Chris Evans wasn’t exactly on the fantasy football radar heading into the 2021 season. In fact, the Bengals rookie running back was barely getting drafted at all, even in the deepest of leagues. Forced into action against the Lions in Week 6, Evans surprisingly became a critical part of Cincinnati’s offensive plan. But is he a candidate to help your fantasy teams for the rest of the year, and should you add him off the waiver wire?
Where did Chris Evans come from?
Evans isn’t some small-school sleeper prospect that happened to catch the eye of a lone Bengals scout. No, Evans was a major contributor to Michigan’s offensive attack for most of his collegiate career. He finished second on the team in rushing attempts in three consecutive campaigns from 2016-2018.
Unfortunately, Evans was suspended from the Wolverines’ roster in 2019 due to academic issues. He rejoined the team in 2020 but was no longer a featured part of Michigan’s offense, managing just 16 attempts on the season.
Nevertheless, the Bengals clearly saw something they liked. Whether it was due to Evans’ playmaking ability or his athletic profile (90th+ percentile in both burst and agility testing), Cincinnati decided to select the 5’11”, 211-pound RB in the sixth round of the 2021 NFL Draft.
Evans can help the Bengals if opportunities keep coming his way
Heading into Week 6, Evans had barely seen the field in his NFL career. Playing behind starter Joe Mixon and backup Samaje Perine, Evans had handled just 16 offensive snaps, managed 5 receptions, and rushed the ball 0 times. But that all changed last week when the Bengals announced Perine had tested positive for COVID-19. Perine was forced to miss Cincinnati’s contest against Detroit, putting Evans in a prime position to contribute. And contribute, he did.
Not only did Evans play as many snaps in Week 6 as he had all season, but he had more offensive touches than he did in any single game for Michigan in 2020. He rushed the ball 4 times for 18 yards, but his more impactful performance came in the receiving game. Evans caught 3 of 3 targets for 49 yards and a touchdown on which he lined up wide as a receiver and easily beat Lions LB Jalen Reeves-Maybin’s attempt at man coverage.
Evans could have even more of a shot to play going forward. The Bengals have historically preferred to have a running back capable of playing on third downs, catching passes, and pass blocking. Giovani Bernard played that role behind Mixon before being released earlier this year. There’s a chance Evans becomes Gio 2.0.
Samaje Perine should return soon, and Joe Mixon isn’t going anywhere
Evans’ fantasy outlook is only getting brighter, but there are obvious barriers to a larger workload. Mixon played on 45 of the Bengals’ 72 snaps on Sunday and posted a season-high 20% target share. As long as he stays healthy, Mixon is the clear-cut, no-doubt RB1 in Cincinnati.
Perine, meanwhile, should hopefully be able to come off the reserve/COVID-19 list in the near future. The 26-year-old played roughly a quarter of the Bengals’ offensive snaps behind Mixon before seeing a 61% snap rate in Week 5 after Mixon went down with an injury. Perine, whom Cincinnati signed to a two-year, $3.3 million contract in the offseason, should return to his No. 2 role when he’s fully healthy.
Should you claim Evans off the waiver wire?
While Mixon and Perine are still above him on the Bengals’ running back depth chart, it’s going to be hard to put Evans back in the bottle following his performance in Week 6. Even if Perine soaks up the majority of the carries behind Mixon, Evans can still play a valuable role as a pass catcher in Cincinnati’s offense.
If Perine can’t play against the Ravens in Week 7, Evans could potentially have value as a flex play in what could be a high-scoring game. It’s hard to trust a rookie with only one start-worthy performance under his belt, but bye weeks and running back injuries have fantasy managers scrounging for any available talent.
Long term, Evans can be a stash if you have the roster space. The Bengals are a team on the ascent, but their schedule is about to get tougher. That will likely lead to a higher pass rate and Evans receiving more work through the air. If either Mixon or Perine were to go down, Evans would immediately become viable in fantasy.