GREEN BAY - Safety Marwin Evans, a classic late bloomer out of Milwaukee’s north side and Oak Creek High School, has inserted himself into the scouting conversation across the NFL.
“If the Packers let him go, they’ll play against him,” one personnel man said. “You can’t tackle as well as this guy tackled and run 4.4 and not have a place.”
Evans, a rookie free agent from Utah State, was a hard-hitting tackling machine last Thursday night against Oakland. In just 20 snaps, he tackled ball carriers four times for a net of two yards, dove head-long into a 330-pound tackle to strip blocking on another play and delivered not one but two wicked blocks on Josh Hawkins’ long interception return.
“We need guys like that,” safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix said. “He’s been doing a great job of being physical and playing fast. He wants to be part of this team.”
Modest and reserved, Evans wasn’t among the 20 undrafted rookies that Green Bay signed within an hour or two after the draft. After those dark times, he and his agent were just happy to secure a minicamp tryout in Seattle.
When the Seahawks didn’t sign him, the Packers did so immediately to replace a rookie safety who failed his physical.
RELATED: Packers training camp updates
Evans, 5 feet 11 1/2 inches and 208 pounds, possessed the exceptional athletic ability the Packers desire in free agents. His coming-out party of a pro day April 6 included a 4.47-second 40-yard dash, a 42-inch vertical jump and 19 reps on the bench press.
To provide perspective, his vertical jump was better than any of the 300-plus players at the combine and his bench press tied for third among defensive backs.
The problem for Evans is that the Packers appear to be as deep at safety as they’ve been in years. Clinton-Dix, Morgan Burnett, Micah Hyde and Chris Banjo return, and rookie free agent Kentrell Brice has a 42-inch vertical of his own, ran 4.43 and has had a terrific camp.
“I’m feeling good,” Evans said. “I feel like I have the ability. I need to keep striving for it.”
In the Raiders game, Evans resembled one of those new-breed hybrid safeties with the muscle to hammer the run and the range to cover in space.
It took Evans one snap, the first of the third quarter, to demonstrate what the personnel man labeled as extremely good run support.
“Right out of the box, too,” the scout said. “He went right up to the line of scrimmage and made a hell of a tackle.”
Evans’ exhibition debut against Cleveland consisted of 19 fairly uneventful snaps. Some days are like that for safeties. Before Thursday night, he hadn’t really tackled anyone since the Idaho Potato Bowl in December.
When Evans began the Oakland game by stopping DeAndre Washington, it was the first of his three jarring tackles made after rotating into the box.
“I finally got some good contact,” Evans said. “It’s been a while since I had those type of hits. Can’t do it in practice.”
Evans was on the line before another when the Raiders sent George Atkinson to the other side on a counter. Evans shed the block by a tight end and chased down Atkinson from behind.
Going on a quick count, quarterback Connor Cook caught Evans off guard in a defense where he was supposed to have been down in the box. So Evans shot forward only to see wide receiver Andre Holmes waiting to crack back and right tackle Austin Howard pulling to lead Washington outside.
Evans got there so fast and with such force that Holmes whiffed. Howard went down in a heap after Evans sold out and crashed into his thighs.
“I went down low on him,” Evans said. “Tried to take him down and just make a pile. He fell on me. I was OK.”
However, Hawkins’ pick made Evans the proudest. Just as K.J. Brent was reaching to tackle Hawkins, Evans decleated him with a vicious but legal hit.
He didn’t stop there. Sprinting in front of the Packers bench to stay ahead of Hawkins, he tried to run right through guard Vadal Alexander, a 326-pound rookie. Hawkins went for 13 more yards as Alexander gave more ground than Evans from their violent collision.
“We saw it today,” Banjo said Friday. “Same thing it was on the field. Excitement. It was football at its finest, almost.”
In terms of coverage, there is a much smaller sample size to evaluate Evans.
Against the Browns, he seemed perfectly comfortable moving down to man cover veteran Marlon Moore in the slot after the Packers blitzed from there. The third-and-6 slant was well thrown seven yards downfield but Evans timed it perfectly and laid into the wideout as the pass fell incomplete.
Evans said his only negative play in the first two games came when Cook scrambled for 7.1 seconds before lofting a 33-yard pass just behind him to Seth Roberts.
“I was plastering him for a while and I kind of lost him,” Evans said. “It was on me. I’m really mad he caught that, but that’s a really hard play when the quarterback is given that much time.”
Why wasn’t a reckless talent like Evans, at the very least, a priority free agent right after the draft?
After redshirting as a cornerback at Utah State in 2013, Evans moved to safety in spring 2014 but played sparingly. He started 14 games last year, but the one-year starter label didn’t help, either.
The best guess, however, is Evans’ uneven academic record that included poor grades out of Oak Creek, one-year stays at a pair of junior colleges and, probably most costly, a score of 6 in his one and only attempt taking the Wonderlic intelligence test.
Teams place varying degrees of importance on the Wonderlic, but there’s little question that the reliance increases the lesser the player. It’s easy to imagine many personnel directors, with hundreds of possible free agents to consider, rejecting out of a hand a safety with that test score.
Evans ruefully remembers junior day in spring 2015 when a scout from one of the scouting combines passed through Logan, Utah, to measure, weigh, time and administer the Wonderlic to the Aggies’ potential NFL prospects.
Like others, Evans had no idea that a low score could carry such a black mark in the draft process. The Wonderlic is a timed test of precisely 12 minutes, and he gave it short shrift.
“I was drinking a lot of water that day or something and throughout the test I was using the bathroom,” Evans said. “To tell you the truth, I really didn’t think much of it. I kind of messed up on that. I wish I could go back and try some more on that.”
Evans has his degree in sociology with a minor in criminal justice. His career goal after football is a job with the FBI.
“That surprises me,” Mike Bartholomew, his coach at Oak Creek, said of Evans’ test score. “He’s never been not able to do things academically. He just wasn’t real focused academically. That’s why he had to go the JC route. He just got it figured out a little bit later than other kids.”
Sitting with Evans in the safeties room since May, Banjo vouched for his aptitude.
“He learns, he asks questions,” Clinton-Dix said. “Marwin has always participated in everything that’s going on.”
Born in Milwaukee, his family lives near the intersection of North 57th Street and West Congress. After attending elementary school at Henry David Thoreau on North 60th Street, he was bused to Oak Creek for three years as part of the Chapter 220 voluntary integration program.
Jeanel Crawley, his mother, raised Evans after his father, Marwin Sr., was murdered in a 1995 homicide on North 7th Street that remains unsolved. He was a good, not great high school player that Bartholomew remembered weighing about 160.
Evans didn’t experience a major growth spurt until he was 19 and playing cornerback at Highland (Kan.) junior college in 2012.
“When I got to Utah State I never really had a playbook before,” Evans said. “JC, I was just out there playing. I struggled with the playbook. Then I actually learned how to study it so when I got here I knew how to study.”
Evans has never had a significant injury, hits like a truck and runs like the wind. He’ll know soon enough if the Packers or another team has a home for him.