Wednesday afternoon Lee Evans said he felt very good about a recent visit he made to Buffalo to meet with Bills' coaches prior to the NFL Draft. He had met with Bills head coach Mike Mularkey, offensive coordinator Tom Clements and receivers coach Tyke Tolbert. He viewed the teams facilities and was given a brief introduction to the Bills offense.
"It is about getting in a good fit and being in a situation where the coaches know what they've drafted," Evans said. "They have certain expectations of you. If what they see and what they get is the same then I think it works out good for both parties.
"They showed a lot of interest."
Even so, Evans had no idea what would transpire Saturday. So he sat in his home in Bedford, Ohio, surrounded by family and friends. He watched the draft attentively, catching the names of the newly-anointed pros as they were announced.
"I knew a lot of teams from 13 to the 20 range were really interested but you just never know with the draft," Evans said Saturday in a phone interview. "You never know what can happen. I was still trying to be optimistic."
Evans did not need to wait long for the call.
"Luckily for me it came early," he said.
Saturday afternoon the Bills acted upon the interest they had shown Evans, making him the 13th overall pick in the first round and the fourth receiver chosen.
"I got the phone call ahead and I just kind of kept quiet," Evans said. "As soon as they said my name the house blew up. It was incredible. It was so special for me."
Evans said the day could not have possibly been better, "because after I left Buffalo I felt pretty good about Buffalo. And to actually get drafted by a team that you feel good about, I don't know if that happens very much. So I'm very pleased with it. I don't think if it could have been sweeter."
The Bills were certainly in the market for a receiver. The team struggled last season to replace the production of Peerless Price, now with the Atlanta Falcons. Perennial Pro Bowler Eric Moulds had a down year by his standards last season, catching 64 passes for 780 yards and just one touchdown in 13 games. It was his least productive season since 1997. The teams' next best receivers—Bobby Shaw and Josh Reed—are capable but did not make as many plays as Buffalo anticipated last season.
As a result, after throwing 24 touchdown passes in 2002, gun-slinging quarterback Drew Bledsoe found the end zone just 11 times last season and the Bills failed to score an offensive touchdown in six games.
Enter Evans, a speedy deep threat who should open up the field for Moulds and company.
"We're very excited about Lee Evans," Bills general manager Tom Donahoe said in a press release. "We think that he is going to bring a special dimension to our offense. We had a great visit with him at the Combine. We had a great visit a couple of weeks ago when he was here. We certainly think that he can come in and contribute and help us to get our offense back on track."
"He'll compete for (a starting job)," Mularkey said. "We have some very good receivers here right now. We will use four wide receivers a lot. We will have him in there."
Evans, Wisconsin's career leader in receptions (175), receiving yards (3,468) and receiving touchdowns (27), was a two-time, first-team All-Big Ten selection. He set the Big Ten record for receiving yards in a season with 1,545 as a junior in 2001. That year he also set a school record with 75 receptions and tied a then-school record with nine touchdown receptions. He was a finalist for the Biletnikoff Award, which new teammate Reed eventually won.
In January 2002, Evans announced he would return to Wisconsin for his senior year despite being projected as a potential top 10 pick in that spring's draft. In the school's spring game that April, Evans tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee. He eventually underwent two surgeries and sat out the 2002 season.
In 2003 Evans returned to full strength and continued to assault opposing defenses and the Badgers' record books. He led the Big Ten in receiving yards with 1,213 and added 64 receptions and a school-record 13 touchdown receptions.
"It is great. I couldn't be more happy or more thrilled with what is going on," Evans said. "It has been an incredible ride, you know, to be rated real high my junior year and to come back and play and still be rated high, it is just the greatest feeling. I'm really enjoying the day with my family and all my friends."
Evans is the 22nd first-round draft pick in Wisconsin history and the seventh since 1999.
"Rarely do you find a guy with that kind of speed and hands," Mularkey said. "He has the quickness to get out of breaks. He's not just a vertical threat…he has some things inside. A lot of these guys with that kind of speed have to slow the route down or slow down even from the initial snap of the ball, (so) you can tell there is a break point…they are just so fast they cannot come out of the break at that speed. With this guy, it's tough to read his routes. His quickness is very good to match his speed off the ball."
"He's a rare kind of receiver…all the qualities that come with him," Mularkey said. "All the receiving skills we keep talking about, he's one of the best blocking receivers in the draft."