From now until the 2022 NFL Draft takes place, we hope to scout and create profiles for as many prospects as possible, examining their strengths, weaknesses, and what they can bring to an NFL franchise. These players could be potential top 10 picks, all the way down to Day 3 selections and priority undrafted free agents. Today, I’ll be profiling Missouri CB Akayleb Evans.
#26 Akayleb Evans, CB, Missouri (R-Sr.) — 6020, 197 lbs.
|Player||Ht/Wt||Hand Size||Arm Length||Wingspan|
|Akayleb Evans||6020/197||8 3/4″||32″||74 3/4″|
|40-Yard Dash||10-Yard Dash||Short Shuttle||3-Cone|
|Broad Jump||Vertical||Bench Press|
— Uses length well to dictate receivers releases at the line of scrimmage and force them off their landmarks
— Triggers downhill quickly to beat oncoming blockers with quickness
— Extremely willing player in run support, will sacrifice his body to deliver some physical sticks at the point of contact
— Uses his length to keep contact with receivers downfield, allowing him to safely key the quarterback
— Consistently stays square at the line of scrimmage in press coverage, great patience
— Finishes violently at the catch point, playing through receivers pocket while delivering impactful hits, particularly when coming downhill
— Works with subtle contact on the receivers hip downfield to squeeze them into the sideline
— Uses his combination of length and physicality to shed stalk blocks
— Has the necessary speed to carry receivers vertically, rarely allows downfield separation
— Has a smooth sink and drive motion, covers ground downhill quickly and efficiently out of breaks
— Great effort and angles tracking ball carriers when away from the football
— Borderline elite open field tackler
— Proved successful in his transition from AAC to SEC football, playing well despite a significant jump in competition, a good sign as he works to transition to the NFL level
— Consistently opens the gate too early in off man coverage, needs to get more comfortable in his backpedal
— Will occasionally peak at the quarterback when coming out of his breaks, slowing his momentum down
— Often ducks his head on contact as tackler, which can lead to occasional missed tackles as well as increased risk for injuries
— Tends to get happy feet in zone coverage, playing more under control would allow him to vision the quarterback and occupy throwing windows better
— Average to below average ball skills, has a tough time locating the football downfield, even when in phase
— 110 tackles 3 TFLs 1 sack 3 FFs 1 INT 17 PDs
— 2021(Missouri): 30 tackles 1 TFL 2 FFs 1 INT 7 PDs
— Played at Tulsa from 2017-2020 before joining Missouri as a graduate student in 2021 for hs Redshirt Senior season
— Earned a medical hardship after being forced to sit out the 2019 season with a shoulder injury
— Was named to the 2020 Wuerful Trophy Watchlist, an award given annually to the college football player who best combines exemplary community service with athletic and academic achievement
— Has run the Akayleb Evans foundation in his hometown since 2017
At the onset of each offseason, the Senior Bowl in Mobile Alabama is always a pivotal event, helping scouts familiarize themselves with draftable talent at each position. Upon evaluating the defensive back group from the event, I came away extremely impressed with Missouri cornerback Aykaleb Evans, a graduate transfer who impressed against SEC competition following a lengthy and productive stint at Tulsa.
In evaluating three games from his final season at Tulsa and two from his lone season at Missouri, it became abundantly clear that Evans is an elite open field tackler, combining great physicality with proper and consistent technique at the point of contact. In coverage, Evans is a capable and versatile man coverage defender, and while he could still stand to improve his awareness in zone coverage, he possesses the necessary athletic traits to eventually become a starter at the NFL level.
While some continued refinement of his footwork would be ideal in his transition to the NFL level, Evans does a great job of staying square in press coverage, allowing him to utilize his length and make receivers work through contact in their releases. Aligned in press man coverage to the boundary below as part of a Cover 1 scheme, Evans stays square while matching the receivers inside release, engaging a physical two hand jam and heavily disrupting the receivers release.
As the receiver fights to get Evans off his body, the Tulsa corner efficiently flips his hips and stays in the receivers hip pocket as he breaks toward the sideline on a corner route, ultimately playing through the pocket and securing a pass breakup. While the play at the catch point was great, Evans ability to disrupt the receivers timing and prevent him from hitting his intended landmark forces the quarterback to hold onto the football, forcing a pressured throw into a tight window.
While Evans presence and understanding of throwing windows will continue to improve in zone coverage, assignments which allow him to read the quarterback and trigger downhill unlock his unique physicality. Below, serving as the flat defender in a three safety, Cover 3 scheme, Evans aligns at nine yards depth with outside leverage as the field cornerback.
At the snap, Evans patiently expands to maintain outside leverage on the #1 receiver before triggering downhill as #2 breaks out toward the flat, planting efficiently, flying out of his break, and finishing full speed through the receiver to deliver a physical stick at the catch point. Ultimately, the catch nets a short gain of roughly two yards and the pass catcher is forced to pay a physical toll at the catch point, producing a result that any defensive play caller will be satisfied with.
The most common issue cornerbacks at all levels have as open field tacklers is that they do not trigger early enough, allowing ball carriers to get downhill and compromise the defenders leverage, creating tough tackle attempts. Evans biggest strength as a player is that he trusts his eyes, and is quick to trigger, coming downhill with minimal hesitation and maintaining proper leverage in his approach.
