As someone who begged GM Ted Thompson for years to add veteran free agents to fill gaping holes, I’m sure as heck not going to criticize his decision to sign Jahri Evans. That said, let’s just say the situation at right guard is still a bit iffy.
That’s because after finally getting a chance to watch nearly every snap Evans played the past two seasons for New Orleans, I’m not nearly as excited about this move as I was on the day it was announced. While the former All-Pro was certainly better in 2016 than he was in 2015, he was far from impressive. In fact, I’m not sure he was any better than first-year starter Lane Taylor, who was without a doubt the O-line’s weak link.
At this point in his career, the best part of Evans’ game is pass protection, and that’s a good thing considering how often the Packers figure to throw the ball in 2017. Even at his advanced age – he turns 34 in a few months – the 318-pounder is still difficult to beat one-on-one at the line of scrimmage. That’s because he’s quick out of his stance, has a strong and efficient punch and keeps his hands inside to control defenders.
In the first video below, Evans gets his mitts on Seattle rookie nose tackle Jarren Reed and gives no ground. In the second video, he’s every bit as effective against Carolina defensive end Zach Moore. On plays like these, Evans compares very favorably to former Packer star T.J. Lang – or at least he did a year ago.
Where the new right guard doesn’t measure up to the old right guard is in dealing with smaller players in space. In the first video below, watch how easily Denver outside linebacker Shaquil Barrett gets to the quarterback. In the second video, Evans is unable to get off his initial block in time to even lay a hand on blitzing safety Daniel Sorensen of the Chiefs. Granted, that’s a really tough play, but it’s one Lang would make.
In the run game, Evans is more of a pusher than a pounder these days. That’s because his lower body strength has diminished with age. Instead, he now relies on his understanding of angles and leverage to get good positioning to seal and wall off defenders. This is shown in the video below against defensive tackle Michael Brockers of the Rams. Nothing fancy, but solid enough to help Mark Ingram pick up 16 yards.
Evans, arguably the most fluid and powerful guard in the NFL a few years ago, now struggles once he gets to the second level. In the first video below, he simply misses Bobby Wagner of the Seahawks. A few plays later, he hits K.J. Wright, but the veteran linebacker is hardly affected and is still able to make the tackle.
To be fair, Evans had many more good plays than bad plays in 2016. That said, the negative ones shown in this post are not aberrations. He struggled on an almost weekly basis with quickness – both against the run and in protection. And thanks to Father Time, it’s hard to imagine that changing for the better in 2017.
Fortunately, the Packers don’t need Evans to be a star. They simply need him to not be a liability – which is pretty much what was asked of and accomplished by Taylor last season. And based on the tape, that shouldn’t be too high of a bar for Evans to clear. The former Bloomsburg star is still a big man with a lot of pride and a lot of tricks up his sleeve who should benefit from playing the majority of his games on slower grass fields. But it might be a good idea for the coaching staff to have a viable backup plan ready – just in case.