Jerod Evans / Brevard / USA TODAY Sports Images

Steelers Should Consider Late-Round Gem

The Steelers' focus on QBs has increased, but SteelCityInsider's Jim Wexell has a late-round gem they need to consider.

When you cover a team with a franchise quarterback, you don't cover that team's draft by focusing much on the position. 

And you save yourself a lot of time.

You only need to look for those late-round gems, the big, fast quarterbacks who can throw it 70 yards but who are so raw they're available with the expectation of sitting the bench a few years.

Like Cardale Jones. 

Remember how much I liked that guy last year?

Well, I had an idea about another one this year, but when Ben Roethlisberger began talking about retirement after the season I figured I had better move up into some high society and focus on the top guys. So I joined the mob of reporters surrounding Patrick Mahomes at the NFL Combine. 

He was nice. Explained everything. Never took umbrage when asked about his poor fundamentals. Very courteous. But one thing stood out to me:

Mahomes seemed like a boy.

Not that there's anything wrong with that. I remember Troy Polamalu as a rookie barking out signals as the punt team's personal protector. I think some of the veteran Steelers laughed out loud the first time they heard this young, well, boy, try to bark like a boss.

Polamalu, of course, grew into a Hall of Fame man. Then again, he didn't have to take over a huddle the way Mahomes is going to have to.

I walked away from Mahomes with reservations, to say the least. I wandered away from his mob-encrusted podium to a table with a couple of reporters talking to Jerod Evans of Virginia Tech

He's my late-round gem. I had watched Evans gut a Pitt team that refused to help its small cornerbacks cover tall, future NFL receivers Isaiah Ford and Bucky Hodges. It caused several talk-show eruptions throughout the city that week, and that's all I remembered about Jerod. 

I didn't even know how to say his name. I said it like the jeweler.

"Jer-OD," he corrected.

I apologized.

"You're good," he said.

Already I respected this guy. He took charge of this huddle -- as small as it was -- with authority.

I apologized again about my ignorance of his career, and that I was attempting to catch up on the QB situation due to Roethlisberger's apprehensions. 

Evans understood. He said I wasn't the only one.

"I came out without telling anybody," he said. "I didn’t get any reviews, anything, so for me to come out on a short notice without giving anybody a heads-up, it kind of threw everybody for a loop, all 32 teams, so this is their time to make up ground and get to know me as a person. That's kind of where I'm at in this scenario."

What I recall of Evans (6-3, 232) is a big-armed, mobile player who did well with a simple read of his tall pro receivers, but who took off if they were covered. He threw a good deep ball, a great back-shoulder fade, executed the spread run game, threw short accurately, but needed time to develop his understanding of defenses. After all, he had played only 14 games at Virginia Tech and 10 at a junior college after transferring out of Air Force with a torn ACL.

Those two pro receivers, Hodges and Ford, could certainly tell me more. 

"People are sleeping on him, but he’s a great quarterback," said Hodges, a tight end/receiver who had a formal meeting scheduled that night with the Steelers.

"He was one of the guys from Day 1 at Virginia Tech who was great in the locker room. Even when he took his official visit, at a time I was just considering coming out early for the draft, he was with his father and he told me to consider staying because 'I’m going to get you the ball some more.' Just little stuff like that that shows you the type of leader he was. He just went on to progress throughout the summer, getting better with his reads and his technique and then the whole team had faith in him throughout camp and he had a good year. I think he's going to have a great career in the NFL."

Virginia Tech went 10-4 last season and won the Belk Bowl over Arkansas in a game the Hokies had trailed at halftime, 24-0. Evans directed the rally and finished the season with 3,552 yards passing and 846 rushing. He completed 63.5 percent of his passes and had a TD-INT ratio of 29-8. 

When he announced he was coming out, he was criticized for leaving too soon, that he had too much left to learn.

Ford, the receiver who did the most damage to Pitt with 10 catches for 143 yards, disagrees with that assessment. He believes Evans can overcome the lack of experience with sheer talent.

"He's an amazing player," Ford said at the Combine. "He's a gifted athlete. Big arm. Really big arm. And he's very accurate as well. The things he can do outside of the pocket when he tucks his head and he runs, we've seen that a bunch of times.   "The play he made at ECU. He's bailed us out multiple times with his legs. He's a physical runner so he can impose his will on defenses and wear them down. I think he's a great quarterback."

Sounds a bit like former Tech QB Tyrod Taylor, no?

"He's a little bigger than that," Ford said. "I know he's from Texas. He loves Dak Prescott. I think they have a lot of similarities in their game, as far as how big he is and how he can run, and he kind of looks like him a little bit. I would say he's more like Dak."

There we go. Everyone -- in spite of warnings from "Draft Twitter" not to do it -- is looking for this year's Dak Prescott. 

Prescott was the 6-2 1/4, 226-pounder with very comparable Combine times and distances to Evans. He was drafted in the fourth round by Dallas last year and went on to win Rookie of the Year.

Wasn't Evans a Cowboys fan growing up in Mansfield, Texas?

"I'm not going to answer that," the wise-beyond-his-years Evans said at the job fair.

Well, didn't Prescott show that it doesn't matter where you're drafted?

"Did Dak do it?" Evans asked with piercing eyes. "No. I think Tom Brady did."

Wait, what?

"To come in as a fourth-rounder, yes, Dak has blown it up," Evans explained. "I keep hearing the comparisons to him. It’s an honor to get compared to somebody who’s doing so great in the league, especially as a rookie, but he didn’t start it. It was definitely started way before him. And I think he has five Super Bowls now."

There was apparently a reporter in the huddle who was covering the New York Giants after suddenly being thrown into covering QB prospects, too. He asked Evans about coming into the league and sitting a year or two behind Eli Manning.

Evans answered it with the same analogy Kevin Colbert had used in February, the one that put me on this QB hunt in the first place. Imagine it being a question about sitting behind Roethlisberger.

"I wouldn’t mind coming into the league and learning from a veteran at all," Evans said. "Learning form a guy of that magnitude, and who has two Super Bowl rings, and knows a lot about the game, it doesn’t hurt me to sit behind a guy like that. I think Aaron Rodgers did the same thing with Brett Favre, so it wouldn’t bother me."

The thing about Rodgers, he had the experience and still needed the work. Last year a source tried to get me off the Cardale wagon because Jones had so little college experience and there's so little time to develop in the NFL.

But Rodgers had to re-learn his position, and it was a massive undertaking. Yet his six-hour per day "Quarterback School" under Mike McCarthy ultimately paid off.

It takes work. 

Evans strikes me as the type who'll put in the work.

"When you love something -- like you love to do reports and your research," Evans said as he looked into my eyes with a very real understanding, "you put the work in.

"I love the game of football. I put the work in."

Steelers Draft Series '17: Quarterbacks

(For detailed reports on the Steelers' pre-draft visitors this week, click here, and click here.)

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