ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- Before the Detroit Lions signed Golden Tate in free agency and even for a little bit after, there was some thought one of their top targets might have been then-Texas A&M receiver Mike Evans.
The rookie escalated up draft boards last winter and spring and as he’s shown during his rookie year with Tampa Bay, there was valid reason. The 6-foot-5 Evans leads rookie receivers in yards (890), is fourth in receptions (53) and tied with Kelvin Benjamin for first in touchdowns (8).
His average yards per reception, at 16.79 per catch, is second among rookies to Cleveland’s Taylor Gabriel. So he is showing his worth as the No. 7 overall pick, gone by the time the Lions picked Eric Ebron at No. 10.
Here, through the eyes of the Lions, is how they view the rookie talent.
Head coach Jim Caldwell: Obviously he’s scored a bunch. He’s been extremely effective. He’s got size, speed, range, and he’s a handful in terms of coverage. He really creates a lot of mismatches.
Defensive coordinator Teryl Austin: He’s got tremendous hands, I mean, unbelievable hands. And he adjusts to the ball when it’s in the air. Over the shoulder, behind him, he does some things that you don’t coach. The guy has it. So that’s where it’s going to be tough, because he’s got a huge catch radius. You just kind of have to get it in the area, and if he gets two hands on it, more than likely, he’s going to catch it. … Obviously he was a top-10 pick for good reason, and you’re seeing the same things you saw from him in college. He’s good at getting separation, and if he doesn’t get separation, he can make a contested catch. As a receiver, that makes you good. A lot of guys can run when they’re open and catch it when nobody is around him, but guys are draped all over him, and he can still make the catch. That means you’re a good receiver.
Safety James Ihedigbo: He’s a physical receiver. You’ve got to give him credit. You watch the tape and for a young guy in this league, he has the right mentality. He’s a physical, competitive guy and you kind of put a little smirk on your face when you’re watching the tape. You like going against guys like that. You know the mentality you have to have going against a guy like that. I’m glad that our defense carries that every Sunday. We carry that chip on our shoulder, and it’s going to be fun going against him.
Cornerback Rashean Mathis: He’s a big guy. Adjusts to the ball well, and his quarterback and the offense gives him a chance to make plays. A lot of people get chances to make plays, but not everybody makes them. He’s one guy that makes the plays when the ball is thrown to him. He adjusts to the ball well in the air and all the great downfield receivers do that. He has that ability.
Cornerback Darius Slay: He’s a very aggressive guy. He like to block. He finishes the play. ... I’m just looking forward to the competition, go for it and get better.