Penn State's Evans leaving school early although stock went up in smoke

Maurice Evans was an All-Big Ten defensive end in 2007.
Maurice Evans was an All-Big Ten defensive end in 2007.
Posted: April 23, 2009

Sometime late Saturday afternoon or early evening, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell will walk to the podium at Radio City Music Hall and announce that a Penn State defensive end has been selected in the first round of the draft.

Eight months ago, most people figured that defensive end would be Maurice Evans. He was coming off an outstanding sophomore season in which he registered 12 1/2 sacks and 21 1/2 tackles for losses and forced five fumbles. He was All-Big Ten. The world was his oyster.

Then, last September, everything went to hell. Police were called to a noisy party at a State College apartment shared by Evans and teammate Abe Koroma. The cops found marijuana in the bedrooms of both players.

They were eventually charged with possession of a small amount of marijuana, a misdemeanor that resulted in probationary sentences. But the incident threw a monkey wrench into Evans' junior season, as well as his plans for a big, fat NFL first-round signing bonus.

Penn State coach Joe Paterno suspended both players for three games. When Evans returned, he found himself backing up Aaron Maybin and Josh Gaines. In a reversal of fortunes, Maybin emerged from Evans' shadow and notched 12 sacks and 20 1/2 tackles for losses for the Rose Bowl-bound Nits. On Saturday, it will be Maybin who will hear his name called in the first round of the draft.

Evans, who started just one game after the September suspension, finished the 2008 season with just 34 tackles, three sacks and 4 1/2 tackles for losses.

It's perfectly understandable why Maybin decided to pass on his final year of eligibility and declare for the draft. Evans' decision to do the same, though, is a little bit more mystifying.

His draft stock plummeted last season, and it took a further nose dive in February at the league scouting combine in Indianapolis when Evans couldn't break 5 seconds in the 40-yard dash and managed just 17 reps in the 225-pound bench press.

He did a little better at Penn State's Pro Day in March, running a 4.78 and doing 22 reps in the bench press. But it's unlikely he will be selected before the fifth or sixth round this weekend, if that early.

"I was real confident that I could compete at the next level," Evans said when asked why he decided to forgo his senior season. "Me and my family and my head coach and my position coach told me what they thought was best for me. And I just made the decision to take the next step."

His position coach - Lions defensive-line coach Larry Johnson - basically told Evans that he should stay in school for 1 more year. He advised him to return to Happy Valley, put up the kind of numbers he put up as a sophomore, and improve his draft stock.

"Of course he wanted me to stay," Evans said. "But he said, 'Whatever you feel is best for you, go ahead and do it.' He said I had a bright future [in the NFL]. He said if I'm ready to make that next step, be committed to it. He knows I'm ready."

Evans has 34-inch arms, which somewhat offsets his lack of height (6-1). But in scouting parlance, he's a 'tweener. Not fast enough to be an edge-rushing end in a 4-3 or a rush linebacker in a 3-4. Not big or strong enough to be a 4-3 tackle or athletic enough to be a 3-4 inside linebacker.

"I'm not concerned about the height and weight [274]," Evans said. "When you turn on the film, you can see I can play. I make plays. I'm a playmaker. I make things happen.

"When you think of a defensive end, you think of 6-6 and 280. I'm not that big. If I have to make the move [to linebacker], I'm ready for it. I'm capable of doing it."

The NFL teams with which he has interviewed have asked him about the marijuana arrest. It isn't expected to be a deal-breaker, particularly in the fifth or sixth round where there is little signing bonus money at risk.

"It's something I've put behind me," Evans said. "I learned my lesson. Watching the company I keep and everything. I've moved on. I know I never want to put myself in a situation again where I would endanger my football career."

Just like Maybin, who figures to go somewhere in the second half of the first round Saturday, Evans will have an opportunity at a football career, be it as a late-round pick or an undrafted free agent. He just won't be getting the guaranteed money that Maybin will. And his margin for error will be considerably smaller. But he has no regrets about his decision.

"It's my time," Evans said. "I know I'm ready to play. I know I can get picked up by a team and be ready to contribute and compete for playing time." *

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