Analysis: Evans Fills an Immediate Need for 2021 Vols
Jeremy Pruitt has been successful recruiting the Junior College ranks since arriving at Tennessee. Pruitt and his staff have been able to bring in players like Jahmir Johnson, Jordan Allen, Kenneth George, Darrel Middleton, and Dominick Wood-Anderson that have been productive JUCO additions to the Tennessee roster. The Vols have not been as active in recruiting the JUCO ranks in the 2021 class, however earlier this year they had attained the commitment of the top JUCO running back in the nation, Hutchinson Community College's Tiyon Evans. Evans later decided to reopen his recruitment to further explore his options, a decision that made sense with his high profile, status as an early enrollee, and the unique situation COVID created in recruiting. After taking time to evaluate his options, the talented ball carrier made his decision today, and to the excitement of the Tennessee staff, Evans chose to re-commit to the Vols.
If Hutchinson Community College rings a bell for Vol fans, it is because it is the same school that produced another great Vol running back, now New Orleans Saints star, Alvin Kamara. Evans shares some similarities with Kamara on the field, but they are different types of backs. Off the top, Evans is a unique build at 5’9” and 230 pounds. Evans has bowling ball type measurements, but he doesn't look like a bowling ball physically. Evans carries a lot of his weight in his legs, which are thick and strong. This also serves to make his center of gravity even lower, making him even harder to get under and bring down. Evans runs low, and keeps his legs churning after contact. His legs rarely seem to stop moving on film. This, coupled with excellent strength for a running back, allows him to fight through defenders trying to wrestle him to the ground. Not to be lost in his strength and power, Evans also shows superb balance, perhaps best demonstrated on an incredible kickoff return last season at Hutchinson. Evans seemingly broke tackles from every opposing defender, spinning off tackles, juking back, stiff arming tacklers, and running through the coverage team to score a sideline tightrope touchdown. Evans has every tool to break tackles for a running back, and he runs with a an attitude of never giving up on a play until he is on the ground. He is a hard-nosed, punishing back that is difficult for defenders to see, to wrap up, and to wrestle to the ground.
It is supplementing his power where Evans starts to draw the comparisons to Kamara. Like Kamara, Evans is outstanding at shaking defenders down and eluding them with his quickness. While in some situations Evans will simply lower his head and go through a tackler, he can also juke and avoid contact all together. The excellent short area quickness that Evans shows is rare for backs of his size. He eludes contact entirely, then accelerates back to full speed, but he can also alter an angle late so that defenders fail to get a square hit on him. That ability to create glancing hits combined with the low center of gravity, balance, and strength of Evans means he bounces off of tacklers or just drives through them to keep gaining yards. Evans is a physical runner with excellent quickness and burst, and he applies those to maximize his power. Evans has good speed for the SEC as well, getting to his top speed quickly with excellent acceleration, then showing the straight-line speed to turn long runs into touchdowns. Even at the SEC level, Evans will have the speed to out run defensive backs to the endzone, while those that can catch him will struggle to get him on the ground.
Hutchinson doesn't throw the ball to Evans in high volume, but he does show good hands when he gets the chance to work as a receiver. The Blue Dragons like to get the ball to Evans in space, on the edge for what is almost a modified sweep our outside run. For his part, Evans catches the ball well and gets up field quickly after securing the ball. At times Hutchinson does throw the ball deeper downfield to Evans, and he shows good hands when making catches there. Evans possesses all the tools to be an every down back in the SEC, an asset as a receiver in the passing game, though his routes can be further developed. As important as being a receiver, Evans also benefits the passing game by being a strong, willing blocker. Taller edge rushers could present a problem for Evans on a free rush, but he shows the ability on film to step up and neutralize blitzing linebackers while in pass protection. The Vols will likely be replacing Trey Smith and Brandon Kennedy in 2021, so a back that can help in pass protection will be valuable to Tennessee quarterbacks.
The Vols have had their eye on Evans for some time, with his film as a back and kick returner making a major impression on Jeremy Pruitt and running back coach Jay Graham. Graham worked hard to build a relationship with Evans, and his hard work with the South Carolina native played a major role in the Vols securing a commitment from Evans. Evans has been rising up boards, and is regarded as one of the best backs in the 2021 cycle, JUCO or otherwise. In Evans, Tennessee brings in a power back that can fill any running back role they have. As the Vols have shown such a heavy focus on the running game this season, as well as a willingness to utilize multiple backs, Evans looks to have a major role for the Vols in 2021 paired with Eric Gray.