Breaking Down CB Akayleb Evans
With the 118th pick in the 2022 NFL Draft, the Vikings selected Akayleb (a-KAY-leb) Evans, CB, Missouri.
The Vikings acquired the 118th pick in a trade with the Browns, sending them pick #156 and a 2023 4th round pick in return.
Evans was 156th on the consensus big board, and the 18th ranked cornerback.
Evans brings a prototypical athletic profile for the cornerback position, with excellent height, weight and length for the position, and good speed as well.
He turns 23 in June.
COLLEGE GRADES AND STATS
Evans was a two-star recruit out of high school and didn’t garner a lot of scouting attention for that reason. Spending his first four years at a less-acclaimed program in Tulsa probably didn’t help either. But when he entered the transfer portal prior to the 2021 season, he got several offers from Power 5 programs. He narrowed his choice to Jackson State, Missouri, Notre Dame, Texas, and Texas Tech before choosing Missouri.
PFF did not produce a full analysis of Evans, but they did assign him the following grades:
2021 (Missouri): 75.5 overall grade; 72.1 coverage grade; 75.0 run defense grade.
2020 (Tulsa): 73.1 overall grade.
2019 (Tulsa): 54.6 overall grade.
Dane Brugler, The Athletic:
STRENGTHS: Passes the eye test with his height and length … has the blend of speed and footwork to square his shoulders, mirror in press and carry receivers vertically … efficient pedal mechanics to transition or plant and drive … plays to his size in man coverage, jamming and peppering wideouts … able to pattern match from zone and sniff out routes … has recovery skills at the catch point and looks to play through the ball … not shy getting his hands dirty in run support and consistently gets his man on the ground … community and civic service are important to him and he started the Akayleb Evans Foundation in 2017 to help the less fortunate … played well after moving to the SEC in 2021 where he was coached by Steve Wilks, a former NFL head coach and now the secondary coach with the Carolina Panthers.
WEAKNESSES: Unimpressive ball production with only one career interception … focuses his attention on his man and needs to do a better job balancing his eyes between the route and quarterback … suspect hands and leaves interceptions on the field … needs to keep his weight off his heels and play with better control at the top of routes … highly penalized, drawing 10 flags over the last two seasons … needs to be more calculating with his risk-taking … sound tackler but can be late shedding receiver blocks … missed a total of 13 games during the last four seasons because of minor injuries, including a soft-tissue injury as a senior (November 2021).
SUMMARY: A one-year starter at Missouri, Evans was an outside cornerback in former defensive coordinator Steve Wilks’ man-zone scheme, seeing occasional snaps in the slot. After four years at Tulsa, he transferred to the Tigers for the 2021 season and showed zero decline in performance against SEC competition and his ball production only increased, including his first career interception. A physical, long-armed athlete, Evans has plus speed and transition movement skills to press or play from depth. His eye discipline needs to be better to help mask his lack of short-area twitch and control when attempting to constrict passing windows. Overall, Evans doesn’t have the résumé or reaction quickness of a playmaking corner, but he has an enticing combination of size, length and speed to hold up in man or zone coverage. He projects as a rotational corner in the NFL with starting upside.
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Tony Pauline, Pro Football Network:
Positives: Tall, physical corner with a large upside. Instinctive, stays with assignments, and has opposing quarterbacks throwing away from him. Incredibly quick flipping his hips in transition, works well with safeties, and quickly diagnoses plays. Effective facing the action, takes proper angles, and fires upfield to defend the run. Forceful on the blitz. Physical and works hard to break up throws.
Negatives: Displays poor hands for the interception. Struggles staying with receivers out of breaks. Lacks a second gear.
Analysis: Evans is a long, talented cornerback with a large upside who fits in a zone system or in press coverage. He needs to work on his game. But if he gets proper coaching, Evans will be a productive nickel back on Sundays.
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Lance Zierlein, nfl.com:
Depending on how he tests, Evans should profile as a height, weight, speed prospect for teams employing multiple zone coverages. He lacks the footwork and short-area agility to maintain man coverage against NFL receivers. Evans has the strength for release redirection and can use his length to swarm the catch from a side shuffle or short zone setting. The measurables are appealing but his injury history must be part of his evaluation as well.
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Oliver Hodgkinson, Pro Football Network:
Cornerback is one of the most in-demand positions when it comes to the NFL Draft. Since 2000, only a small handful of classes have seen fewer than 50 players at the defensive back position arriving in the NFL via the league’s annual selection event.
While demand is high, luckily for the NFL, supply is also high in this 2022 NFL Draft class. Names like Andrew Booth Jr., Derek Stingley Jr., and Ahmad Gardner have dominated early headlines. Yet, there is a deep well of talent. That is where Evans fits in.
