Evans has no regrets about staying in school
Two years and a major knee injury after almost entering the NFL draft, Lee Evans has no regrets.
INDIANAPOLIS -- Leaning against a wall in a back corridor of the Indiana Convention Center on Friday morning, Lee Evans paused during an individual interview to follow with his eyes the advance of University of Pittsburgh wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald, as one of the 2004 draft's premier players navigated his way through a crowd.
There wasn't so much as a hint of jealousy from the Wisconsin wide receiver as he went on to speak about the burgeoning group of standout pass-catchers here for the combine, with the wide receiver contingent possibly the draft's deepest position. Then again, Evans could have been forgiven a moment of pettiness, given that, just a couple years ago, he was the Larry Fitzgerald of the college game.
Coming off a sterling 2001 campaign for the Badgers, the explosive Evans flirted with the notion of leaving school and petitioning for the 2002 draft as an underclassman. He opted, after months of examining his various alternatives, to remain in college. And five games into Wisconsin's 2002 spring game, to the horror of everyone who witnessed the freak incident, Evans blew out the anterior cruciate ligament of his left knee.
Nearly two full years later, following a pair of reconstructive surgical procedures, it's as if Evans is now an afterthought. Not until some teams mention the names of Fitzgerald, Roy Williams of Texas, LSU's Michael Clayton, Washington's Reggie Williams and Rashaun Woods of Oklahoma State, do they bring up Evans as a prospect. There are a group of other teams, however, that feel the Wisconsin star will be a steal.
As for Evans, well, he is taking the same approach he adopted when rehabilitating from his two knee surgeries.
"Work hard, my father always told me, and things will go your way," Evans said. "I've been asked by a lot of people here, scouts and coaches and the media, if I regret now not coming out of school early. Hey, I gave that decision a lot of thought, and weighed all of the variables. And there's never been a day I regretted what I did. I mean, if I look back and regret that, I'd have to rethink every decision I ever made in my life. It wasn't a deal where I rushed into (a decision). It was well thought out, the way I do everything, and the bottom line was that I wasn't ready for the NFL at that point."
There is an inner calm and a peace with himself that Evans exudes when discussing the hand he was subsequently dealt. It would be easy, he grudgingly acknowledged, to just walk around now with a chip on his shoulder. Watching the more highly-touted receivers here for the combine, players who weren't even starting for their respective college teams back when Evans set a then-Big 10 record with 1,545 receiving yards in 2001, he has the right to mentally question why things transpired for him the way they did.
But it seems, instead, that Evans is more about self-worth than self-pity.
To feel sorry for himself, Evans said, would just create a distraction he can't afford. In coming back from the knee surgeries, re-establishing himself as a top-flight playmaker over the second half of last season, Evans drew strength from the work ethic ingrained in him by his father.
Lee Evans Jr., his dad, works in an automobile assembly factory. Said the father: "During the really bad times, the lowest of the low, he was encouraging me not to worry about him. It was like child was father to the man. He kept telling me he'd be back, and be back as good as ever, you know? For him to say he got that from me, well, it makes me proud, but, look, it was all about him and his perseverance."
Observations from two AFC personnel directors and an NFC college scout:
-- Len Pasquarelli
The consensus here is that, after the pretty well-established top three wideouts, the group will be reshuffled and, as always, teams will take players based on their own subjective ratings on them. There remain a few teams, clubs that have shared their prospect reports with ESPN.com, who feel Evans can reclaim a spot in the first round if he is solid in his workouts over the next month.
Getting back to first-round status, though, doesn't seem to be the priority for Evans. He was quick to remind that last season's rookie of the year, Arizona wide receiver Anquan Boldin, was a second-round choice. And that recent drafts are littered with wide receivers who were picked in the first round but struggled as rookies.
"It's (cliché), I know, but I just want to be picked and have a chance to play in the NFL," said Evans, who recently received his degree in financial management. "I mean, I was at the top of the mountain, got knocked down, and know what it's like to start the climb all over again. For those two more years I stayed in school, I learned a lot of lessons, on and off the field. I got a great education. Back in 2002, was I ready for the league, really? No. My maturity level wasn't there yet. But it's there now so, honestly, I can't say I look back and regret the things that happened to me."
Around the combine
Phillip Rivers, QB, N.C. State: Because the on-field workouts begin later in the week this year, it is a bit unfair to judge players, but there seems to be no stopping the momentum of quarterback Phillip Rivers of North Carolina State. He began to surge up draft boards after his work at the Senior Bowl all-star game, both in the practices and the contest, where he was named the most valuable player. Rivers has terrific size and, despite an unusual release point, a strong arm. He won't work out here, in terms of throwing the ball, but likely will run the 40 and do some of the other drills. Most teams now view him as a certain first-round prospect and one team currently has him rated ahead of Roethlisberger.
Jared Lorenzen, QB, Kentucky: Kentucky quarterback Jared Lorenzen weighed in at a whopping 288 pounds and that isn't good for a guy most scouts felt was only a borderline prospect to begin with. There is no denying Lorenzen's ability to zip the ball in the 18- to 20-yard range but much of his productivity came earlier in his career, when the Wildcats were basically running a run-and-shoot type offense under then-head coach Hal Mumme. The mammoth Lorenzen is a classic streak-shooter, has suspect arm strength on some of the deeper throws, and is given to bouts of petulance. Does he possess some talent? Yeah. Should he have even been invited here? Some scouts think not.
The last word
"I've had all the 10,000-mile checkups I'm ever going to need. I told them to put a lifetime supply of oil in there, because I never want to be cut again, ever. The good thing is that I'm over all that stuff now and ready to rumble." -- Florida State tailback Greg Jones on his past knee problems
Len Pasquarelli is a senior writer for ESPN.com.