The nature of the NFL leads to a constant influx of talent every year. Over 250 college players were selected in the 2023 NFL Draft. For the Cincinnati Bengals, eight players were chosen from the university ranks. Added to this are the seven free agents the Bengals acquired this off-season.
The result is 15 players who were not in Cincinnati last year who plan on sticking around once the final 53-man roster is announced. Some of them will, others will have to bid adieu to the Queen City.
Nevertheless, the newcomers’ arrival puts immediate pressure on some who were in the building last season. Several seats are hot. Heat and pressure could mean bad news for a few players now on thin ice.
One player for whom the ice feels thin, even though we are not entirely sure why, is running back Chris Evans. For some reason, Evans hasn’t received the playing time that many outside the walls of Paycor Stadium think he should get.
Evans’ talent is evident. We have seen him make excellent and critical plays in the regular season. He is versatile, speedy, and shifty with the ball in his hands and is a good receiver out of the backfield, even in clutch situations.
In his rookie season, Evans averaged 4.5 yards per carry in only 17 rushing attempts. He also had 15 receptions on 17 targets for 151 yards and two receiving touchdowns. Last year, Evans got zero carries and was only targeted four times all year on passes that resulted in three catches for 38 yards and one touchdown.
Evans is also a capable kick returner and averaged 21.1 yards on 10 returns last year.
Not much has been mentioned as to why he doesn’t get more playing time. The most obvious answer is Joe Mixon is the primary back, and Samaje Perine handled the traditional third-down back responsibilities. Therefore, there were not many more carries to be given out between Evans and Trayveon Williams.
Another possibility is that Zac Taylor and Brian Callahan don’t trust him to protect Joe Burrow when the exotic blitzes start to come. Pass protection is something that undrafted free agents Jacob Saylors and Calvin Tyler Jr were good at in college.
The Bengals will more than likely go with four running backs. If blitz pickup is part of why Evans doesn’t see the field more often, he could be the odd-back out once the final-53 is announced.
Evans could be on thin ice on two fronts. First, Cincinnati could go with three running backs and keep two on the practice squad. They will need an extra roster spot to carry over until they can place players designated to return on the IR. In that case, Joe Mixon, Trayveon Williams, and rookie Chase Brown are the locks to make the team.
Even if they decide to go with four, if Saylors shows up and shows out in the preseason and can protect the passer as he did in college, he could make it over Evans.