College Spotlight: Tuesday Afternoon Prospect

Thomas Campbell-USA TODAY Sports

I know some of you have seemingly developed an aversion to draft prognostications this early in the regular season, but I don't buy it. Why don't you go ahead and admit that this is actually a guilty pleasure of yours? I get it. You feel like you're cheating the season, the players, yourself. But of all the vices that are at your fingertips, you must admit that this is the one escape from reality that can be enjoyed with a clear conscience, and that is something to get excited about, like today's Tuesday Afternoon Prospect.

The timing for today's prospect might seem a bit odd given what went down during the Carolina Panthers blowout win over the New York Giants nine days ago. We can all remember it so well. A collective groan could be heard echoing throughout Bank of America stadium and in the homes of Panthers' fans worldwide when Steve Smith fell awkwardly to the ground in the second quarter. Although Smith would go on to miss just a couple of series, a significant revelation occurred. Everyone, including Cam Newton, realized that the offense could indeed be successful without Smith on the field. This was a pleasant surprise for those of us who have been begging the Panthers to give their franchise quarterback more weapons.

But in the euphoria of celebrating a rare blowout victory, we may have overlooked the reality that the Giants are bottom feeders. This fact naturally begs the following question:

Could Newton have excelled under the same circumstances had the Panthers been playing a middle of the road or better team?

I'm not so sure.

As Smith inevitably declines with age, It would be foolish to expect Newton to consistently excel against the upper echelon of the league if Lafell and Ginn Jr. continue to be his top two wide receivers. Besides, neither of these pass catchers are shoe-ins to be re-signed beyond this season anyway.

With that being said, I would like to submit to you that the Panthers have reached a critical juncture in the midst of Newton's rookie contract. If the Panthers truly see him as the face of this franchise for the next decade or so, then giving him all the tools he needs to reach his potential should be at the top of their priority list. Assuming this is the case, Dave Gettleman should have little trouble finding at least one game changing target for Newton in a 2014 NFL Draft which is replete with elite receivers.

Perhaps there is none better than Mike Evans.

It is no coincidence that Evans burst onto the scene at the same time as Johnny Manziel. The pair quickly developed a symbiotic relationship that largely became the catalyst for a Texas A&M program looking to immediately show they belonged in the vaunted SEC. As you already know, Manziel went on to win the Heisman Trophy, but he wouldn't have done so without Evans, who finished with 82 receptions, 1,105 receiving yards, and 5 touchdowns.

A season later, Evans has wasted little time letting everyone know that his red-shirt freshman year wasn't a fluke. So much so that he broke a school record by gaining 279 receiving yards against an Alabama defense which not only possesses one of the best defenses in the country, but also had a full year and an extra bye week to prepare for what was to come. But not even the great defensive mind of Nick Saban could stop the onslaught of physical superiority that Evans brings to the table.

At 6-Foot-5, 225-Pounds, Evans is a load. Although the experts will tell you that he doesn't have breakaway type speed, the film tells me different. Don't get me wrong. Evans may not have an Olympian sprinter's acceleration and explosiveness, but he has plenty of the long stride variety(see 95 yard touchdown in video below), which is plenty good enough for professional football. From my perspective, his most valuable asset is his ability to catch the football at its highest point with authority. This skill, along with his considerable stature and body control, makes it nearly impossible for a defender to break up passes. As you would expect from most young receivers, he is underdeveloped as a route runner, and this is where he could stand to see the most improvement.

Through the first five games, Evans already has 691 receiving yards and 5 touchdown, a pace that will obliterate last seasons totals. I can only imagine at this point that he will be thinking long and hard about bringing his talents to the next level by the time the 2013 season ends, especially if Manziel declares early for the draft. If Texas native does indeed leave college, I expect him to be taken somewhere in the middle of the first round. Regardless of who is still on the board, the 20 year old Evans will be an extremely tempting option for a team whose franchise quarterback just so happens to need a deep ball threat who can move the chains and dominate the red zone. I think that signal caller resides somewhere in the Carolina's. How about you?

WR Mike Evans 2012 Season Statistics

Location Opponent Rec Rec Yrds Yrds/Rec TD
Home #9 Florida 7 60 8.6 0
Away SMU 6 123 20.5 0
Home South Carolina St 5 41 8.2 0
Home Arkansas 6 83 13.9 1
Away Mississippi 8 105 13.1 0
Away Louisiana Tech 4 137 34.3 1
Home #14 LSU 6 76 12.7 0
Away Auburn 5 80 16 0
Away Mississippi State 9 97 10.8 0
Away #1 Alabama 5 40 8 0
Home Sam Houston St 6 81 13.5 2
Home Missouri 8 99 12.4 1
Neutral #15 Oklahoma 7 83 11.9 0
Totals 82 1,105 13.5 5

WR Mike Evans Season Statistics Through 5 Games

Location Opponent Rec Rec Yrds Yrds/Rec TD
Home Rice 6 84 14 2
Home Sam Houston St 7 155 22.1 0
Home #1 Alabama 7 279 39.9 1
Home SMU 2 57 28.5 0
Away Arkansas 6 116 19.3 2
Totals 28 691 24.7 5

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