Culture Setter: Why Former First-Round LB Rashaan Evans Chose Atlanta Falcons
New city, similar staff. Maybe that’s what linebacker Rashaan Evans needed after a down season in 2021.
Evans, a 2018 first-round pick of the Tennessee Titans, struggled with consistency following the departure of longtime defensive coordinator Dean Pees. In his final year with the Titans, Evans wasn’t even a full-time starter at middle linebacker, splitting reps with David Long Jr. and former Houston Texans’ standout Zach Cunningham
“That’s the thing about the NFL, things work out the way they do, and it’s for a reason,” Evans told reporters Thursday. “For me to have another opportunity to be amongst really great coaches, and also a great team and a great organization that is a match made in heaven to me, I’m excited for the season. I’m excited for this team.”
Evans’ best season came in 2019 under Pees in the Music City. He recorded 111 total tackles, nine tackles for loss, eight quarterback hits and 2.5 sacks. He also played a career-high 86 percent of defensive snaps.
There’s still time for Evans, 26, to revamp his career in Atlanta. He’s already further ahead in understanding the defense than rookies Troy Andersen and Nate Landman. He also has a familiarity with Pees, something fellow veteran Nick Kwitkowski is still trying to find.
Evans said that one of the major factors that went into his decision to sign with Atlanta was the support of Pees, calling him “more than a coach” in all aspects of his life.
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“He’s an older guy, obviously. But you know, he knows a lot of things,” Evans said. “And he’s helped me a lot. So that was one of the biggest things for me coming here.”
Atlanta will need a veteran controlling the middle of the defense. Pro Bowl linebacker Deion Jones remains on the PUP list at the start of camp. He also has been at the forefront of trade rumors and release chatter prior to the start of the regular season.
The Falcons could view Evans are more than just a run-stopper up the middle. During his time at Alabama, he often would shift to the outside, becoming an effective blitzer. When Pees ran Tennessee’s defense, he often would implore designed pass rushes for Evans to add pressure from the “A” gap.
“Whether it’s on the edge, whether it’s in the middle, anywhere,” Evans said of his role at the second level. “Dean Pees and Arthur (head coach Smith) have done a really, really good job of how they’ve used me overall right now, and you know, I’m just happy for those things.”
Smith praised Evans for his mental and physical tools that worked under Pees in Nashville. So far, all of that has been on display early in camp. And while Evans will have much to prove, he’s already made an impact in practice, flying to the football and keeping the quarterbacks’ heads on a swivel.
Titans teammate Marcus Mariota can remember Evans playing like a man on fire during practice in Tennessee. This is the first time the two have been teammates since 2019, but according to QB1, little has changed.
“You get a guy like him, he flies around and makes plays. He creates just a mentality for that,” Mariota said. “Being around him for a little bit in Tennessee, I think he’s going to bring that type of culture here.”
The author of 5 books, 3 of which are New York Times bestsellers. I’ve been published in more than 100 newspapers and magazines and am a frequent commentator on NPR.