All three members of Pro Football Network’s Draft Team have a draftable grade on the Missouri cornerback. Tony Pauline has a Day 2 grade on Evans. However, I think an early Day 3 selection is the more probable destination unless he provides an excellent showing at the Senior Bowl.
So, what is it about Evans’ scouting report that suggests this level of talent? Well, it starts with his size. Listed by Missouri at 6’2″ and 198 pounds, Evans has good size for the cornerback position at the next level. More importantly, the Missouri cornerback has good length. He’s listed as having 32.5-inch arms, which is apparent on tape.
Physicality, eye discipline, athletic ability
The first thing that you notice on tape is Evans’ physicality. His long arms and combative style allow him to be disruptive at the line of scrimmage in press coverage. He continues this physicality during the route and at the catch point. Furthermore, Evans carries this physicality into run support. He’s willing and able in this regard, showing the ability to deliver a heavy hit while seeking out the action in the run game.
Evans is a physical press-man cornerback who also offers versatility. He’s aligned both as a boundary and field outside corner. Additionally, he’s seen action in the slot. His only career interception against Central Michigan saw Evans align in the slot, mirror the receiver, and break on the route to snag the ball out of the air before the catch point.
That play showcased one of his most impressive attributes. Evans possesses excellent eye discipline and routinely puts that to good use. Not only can he read and react to the play, Evans routinely keeps his eyes focused on his opponent’s feet, so he isn’t easily tricked by route fakes.
Evans possesses a solid athletic profile at the cornerback position. In high school, he recorded a 4.53-second 40-yard dash, and that is apparent on tape. While Evans isn’t the fastest cornerback, he isn’t blown away by receivers. He can backpedal well, enabling him to drop while keeping his eyes on the quarterback.
Areas for improvement
Overall, Evans is a solid NFL Draft cornerback prospect with some attractive traits and attributes. As mentioned earlier, an impressive performance during the Senior Bowl could skyrocket him up draft boards. Still, there are some areas for improvement and some concerns on his scouting report.
While Evans possesses a decent athletic profile, he isn’t an elite athlete. He could struggle against speedier wide receivers at the next level. Although he has showcased some change-of-direction ability in man coverage, Evans isn’t routinely twitchy in his movements.
Evans’ measurements are some I’m intrigued to see at the Senior Bowl. Coming out of McKinney, he weighed 175 pounds, and Tulsa listed him at 188. Missouri lists him at 198 pounds, and while that may be possible, he does have a slender build. Despite his being physical, he can be bullied by bigger tight ends and receivers.
Finally, Evans’ injury history will be an area of concern for NFL teams. He missed three games with injury in 2018 and another one this season. After missing most of 2019 with a shoulder injury, he’s missed time in all but two seasons of his five-season career.
Akayleb Evans Player Profile
Hailing from McKinney, Texas, Evans began playing football at the age of nine. He first rose to prominence as a junior for McKinney High School after logging 80 tackles in his first season as a starter. Evans was a two-star prospect, named the 223rd cornerback in the 2017 recruiting class per 247 Sports.
Despite being a late bloomer, he held offers from Kansas, Iowa State, and Tulsa before his senior season. Following an early flirtation with the Jayhawks, Evans committed to Tulsa in July 2016, which he never wavered from.
Having established himself as a willing-and-able tackler as a junior, Evans showcased his ball skills as a senior. During the 2016 season, he tallied 5 pass breakups in eight games while adding another 48 tackles to his high school résumé. As a result of his performances, Evans earned second-team All-District 10-6A recognition.
While the young cornerback was successful on the field, he also strove to ensure success off it. While still at McKinney, he set up the “Akayleb Evans Foundation,” designed to give back to the local community. Later in his college career, Evans described the foundation as “one of my proudest accomplishments.”
Evans’ college football career
Evans arrived in Tulsa in 2017 and almost made an immediate impact on the Golden Hurricanes. He made his starting debut in the fourth game against New Mexico and started six games. Continuing his reputation as a physical tackler, he logged 7 tackles in his first start. The true freshman added his first pass breakup against Tulane.
After registering 26 tackles and 2 pass breakups in his debut season, expectations heightened for his sophomore year. Evans delivered, with 6 tackles and 1 pass breakup against Memphis. Furthermore, he flashed a penchant for the big game with 2 pass breakups against Texas.
However, he missed three games with injury in 2018, following up with a season-ending shoulder injury in 2019. As a result, he went an entire year between making a pass breakup against Oklahoma State in 2019 and lining up to face the Cowboys again in the opening game of his redshirt-junior season in 2020.
Despite the injury setback, Evans reinforced his reputation as Tulsa emerged as the surprise story of the 2020 season. He registered a career-high 9 tackles abasing Cincinnati, a forced fumble against South Florida, and recorded his first career sack against Mississippi State.
Evans transfers to Missouri for his redshirt-senior season
Having proven himself against SEC opposition, Evans opted to enter the transfer portal rather than declare for the NFL Draft or return to Tulsa. Unlike his high school recruiting journey, he was awash with offers. Although he announced a short list of five schools (Jackson State, Missouri, Notre Dame, Texas, and Texas Tech), one destination held a distinct advantage.
Evans’ defensive backs coach at Tulsa, Aaron Fletcher, had switched to Missouri for the 2021 college football season. The familiarity with Fletcher proved a significant factor in the decision for both Evans and teammate Allie Green IV.
“It was a really tough decision when it came down to it, but I was familiar with him,” Evans told STLHomelife. “I’ve known him since I was a junior in high school, so you can’t beat that. And, he was upfront about what’s going on here, and how things ran, and the way I could be utilized and help the team.”
Evans helped the team (and his NFL Draft stock) in the season opener against Central Michigan. One of the knocks against the Missouri cornerback during his Tulsa career was a lack of production. However, he opened his Tigers tenure with 2 pass breakups and a crucial interception in a close game.
During his first season in SEC competition, he also impressed with 2 pass breakups against Vanderbilt, 8 tackles against Boston College, and 2 forced fumbles against North Texas. Evans ended the campaign with 28 tackles, 1 tackle for loss, 2 pass breakups, and 1 interception. His performances earned him an invite to the Senior Bowl and an opportunity to increase his NFL Draft stock in front of NFL scouts in Mobile.
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Kyle Crabbs, The Draft Network:
Missouri cornerback Akayleb Evans is going to check the boxes for NFL defenses looking for length and physicality on the perimeter. This is a player who came to Missouri in 2021 after a successful career with the Tulsa program—and the jump to SEC competition provided a bit better context as far as where Evans currently wins and loses and just how big of a jump he’s going to face in his transition to the pro level. Physically, he’s an imposing player who offers a good series of punishing strikes as a tackler and ample length to disrupt route releases when he’s implemented in press coverage. But Evans’ instincts in coverage, his tendency to get too physical down the field, and his irregular results as a tackler are going to temper expectations for him early on and will likely result in him being coveted in the middle rounds as more of a developmental player. I like the raw skill set that is present here both on and off the field—Evans has been involved in a number of projects aside from football that indicate he’s a high-character individual, including the Akayleb Evans Foundation in his hometown, which was established in 2017, and serving as the co-vice president of the Black Men’s Initiative while on campus at Tulsa and more. Evans fits the model of what is so often all the rage in the NFL right now with his physical play, length, and stature. As a result, I’d expect even with his developmental needs, he’ll get his name called by early on day three at the latest.
Ideal role: Developmental perimeter cornerback
Scheme tendencies: Half-turn deep zone coverages, primary Cover-3 shell
Man Coverage Skills: In man coverage, Evans has offered a variety of stabs and punches at the line of scrimmage, often disrupting the timing of releases and forcing receivers to bubble their route stems excessively. But when Evans doesn’t successfully deter releases, his ability to flip and carry routes and sustain from the trail wasn’t showcased well in 2021. He’ll need to press at a high rate of success in order to serve such a role in a man-heavy system in the NFL.
Zone Coverage Skills: Evans has been exposed to plenty of blended coverage, everything from press-man to 3-cloud to more traditional deep-third drops. His eyes and quickness to drive forward are well suited for trap coverages and flat assignments in zone. I like his potential in deep-third out of a half-turn to help him with his transitions—this can also help to maximize his potential for ball production by keeping his eyes in the backfield.
Ball Skills: Evans has struggled to find the football in coverage. He entered 2021 with zero career interceptions before setting career highs with six passes defensed and one interception in 2021. While he’s done well to play the hands of receivers at the catch point and showed his potential against Central Michigan in the season opener, this is much more of a projection versus actual production.
Tackling: Evans has some tremendous strikes on his resume. When he catches the ball-carrier flush or with momentum, he’s capable of delivering jarring blows and has the potential to dislodge the football at the catch point. But his 2021 resume showcased some struggles with consistently taking good angles or squaring up in head-up situations. He’ll need to focus on his cut tackling and landmarks in wrap-up situations and not challenge too high to improve his tackling efficiency.
Versatility: Missouri offered a handful of instances of playing Evans inside in a matchup-specific assignment (that’s where he logged his interception this season vs. 3-strong), but I don’t see the transitional quickness or mirror ability in catch coverage to serve in that role at the pro level. He’ll need to improve his tackling consistency if a role on special teams is in his future.
