Cal Football: As NFL Draft Begins, Evan Weaver Must Prove Himself Again

Photo by Mark J. Rebilias, USA Today

Jeff Faraudo

Evan Weaver has been here before.

Underestimated.

Passed over.

Not taken seriously.

***Update: Weaver taken in sixth round of NFL draft

I’m not here to suggest the former Cal linebacker is on the doorstep of becoming the next Lawrence Taylor or Dick Butkus.

But Evan Weaver can play football, and better than most. I’m convinced that no matter where he is chosen in this weekend’s NFL draft, Weaver will be on the field on Sundays and make plays.

Weaver was a consensus All-American last fall.

He was the Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year.

He led the nation in tackles with 182 — 29 more than any other player in FBS.

It wasn’t a case of Weaver merely jumping on the pile every Saturday afternoon — his 102 solo tackles were 20 more than any player in the country.

And he did the same thing in 2018, totaling 159 tackles.

Weaver had three games last season with at least 20 tackles — roughly the equivalent of a basketball player grabbing 20 rebounds in a game — and he averaged more than 14 tackles over the final 17 games of his college career.

Now, Weaver didn’t play for LSU or Clemson or Ohio State. But he achieved all this in the Pac-12 Conference, playing a schedule that included yearly games against conference rivals Oregon, USC, Utah, Stanford and Washington plus non-conference matchups vs. North Carolina, BYU, Ole Miss, TCU and Illinois.

And yet, Weaver was not picked Thursday when teams make their first-round picks in the NFL draft.

He will almost certainly not be picked on Friday, when the second and third rounds are held. I have not found a mock draft anywhere that projects Weaver going as high as round No. 3.

Sometime on Saturday, when the fourth through seventh rounds are conducted, Weaver should hear his name called. NFL.com envisions him being selected in the seventh round . . . after 246 other players are drafted.

*** Here is SI's list of 10 players being underrated in this draft. Spoiler alert: Weaver is not included among them.

I didn't see all 246 of those guys play last season. I don’t sit up nights watching game tape. I don’t have Mel Kiper Jr.’s expertise or his resources, but I know there were not 246 more productive players in college football last season, and that has to mean something.

Yes, Evan Weaver has been here before.

Coming out of Gonzaga Prep in Spokane, Wash., Weaver was rated a modest three-star prospect. His high school numbers: 393 career tackles, 78 tackles for loss, 45 sacks, 14 forced fumbles on teams that were 31-5.

Even so, Rivals didn’t include Weaver in its overall national rankings, and 247Sports slotted him at No. 914.

Rivals ranked Weaver as the No. 6 prospect in the state of Washington. The three defensive players ahead of him combined through last season to make 128 career tackles.

Weaver had 408.

I’m not picking on Rivals — this is just how these things work. And I have the significant benefit of hindsight.

But every snub along the way provided Weaver with motivation throughout his Cal days, and he never forgets a slight.

He will be just as driven at the next level to prove that the 4.76-second time he ran in the 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine doesn’t fully reveal the player he is on game days.

Cal coach Justin Wilcox says Weaver has the motor and the mind to play in the NFL. Weaver is “a natural football player,” Wilcox said, but he has studied the game and pairs knowledge with instincts.

“No, I don't have a doubt. He’ll play. It’ll be the right fit, the right place. You cannot deny production,” Wilcox said. “The game of football on defense is don’t let the other team go that way and cross that line. So you tackle them to prevent them from doing that.

“If that’s what you’re looking for, it’s hard to deny.”

We’ll find out soon if the smartest football people in the world agree.

*** A discussion of why the Los Angeles Chargers made Oregon quarterbacked Justin Herbert the first Pac-12 player chosen in the NFL draft:

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