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2020 NFL Draft: Former Appalachian State RB coach Garrett Riley on why Darrynton Evans fits the Titans

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NCAA Football: Appalachian State at North Carolina James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports

One of the more exciting picks for the Titans in 2020 NFL draft, Appalachian State’s Darrynton Evans was wisely snatched up by Tennessee in the third round.

Former Mountaineers running back coach Garrett Riley (now the offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach at SMU) had a front-row seat to Evans’s exciting performances, and helped him put together an incredible final season en route to the NFL.

The selection of Evans made so much sense because he gives an already explosive offense an element they actually lacked last season, a quality and complimentary back-up to Derrick Henry. Evans is an exciting runner that’s going to make some explosive plays for the Titans on Sunday’s.

Coach Riley and I discussed Evans’s development and work ethic, the physical and mental traits he brings to the game, and why Tennessee was the perfect landing spot for him.

JM: You arrived at Appalachian State to find Darrynton Evans as your running back and as one of your more exciting players on offense. What was your initial impression of him like?

GR: The first thing I noticed was how good he was off the field. He’s very intelligent and very mature. That’s the cool thing about him. You have some smart guys off the field, but some of them aren’t necessarily the smartest on the field. He’s both. He’s one of those guys that you can show him something one time, you can show him one look on offense and he’ll remember it. That’s what makes him unique and dependable in my opinion. Those are some of the things that I was impressed by when I first arrived at App State. I started watching some of their tape from previous seasons and they were really good at what they did. I knew he was a very productive player. He’s very explosive and has a lot of ability on the field, but I was most impressed by how good he was from a tangible and character standpoint.

JM: I love that. You guys ran a lot of outside zone and he was drafted by an outside zone team in the Tennessee Titans. How much will his experience in that scheme aid his transition to the next level?

GR: It should help him a ton. I can’t recall how many carries he had for us, but I can tell you that the bulk of them came from that outside zone scheme. They’re getting a guy that has a lot of experience within that scheme. He understands how to run that at a high level. He’s well-built physically to play within that scheme. I think he’s well prepared for the situation he’s been drafted into. I know that he’ll take advantage of those opportunities.

JM: How would you describe his fit in that system, and his overall feel for the reads involved in making those runs?

GR: He has the mental aspect down. He has no problem recalling things from past experiences. That really helps him. He’s done it a bunch and he has a great natural feel for making plays. Once he really gets started, he starts to hit the second level and traits such as his vision and instincts start to come into play. That’s where a lot of his explosive plays came from. I’m sure that you’ve researched him and you’re familiar with all of his explosive plays. Those are some of the tangible traits that he has within his game. It’s in his DNA, but he’s also gained some of that through hard work and his experiences at App State.

Another thing about him, I actually learned this through the media and some of the guys that cover him, he had a ridiculous amount of carries without a single fumble. As a coach, I don’t think I’ve ever even heard of anything like that before. It’s unbelievable.

JM: He’s a big-time talent. He’s expected to take on a third down role for the Titans. Over his three year career at App State, he had less than 40 catches. That struck me as a little odd because he originally practiced as a slot receiver before he was moved to running back. Was the lack of production in the passing game more a product of the system that you guys ran, or is that something that Titans fans should be concerned about?

GR: No, it was totally due to our system at App State and what we asked him to do. It boils down to what we were good at. We just didn’t really ask him to catch the ball. I certainly think he’s capable of doing that. As a matter of fact, I think that’s a part of his game that’s going to take a big leap at the next level. You’re going to see a big jump from him in that category. It’s an area of his game that has a ton of potential and room to grow. I know that he’s eager to do that because he knows he can do it.

That’s one thing that’s going to be a lot of fun with the Titans. I can’t wait to see how they utilize him. They’re going to improve that part of his game. He certain has the ability to be a weapon in the passing game. There’s no doubt about that.

JM: That answer will surely ease some minds around these parts. Did anybody from the Titans ever reach out to you during the pre-draft process to discuss him?

GR: I’m trying to think back but I don’t believe so. Things became a little weird and difficult with COVID-19. I also changed jobs and phone numbers when I left App State for SMU. I don’t recall having any conversations with anybody from the Titans.

JM: Fair enough. I don’t know how much you know about the Titans offense, but we’ve discussed the similarities in scheme. How do you like his overall landing spot in Tennessee?

GR: I think it’s a great fit. As I sit back and look at it from a spectator point of view, they’re getting some variety in their running back room that they didn’t really have last year or in years prior. Derrick Henry and Darrynton Evans give you variety. They’re polar opposites. As a coach, I know that’s going to be fun for them. It brings versatility and variety to your offense. You’re no longer as limited as you were before. Having that variety gives you some options on offense that maybe you didn’t have in the past.

JM: That’s certainly how we feel as well. I’ve really appreciated your time today, coach. In closing, what sort of projection do you see for his pro career?

GR: I think he’s a guy that will definitely make a career out of this. He’s going to surprise a lot of people. He’s surprised people with his ability his entire life. I’m sure he’ll surprise people in pass protection. He can do a lot of things for them immediately. He’s so dependable that way. I would be shocked if he doesn’t take advantage of the opportunities that come his way.