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Wisconsin football: On Tanner McEvoy, potential, and the NFL draft

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Nothing about Tanner McEvoy's career has been conventional. Why should that change now?

Mike Granse-USA TODAY Sports

Potential is a funny thing.

Oddly enough, it's usually used as a part of a positive connotation. If you have potential, you have promise. It's a good thing. Some people have achieved great fame and success on potential. Others have lost money and their jobs based off of other people's potential.

Webster's defines potential as "capable of becoming real." So that's the thing; those who have potential have not achieved what they, in theory, should be able to achieve. Maybe it's because they simply aren't there yet, or maybe they'll never reach it. Either way, potential can be a double edged sword.

Potential guided Tanner McEvoy's collegiate career. As a junior at Bergen Catholic High School in New Jersey, he was the No. 1 ranked wide receiver in the state. He had the potential to play wide receiver at the Division I level. As a senior, his coach moved him to quarterback, and he became a three-star recruit by most recruiting services. A player with his size (6'6, 200 pounds) and speed (former top WR in the state), had the potential to be a fantastic dual-threat quarterback.

Are you noticing a pattern here?

Potential is a funny thing.

After stumbling a bit while at the University of South Carolina, McEvoy transferred to Arizona Western College, where he excelled. This propelled him back to the Division I level, to Gary Andersen, who saw immense potential in the athletic passer. After a wrist injury briefly stunted his run at the quarterback position, he was moved to safety during his sophomore season, almost out of consolation. He provided new defensive coordinator Dave Aranda an athlete with great size for the safety position, and with that, the potential to be a unique player at the position. After an adequate year at safety, McEvoy just had too much potential for Andersen.

After seemingly losing the quarterback job to maddeningly inconsistent returning starter Joel Stave during camp, McEvoy was named the starting quarterback due to his potential to scramble and create extra offense for a Wisconsin program that often lacks that dynamic on offense. McEvoy struggled, going 8-of-24 for 50 yards and two interceptions against a stout LSU team in the season opener. After three wins shouldered by the running game and Melvin Gordon, McEvoy was benched after going 2-of-10 for 10 yards and an interception in the first half at Northwestern. Stave would regain the starting position, and start the remainder of the season.

McEvoy had the magic word: potential. But that was exactly part of the issue; potential isn't an accomplishment. He had the potential, but wasn't reaching it. So it was time for a change.

After the peculiar exodus of Andersen to Oregon State, former Wisconsin quarterback and offensive coordinator Paul Chryst was named the head coach of the Badgers. He had another plan for McEvoy: moving him back to safety, full time. However, Chryst recognized some of the same things that Andersen had in the former rushing threat.

This brings us to 2015, where McEvoy would start full time at safety, not a common thing for a 6'6, 223-pound athlete. However, it would be irresponsible to ignore the potential that McEvoy provided the offense, albeit in a situational role.

He rushed 17 times out of the wildcat formation for 132 yards and two touchdowns (not counting the one he was robbed of in the Holiday Bowl). He also caught 10 passes for 109 yards on the season. Despite playing defense full time, he was able to contribute to the offense as a threat both running the ball as well as a receiver. He also had 42 tackles on the season, as well as a fumble recovery, a sack and a team-leading six interceptions.

Here's where the NFL comes in: pro teams love potential. McEvoy is a physical specimen not often seen at wide receiver, much less at safety. His potential as a receiver on the goal line is enticing, but more so is his ability to see over the defense from his centerfield responsibility and position himself to make plays on the ball is where he has the most poten—you get it by now.

Simply put, there aren't many safeties the size of Tanner McEvoy. At the past two NFL Scouting Combines in Indianapolis, the tallest defensive back in either was 6'3. Defensive backs aren't supposed to be as big as McEvoy. There is also a reason that most aren't that big: tall defensive backs often struggle to be as fluid athletically as shorter defensive backs. Aranda did a good job of optimizing McEvoy in this respect. He blitzed a ton, usually leaving McEvoy playing centerfield in a Cover 1. This allowed McEvoy's long strides to cover more ground instead of needing to use short-area agility.

Here's an example (beginning at 1:22) of McEvoy's range as a free safety:

This may seem like a routine play on an admittedly poorly thrown ball, but McEvoy's long strides allow him to make up for mistakes in a hurry.

Here's where McEvoy got to. He was inside of the hash when the ball was thrown at 9:07, so in less than three seconds he covered approximately 18 to 20 yards in order to disrupt the pass.

While McEvoy thrived by aggressively jumping inaccurate throws due to pressure, he struggled just as mightily in open-field tackling. This is due to his lack of short-area agility, which is understandable at his height. McEvoy posted a good three-cone time of 6.84, but it's still not something I'd want McEvoy hanging his hat on at the next level.

Here is (beginning at 0:48) McEvoy getting shook pretty badly by Illinois's Ke'Shawn Vaughn:

This is an example of his long legs being an issue in close quarters.

Ultimately, as the NFL draft gets closer by the day, Tanner McEvoy will be closer and closer to being on an NFL team. Due to his lack of experience at any one position in particular, he will get his opportunity due to his potential.

Luckily, this won't be the first time.