Competitive Toughness: This is a physically imposing player who, in tight quarters, press coverage, and in run support offers a lot of big-hit ability. He’s assertive and offers very good functional strength when both attacking blocks and pressing and squeezing route stems vertically. A shoulder injury prompted a redshirt in 2019—that’s something that NFL teams will want to vet as well in the winter during medical checks, especially considering how physical he plays the game.
Functional Athleticism: I really appreciate how quick he is to trigger and attack the flats as a cloud corner or transitioning out of his deeper assignments in zone. I thought he was a little more fluid in his hips at Tulsa; he had some tougher transitions and conceded more space at the top of routes this past year. He’s fairly high cut so there is always going to be a natural limitation with his hips and center of gravity when playing in space. He showcases sufficient long speed vertically.
Football IQ: Evans is a mixed bag here and I didn’t necessarily get the warm and fuzzies with his transition to Missouri. He’s loaded with potential but his anticipation in coverage was amplified as a work in progress with some of the extra steps he took looking to jump routes. That, paired with an inconsistent track record of working back to find the football in coverage, is a combination that leaves me inclined to think Evans is a developmental corner.
Run Defending: Evans has flashed as a tackler and showcases the ability to collapse blocks on the perimeter and create room to help keep integrity on the outside. I think he’s got a lot of potential in this regard and he’s overwhelming for most receivers to try to keep real estate if he’s presented with stalk blocks.
Length: Evans offers prototypical length to play on the outside and should meet everyone’s thresholds for a perimeter cornerback. His strike zone is very large on the line of scrimmage as a result, and when he’s patient (or assertive) in his press, he’ll get his money’s worth. He’s difficult to pin and squeeze in the run game as a result as well.
FIT WITH THE VIKINGS
Evans looks to start his career with the Vikings as a backup behind Patrick Peterson, Cam Dantzler, and Andrew Booth, and perhaps a couple others. He’ll also likely be a significant contributor on special teams.
Evans looks to be a developmental cornerback with a solid foundation, but in need of learning the more advanced aspects of the position. In addition to near prototypical traits for an outside cornerback, he also has good footwork and the fluid hips needed to be a good cornerback. All that allows him to do an excellent job turning and mirroring receivers on traditional deep routes. Beyond that, however, he’s not as advanced and in need of more development.
Looking at his college film, he often plays tentative in run support. As a bigger, physical cornerback, he doesn’t bring that to bear as often as you’d like in run support. Sometimes he gets blocked by wide receivers, and other times he seems more content to wall off the outside and allow someone else to make the tackle, rather than attacking the ball-carrier himself. In one-on-one situations he’s up for the challenge, although his tackling technique could be improved. But overall he doesn’t have the urgency and effort in run support that you see in Cam Dantzler, Trae Waynes, or Andrew Booth from his tape.
The other thing that needs to be developed is his route and route running recognition, and just a better awareness of what’s happening on the field around him. And so while Evans can do well covering traditional deep routes, he is less adept at responding to fakes and more advanced route running. That has led to some penalties as well that he needs to clean up. Some scouting reports cite his lack of instincts, and that is sort of the overarching issue, although more film study and practice against more advanced route runners could lead to improvement here.
Lastly, he could improve with his ball skills and at the catchpoint. Looking back for the ball and using his length to better advantage more consistently are the two components here.
Overall, Evans has the traits and foundational skills to be a good cornerback in the NFL. But he needs to develop more advanced skills to cover more advanced route runners, become savvier when it comes to recognizing route combinations and route running technique, and a greater awareness of the play around him. Doing so should help give him the added confidence and swagger which he needs in both coverage and run support.
Evans’ college film- below- tends to show the mistakes more than the good things. A big reason for that is that Evans is seldomly targeted, and those plays are off-screen, but presumably he had good coverage otherwise he would’ve been targeted. I don’t think there was one instance of him getting beat on a straight deep route, and I believe only one target. All that is good. But you do see him get beat on a double move or good moves from better route runners on intermediate routes. You also see his more tentative play, particularly in run support. It’s unclear if that’s from lack of ‘want-to’ or if he simply needs a better plan and approach. But with some additional work and experience in these areas, Evans has the skillset to ascend in his performance, and could become a solid corner with starting potential in time. He also has a good skillset for the Vikings coverage scheme.
Clearly the Vikings see that potential, having decided to spend a 2023 4th round pick to move up and draft him this year.
Evans is #26 and playing outside cornerback in every video. As a side note, Missouri’s run defense is awful.
What level will Akayleb Evans reach in the NFL?
Top 20% of starting cornerbacks
Above average starting cornerback
Average starting cornerback
Below average starting cornerback
He won’t be a starter
64 votes total