Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald


Size might determine whether Evans goes pro

Lee Evans has a decision to make.

Wisconsin’s prolific wide receiver has had two-and-a-half weeks since the end of the season to mull over whether to declare early for the NFL draft. Without a bowl game to occupy his focus, or an obligation to announce anything before the league’s January deadline for underclassmen, no one is quite sure when he will decide.

What he will decide is still more ambiguous.

Draft rumors began to circulate midway through Evans’ 75-catch, 1,545-yard junior season. As long as UW had games remaining in 2001, Evans defeated speculation about his intentions following the year.

Then, after an emotional loss to Michigan on Nov. 17, Evans unexpectedly announced to a room full of reporters that he would “definitely” return for his senior year.

He has since rescinded the guarantee.

If Evans decides to go, he will certainly have takers.

As a Biletnikoff finalist and the Big Ten’s single-season receiving record-holder, NFL teams are not overlooking Evans. His quickness and knack for getting open is attractive to scouts from the precision-oriented league.

A month ago, ESPN draft expert Mel Kiper, Jr. called Evans the “best receiver in college football,” then went a step further and said he would fit favorably into the NFL.

The second statement may be the most important for what Evans’ decision must consider. Traditionally, he is viewed as an athlete whose qualities are better suited for the college game than the professional level. At 5-foot-11, Evans is not quite the prototypical NFL receiver.

“The taller receivers are more what the NFL is starting to get,” Evans said, mentioning the Minnesota Vikings’ 6-foot-4 all-pro Randy Moss. But he points out that Moss also has tremendous speed and leaping ability, attributes Evans is not lacking.

The key for Evans’ professional future will undoubtedly be how well he can take advantage of the attributes that make him a great college player to overcome his lack of height. Evans says the trend toward size is something he cannot control, but neither is his draft status–which may indeed hinge on that trend.

Last year, only nine of the 35 receivers drafted were Evans’ size or smaller, and none were selected earlier than the fifth round. Just six of those 2001 draftees remain on NFL rosters, and the only underclassman of the bunch, former Florida wideout John Capel, was cut by the Chicago Bears.

None of this worries Evans.

“There’s receivers in the league shorter than I am,” he said. “The NFL takes into account a whole bunch. Not just size but speed, agility, playmaking and all this other stuff.”

This fall Evans saw a former teammate, Miami Dolphins wide receiver Chris Chambers, illustrate just that. Chambers, whom Evans played alongside in high school and at Wisconsin, is barely 6 foot but has emerged as one of the NFL’s premier rookies, totaling 640 yards and seven touchdowns.

But Chambers did not leave UW until after his senior year.

Scouting expert Joel Buchsbaum said this extra season would benefit the 20-year-old Evans. Another year in school might help him develop further and better prepare for the NFL, the way Chambers was able to. Kiper said Evans is already more polished than the Dolphins rookie.

Chambers, who never had a season at UW like Evans’ 2001, slipped to the second round last April. Two other Badgers–juniors Michael Bennett and Jamar Fletcher–were first-round selections.

Buchsbaum told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel he thinks Bennett and Fletcher came out too early. Fletcher has no interceptions for the Dolphins and, other than a 113-yard and two-touchdown performance Sunday, Bennett has been unimpressive as a Viking.

Bennett had cited the risk of injury and financial reasons when making his declaration; he said he needed to provide for his family. Evans’ parents want him to stay in school, and money is apparently not a concern.

Injuries might be. And Evans certainly will not get any taller.

But no one is exactly sure what motivates Evans to pick either way. Perhaps his second-place finish in the Biletnikoff balloting will encourage him to return for another shot at that trophy, or the Heisman. The Biletnikoff winner, Josh Reed, is apparently ready to leave LSU early.

Evans’ standing in the draft will partly depend on how many other underclassmen decide to leave. Indications show that Pittsburgh’s Antonio Bryant, 2000’s Biletnikoff winner, and Tennessee’s Donte Stallworth also plan on entering early. Never mind that there is also a strong senior class flooding the pool, potentially pushing Evans further down the list.

“Some of the other cats have got a little bit more recognition than me,” Evans said. “But that doesn’t really matter. I’m just trying to play ball all the time.”
Where he will be playing ball, we should know within a few weeks.

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