Below, aligned in off man coverage at six yards depth with inside leverage, Evans is working a tough assignment, as Arkansas comes out in FIB(formation in boundary), placing their top receiver, fellow draft prospect Treylon Burks, as the lone receiver into the field with unlimited space to work. At the snap, Evans takes a single step in his read pedal before diagnosing the now screen, planting to drive downhill, and closing ground to the catch point, where he comes to balance, forces Burks to cut outside, and making a nice form tackle, holding the screen for minimal gain.
Still at his best when able to trigger downhill at this stage of his young career, Evans was at his best working as a flat defender in Cover 2 assignments during his stints at Tulsa and Missouri. Below, working as the flat defender into the boundary against Oklahoma State, Evans aligns at 7 yards depth, head up on the #1 receiver, who is aligned in a wide split.
At the snap, Evans patiently gains depth while keying the #2 receiver, triggering downhill quickly and efficiently as the receiver squares up for the screen. Due to his quick trigger, Evans is able to navigate past an oncoming blocker in space, maintaining his proper outside leverage and once again shooting low to stop the screen for a minimal gain, allowing no room for yards after the catch with an efficient form tackle.
In off man coverage, Evans does a great job of remaining patient in his pedal, keeping himself in phase contest quick and intermediate route concepts. Below, working a catch man technique in the red zone, Evans aligns with his heels planted on the goal line, square to the receiver with heavy inside leverage. At the snap, Evans patiently gives ground with an inch technique, staying square before opening to transition as the receiver declares outside, and ultimately coming to balance to break downhill as the receiver adjusts to the scramble drill situation.
After changing direction to drive downhill, Evans accelerates through the catch point, arriving with a physical stick while playing the pocket to prevent the receiver from securing the catch in bounds along the sideline. While Evans will allow occasional separation, he is nearly always competitive at the catch point, even when arriving late from a trailing position, a trait which makes receivers wary of his presence even when they have generated ample separation.
While open field tackling requires proper angles and technique, tackling in the box, particularly at the cornerback position, often boils down to possessing the physicality and “want to” to disengage stalk blocks and play with physicality against larger framed players. On the rep below, from this past season against Kentucky, Evans aligns in press coverage into the boundary, getting shocked off the ball initially by a stock block before coming to balance and planting to fill the alley.
Upon identifying the run, Evans folds inside to fill the alley, coming to balance and lowering his shoulder to lay a physical stick on the ball carrier. While the ball carrier was already wrapped up and the tackle was secured, Evans’ physical stick both limits any extra yards to fall forward as well as making the back pay a physical toll on the short gain.
Back to his Tulsa tape, Evans ability to use his quickness, quick trigger, and superior athleticism in the box to evade oncoming blockers can truly be a thing of beauty at times. Below aligned at four yards depth in the boundary outside of a tight stack formation, Evans quickly identifies the speed option play, triggering downhill at a perfect angle to maintain his outside leverage before ducking underneath the oncoming puller, and sticking the crown of his helmet into the nose of the football to force a fumble, which would be recovered by Golden Hurricane’s defense.
While so much of Evans run defense ultimately comes down to effort, “want to”, and physicality, he is advanced in his ability to evade and disengage from oncoming blockers, while his superior play recognition allows him to trigger as a run defender quicker than just about any cornerback in his class.
As I previously mentioned, Evans was able to become an extremely effective press man coverage defender at the collegiate level due to his ability to stay patient and square at the line, as well as his physicality to eliminate free releases. Naturally, from time to time, Evans would tend to get slightly too handsy downfield on his press coverage reps, a tendency which if not cleaned up, could certainly lead to more flags at the next level.
Below, guarding a talented Oklahoma State receiver in Tae Martin, Evans does a great job at the line, forcing a wide release and squeezing the receiver into the sideline. Even so, once downfield he is downfield, Evans never turns to locate the football, squandering his great coverage which put him in position to make a play at the catch point, ultimately ceding 15 yards on a pass interference penalty instead.
Overall, Aykaleb Evans is a fluid athlete with prototype size to go along with unique physicality and play recognition skills at the cornerback position. While I tend to believe he could compete for a sub-package role as a rookie given his slot/boundary versatility, if that is not the case, his physicality and relentless motor should immediately make him a weapon on special teams coverage units.
While his ball skills are not top tier for the 2022 class, his movement skills, play recognition, and physicality allow him to consistently compete at the catch point, serving as great foundational skills while he continues to grow as a player. If Evans is ultimately able to work on becoming more efficient in breaking out of his crossover run and continues to improve his ball skills in his transition to the next level, there is no reason to believe that he can’t become one of the best cornerbacks in the 2022 class down the road.
If the Steelers still have not targeted a cornerback by the time Day 3 rolls around, Aykaleb Evans could serve as the perfect target given his ability to fill multiple roles. Immediately, Evans could provide an impact on special teams while competing for a role in the teams Dime package, and serving as depth both in the slot and on the boundary. With the current state of the cornerback depth chart, with two boundary starters and a capable slot/boundary starter, taking a developmental, traits oriented approach to drafting the position could keep Aykaleb Evans on the Steelers board, a choice which could pay dividends both next season and down the road.
Projection: Mid to Late Day 3
Depot Draft Grade: 7.2-Raw Traits/Upside Prospect(4th Round)
Games Watched: at UCF(2020), vs SMU(2020), at Oklahoma State(2020), at Kentucky(2021), at Arkansas(2021)