3DownNation top 100 CFL players: No. 77 QB Dane Evans, Hamilton Tiger-Cats

It took nearly a quarter of this list to be unveiled, but we finally have our first Hamilton Tiger-Cat making his way into the top 100 in quarterback Dane Evans.

If we were to have made this list going into the 2019 season, Evans probably doesn’t crack the top 200, let alone the top 100. But after a season where he led the Ticats to a Grey Cup appearance, the future is bright for the native of Sanger, Texas.

Evans’ path to CFL success shouldn’t be a surprise as his stellar collegiate career at the University of Tulsa saw him set numerous passing records for the Golden Hurricanes. Evans left Tulsa as the team’s all-time leader in passing yards, passing touchdowns and total offence.

The team also improved every year with Evans as the starter — 2-10 in his first season to 10-3 in his last, which included a 55-10 Miami Beach Bowl victory over Central Michigan. Evans was named MVP of that game, finishing with 304 yards and five touchdowns.

After the 2016 season, Evans was eligible for the 2017 NFL Draft, but went unselected before signing with the Philadelphia Eagles as an undrafted free agent. Evans spent training camp with the Eagles, but he was released on September 1. He told the Canadian Press prior to last year’s Grey Cup that he thought his career was over when he was cut by the Eagles.

“I honestly thought nobody would want me,” Evans said. So he went back to the University of Tulsa to begin the next phase of his life: coaching.

But Evans wasn’t ready to be done playing and the game wasn’t done with him, either, as the Ticats called him up late in the 2017 season. That is when CFL teams are permitted to expand their practice rosters, mostly to get a look at guys to see if they want to bring them back for training camp the following year.

Evans was one of those players and he made an impression, being brought back the next year to battle for a backup spot behind incumbent starter Jermiah Masoli.

Evans began the 2018 season as the Ticats’ third quarterback behind Masoli and, as we all remember, Johnny Manziel. Manziel Mania swept a sizeable part of Hamilton after the former Heisman Trophy winner signed that May. But six weeks into the season, Manziel was dealt to the Montreal Alouettes, not least of which was due to what the Ticats saw in Evans.

Evans had little playing time as Masoli led the Ticats to the playoffs and ended the year as the East Division’s Most Outstanding Player nominee. He made one start in a meaningless Week 21 game against Manziel’s Alouettes, passing for 315 yards on 22 completions with two touchdowns and two interceptions in a 30-28 loss.

Photo Scott Grant / CFLPhotoArchive.com
Photo courtesy: Scott Grant/CFLPhotoArchive.com

The team was impressed with what they saw out of Evans, inking him to a three-year contract extension in the winter of 2019. Evans was once again projected to be the Ticats’ backup QB, but the worst of circumstances thrust him into the starters’ role well before anyone expected.

After a scintillating start to the season, the Ticats were rounding into form with a 4-1 record. On July 26, against the team they would eventually meet in the Grey Cup, disaster struck and Masoli went down with a non-contact knee injury.

It was later revealed to be a torn ACL and he was done for the year. Evans came on in relief and did just enough for the Ticats to escape with a 23-16 win over the previously undefeated Bombers. The Ticats were now 5-1, but dealing with the second devastating knee injury to an MOP-calibre quarterback — back in 2015, the Ticats were well on their way to a championship when then-starter and presumptive MOP Zach Collaros tore his ACL — had many fans wondering if the season was already over at the one-third point.

A rocky first start in Saskatchewan dropped the Ticats to 5-2 and those worries intensified. But four-straight wins eased those fears as Evans showed progress in each successive start, culminating in a 442-yard output during a 38-27 win on Labour Day against the Toronto Argonauts.

The Ticats would lose just once more in the regular season, a 19-18 loss in Calgary to the Stampeders, before rolling off six-straight wins heading into the playoffs, where they demolished Edmonton in the East Final 36-16 behind a 386-yard performance from Evans.

The season ended in disappointment, as the Ticats would get crushed by Winnipeg in the Grey Cup. Despite the bitter ending, the 2019 season was a breakout one for the former Golden Hurricane.

Evans finished 2019 with 3,555 yards in 11 starts, throwing for 300 or more yards in eight of his 13 total starts, including the two playoff games. His per-start average of 323 passing yards was second only to Trevor Harris, and his 10-2 record as a starter was tops in the league. He also helped lead the Ticats to a franchise-best 15-3 record in the regular season. To say 2019 was a coming-out party for Evans would be an understatement.

The Ticats were set to roll with both Evans and Masoli in 2020, with the latter still recovering from the knee injury that ended his 2019 campaign. With uncertainty in the future for both players — Masoli will be a free agent again in February and Evans will be on the final year of his extension — the Ticats might have to make a decision on which player to go with moving forward. But if 2019 proved anything, it is that the old adage of “if you have two starting QBs, you really have none” is no longer true.

The Ticats have two, at least for the time being, and if they didn’t they would not have gone as far as they did in 2019, and we never would have found out that Evans is a worthy top 100 CFL player.

3DownNation is unveiling its list of the top 100 active CFL players, a project that will run through December 31, 2020. To read the criteria for player eligibility, click here. The list to date can be found below.

78. REC Brad Sinopoli, Ottawa Redblacks
79. RET Janarion Grant, Free Agent
80. DE Avery Ellis, Ottawa Redblacks
81. DE Cordarro Law, Calgary Stampeders
82. DB Brandon Alexander, Winnipeg Blue Bombers
83. OL Jermarcus Hardrick, Winnipeg Blue Bombers
84. DB Branden Dozier, Free Agent
85. SAM Otha Foster, Saskatchewan Roughriders
86. DB Antoine Pruneau, Ottawa Redblacks
87. RB John White, B.C. Lions
88. LB Avery Williams, Ottawa Redblacks
89. LB Jovan Santos-Knox, Free Agent
90. DB Richard Leonard, Calgary Stampeders
91. REC Armanti Edwards, Edmonton Football Team
92. RB C.J. Gable, Free Agent
93. DT Mike Rose, Calgary Stampeders
94. REC S.J. Green, