It’s interesting to see how fans pick their favorite players.
Most of the time, it’s simply about performance. Fans gravitate towards the superstars operating at an elite level and repeatedly making game-winning plays.
But most fans will also tell you they’ve got a special place in their heart for guys who show character, grit, or passion for the game that feels infectious and genuine. Adam Thielen was a perfect example of this. He won the hearts of many Minnesota Vikings fans as the scrappy special-teamer from Detroit Lakes even before he became the national name that your co-workers brag about drafting in fantasy.
Fans like to root for guys who seem to love the team and the community as much as they do. And that’s why every Vikings fan should be rooting for rookie cornerback Akayleb Evans.
The former Mizzou Tiger has made every effort since the moment he was drafted to show Vikings fans how excited he is to be in Minnesota. He’s also made the most of his opportunities on the practice field. His intriguing blend of height, weight, and speed should display why the Vikings were high enough on him to take him in the fourth round.
You might remember Akayleb Evans as the player GM Kwesi Adofo-Mensah admitted having late-night film sessions on.
“Evans was a guy I remember watching at night. I’d sometimes watch him in the dark, and you’re looking at his size and say, ‘He’s a big guy. Man, he moves well, plays off.’ You see him doing things in our scheme that translate really well.”
It’s okay, Kwesi. Who among us hasn’t stayed up late watching the highlight reel of our secret draft crush?
And there’s a lot for Adofo-Mensah to be crushing on here. When you get to the middle-to-late rounds of the draft, tools and traits are paramount. Can you find a guy with enough quality clay that you can really mold him into something? Well, 6’2”, 196 lbs. running a 4.46 40-yard dash is a pretty exciting combination.
Then you watch his film and see sticky press technique (albeit a bit grabby) with solid footwork and coverage skills. There’s room for Evans to grow in all these areas because his development was a bit stunted by injuries in college, but the potential is exciting.
Evans has excellent straight-line speed that shows up on tape – he’s got the juice to recover downfield. He’s a more-than-willing tackler and shows great toughness in contested catch situations.
And Evans is on a clear upward trajectory, finally being healthy enough to put it all together during his senior season at Missouri. He had his most productive year to date and may only be scratching the surface of his full potential.
Here you can see him stay in great position against K.J. Osborn and use his length to make a play on the ball. We’ll also pretend that the flag at the end isn’t there, as I didn’t actually see a hold on the play.
That’s the kind of thing that should get fans excited.
But what should get fans rallying behind Evans isn’t just the stuff that would show up on his Madden rating. It’s the fact that from the moment the Vikings chose him, Akayleb chose us.
Evans has embraced the fandom more than any other rookie I’ve ever seen. Sure, you may choose to be cynical and call it self-promotion, but if you’re telling me you didn’t crack a smile reading some of those, you’re dead inside.
Fans often delude themselves into thinking that players should love this organization as much as we do, and that’s not fair to them. Many of them didn’t even get to choose to be Vikings, and others may be here because it’s their best opportunity to collect a paycheck. The NFL can feel like a league of mercenaries, and sometimes the old cliche about “rooting for the laundry” can feel very real.
Akayleb Evans has given us more than enough reason to root for the player wearing the uniform. He’s come into the NFL with a chip on his shoulder and is passionate about not only proving the rest of the league wrong for passing on him, but proving Minnesota right for giving him a chance.
That’s the kind of guy worth tuning in to the second half of a boring preseason game for.
It’s not like I’m projecting Evans to beat out Patrick Peterson as CB1 this season. We very well might be looking at a player fighting to be active on game day. But he’s got the ability and the attitude worth investing in for the future, and he’s well on his way to winning the heart of this fanbase.
Well said, Akayleb. We agree.