun01) January 6, 2022
~ Jeremiah 29:11 pic.twitter.com/thwuahRpBi
He could’ve been classier in letting his coaches know what direction he was leaning first. Communication is key at the professional ranks and Evans has to work on it thoroughly or risk being left behind. That would be a wise time to use his cell phone.
Should Cam be looking over his shoulder?
McVay and Snead traded up to get Zach Evans for a reason because they believe in the player he could become. The backfield needed a clear boost of energy even with the ascension of Cam Akers last season. Evans has remarkable speed and vision that will deepen LA’s run game. So Cam has no reason to be concerned despite the occasional social media chatter.
Zach Evans beats out Cam Akers by Week Four to take charge of the Los Angeles Rams backfield— Joey Wright (@thejoeywright) April 29, 2023
Akers and Evans will create a balanced attack behind Matthew Stafford. LA’s QB1 hasn’t had that luxury with the Rams or ever for that matter. Having a two-headed monster at running game will take the pressure off Stafford which will allow for the offense to be more dynamic.
It’s likely Evans won’t have a major role right away. I expect McVay to ease him slowly in the offense before gradually upping his usage as the season progresses. Some fans have said he runs like Todd Gurley and I would have to agree. There is a noticeable pop in Evans’ play style that is reminiscent of McVay’s earlier years in Los Angeles.
Another fun pick by the Rams with Zach Evans. Has really impressive tape and massive upside. Awesome value here. So fluid and looks like he’s gliding as a runner. Good contact balance too. Really believe he can be an impact player. Look at him go: pic.twitter.com/j4LHe4mmMp— Bobby Football (@Rob__Paul) April 29, 2023
If McVay can unleash Evans’ full potential, the Rams might have Todd Gurley 2.0 on their hands. Let’s just pray Sean learned his lesson the first time around and not run him into the ground as well. Two serviceable backs on the roster are a gift and LA stumbled into one who will hopefully remain in the backfield for years to come.