Evans caught a 24-yard touchdown pass to get the Bengals on the board in the first quarter, had a key block to give Joe Burrow time to deliver a deep ball to Ja’Marr Chase at the end of the third quarter and had three of Cincinnati’s seven special teams tackles.
“Just any opportunity that I get and they can trust me with, I’m gonna take full advantage,” Evans said Monday. “I just waited on my chance to show them that I could pass protect and make plays the way that I can, so I knew I could do it. It’s just all about trusting me and being able to go out there and do it when it’s time to do it.”
Evans has been trying to prove himself since he was suspended for the 2019 season at the University of Michigan because of academic issues. He spent that year working multiple jobs, volunteering, studying and working out to get back on the right path, but when he returned in 2020, he was playing alongside a stable of running backs and his workload was limited.
Fortunately, the Bengals noticed him at the Senior Bowl torching linebackers and safeties and their scouts already had him on their radar. After grilling him on pass protections in his interview portion of the event, they knew he was a player they would be interested in and he was there for the taking in the sixth round of the draft.
Now the Bengals look at him like another big weapon for Burrow.
“You do see a guy that looks like he could have played receiver in college,” Bengals coach Zac Taylor said Monday. “That’s just the kind of savviness he has as a route runner that understanding of different zones and when to come out of a double move or stay in coverage and then he just got natural ball skills and he catches everything to throw it to him. So that’s a good friend for the quarterback to have.”
Making his first significant contributions as an NFL player Sunday was especially memorable for Evans being back in Michigan, where it all started for him.
During that year off, he coached a youth organization and his team worked a security gate at Lions games to raise money. His last time there was a Lions-Giants game and that popped back into his mind as he was walking back into Ford Field for the first time since then Sunday.
“I’m not going to lie, I had no idea (what was going to happen) because the situation in order to get to the NFL, I had to play one year of college and go through the process,” Evans said. “I was kind of just in the moment just watching and saying that’s my goal and I just got to keep pushing and hopefully someday it will happen. But I knew that just keep my head down and work and keep grinding and stay away from the outside noise and it will all come together.”
Evans’ family wasn’t able to make it to the game Sunday – they go to the home games – but the kids who were on his youth team working security with were there. They played flag football as the CE Stars, like his initials.
“I got to see them after the game,” Evans said. “They put my helmet on and they were hyped. That was a good moment because during that time, during that 2019 time I was with them a lot just to stay away from all the outside noise, just stay locked in and stay positive and stay around the game. So the next person cannot make the mistake I made. Seeing them and having them see me score, that meant a lot to me.”
Evans played 16 snaps on offense Sunday (22 percent), after previously playing a high of seven the week before when Joe Mixon was limited, and Evans also played 64 percent of the special teams snaps
Burrow took time after the game Sunday to specifically credit Evans, noting that he gets better every week as he keeps getting more reps and calling his block on the deep ball to Chase, where he picked up a safety pressure off the edge, was “unbelievable.”
Evans said he is just doing his best to carry the torch passed on by Giovani Bernard, who he watched plenty of film of and now wears his number.
“After the first preseason game coach Taylor wanted me to watch all of his clips and all of Gio’s pass protection clips from all last year and a couple years before that too,” Evans said. “I got to watch him and see his thought process of things going on. It looked so natural, and when I was watching, I couldn’t put myself in his shoes. He has been doing it forever, especially in the limited opportunities I get, I’m going to relax and act like I’ve been out there forever.”
Bengals at Ravens, 1 p.m., CBS, 700, 1530, 102.7, 104.7