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TORONTO — Saskatchewan Roughriders receiver Shaq Evans has just started to scratch the surface of his potential as a pass-catcher in the CFL.
In his second full campaign north of the border, he’s become the Riders’ top option and one of, if not the best receiver in the entire league.
On the latest episode of The Waggle presented by Sport Clips, Evans joined Davis Sanchez and Donnovan Bennett to discuss his breakout campaign with the Riders, the progression of quarterback Cody Fajardo, and the origins of the big play chain.
EPISODE OVERVIEW: How would the guys rank this year’s receivers, and how might that factor into the MOP debate? Plus, big changes in the big smoke, and Shaq Evans swings by after yet another massive performance.
EPISODE RUNDOWN: Ranking the receivers (2:30); Shaq Evans interview (12:45); Grading Jim Popp’s tenure (23:30); Argos introduce Pinball (35:00); Trade deadline predictions (45:00); Objectionable conduct (48:30)
“I’ve been in this league for two years. This is all I know so I love it here,” Evans said of Saskatchewan. “The fans, the passion they bring each and every week — not only during the game, during the week. Everybody just loves the Riders here, nobody here is not a Riders fan. We have a great facility, great coaching staff, and then on game days, it’s unreal. The atmosphere, the love you get, and just the excitement.
“The city is unlike any other city in the CFL. There’s nothing like being here and I would never want to play anywhere else if I had the choice.”
Following a collegiate career split between Notre Dame and UCLA, Evans was selected by the New York Jets in the fourth round of the 2014 NFL Draft.
He was with the Jets organization for a year before being waived. Evans would have stints on the practice rosters of Jacksonville, New England, and Dallas before he opted to go north and join the Riders during the 2018 offseason.
The 28-year-old’s first campaign in the CFL was a fruitful one, as he led all Saskatchewan receivers with 785 yards on 50 receptions in 2018. He finished without a touchdown, but that’s something that has come in his second campaign in the league.
Evans has led the Saskatchewan receiving group again this year, hauling in 62 balls to date for 1,112 yards and five majors in 15 games. He currently sits fifth in the league in receiving yards and fourth in average yards per reception (17.9).
“I feel like I’m one of the best players in this league and definitely feel like I’m the best receiver in this league because I’m consistently making big plays all year and I’ve come up big in clutch situations or when we need a first down,” Evans said. “So I think that factors into being one of the best players; making plays when you’re supposed to make them and when your team needs them. I’ve shown that I can do that this year.”
The Saskatchewan receiving core has stayed nearly the same over the last two years. Kyran Moore and Naaman Roosevelt have been constant contributors alongside Evans. Emmanuel Arceneaux was brought in to solidify the group, and after a stint with the Chicago Bears during NFL training camp, Jordan Williams-Lambert returned to the team and signed an extension to stay through 2020.
What has changed is the man under centre. Last season, Zach Collaros was the man tasked with running the Riders’ offence. He was the starter coming into this season, but after being injured in the team’s opening game against Hamilton, Fajardo took over under centre. He ran with the opportunity, as the team ended up moving Collaros and sticking with Fajardo as their man going forward.
The 27-year-old pivot has 3,649 yards and 15 touchdown passes while completing over 70 percent of his passes through 15 games this season.
“Every week, we’ve just grown closer and closer and gotten better and better on the field. He understands where I’m gonna be and I know what he’s thinking and it’s gotten better every week,” Evans said of his quarterback. “He’s a great guy, great player, he stays prepared. During training camp, he didn’t get a lot of first-team reps but his first game against Ottawa was the first week he got first-team reps and he went out there and performed brilliantly. It just shows you the kind of work ethic he has and it just forces you to be on your stuff because ‘well he’s on his stuff and he’s not even starting so I’ve gotta be on my stuff.’
“When it was finally his turn to start, we had full all the confidence in the world that he’d go out there and do well. Like I said, each and every week, we’ve gotten better as an offence.”
The Riders have been the latest team to implement a chain, which came back into style with the University of Miami, who used the turnover chain to recognize stellar defensive plays.
Saskatchewan has the big play chain — the name is self-explanatory — which was brought to life by one of the veterans of the team.
“The big play chain was something that Manny Arceneaux had made for us and our weight training coach always preaches ‘boycott average’ because we don’t want to be average down here,” Evans said. “That’s what it says on the chain and anytime anyone makes a big play, you’re getting that chain. The more you get that chain, the more you know you’re balling.
The Riders dropped their last game to the Calgary Stampeders on Friday. The two teams now sit tied in points along with Winnipeg for first in the West Division. The team will meet up with the BC Lions in week 19 before finishing the year with a back-to-back against the Edmonton Eskimos. They’ll be trying to lock down the top spot in the West and a home playoff date with a few wins to end the campaign.
“Our team saying is ‘team over self’ so it’s never about the individual. When somebody does make a play, everybody is happy,” Evans said. “Nobody is like ‘I wish it was about me’ or anything like that, it’s about the team. Anytime somebody makes a play, we’re all happy and we’re all winning.
“We just want to win at the end of the day.”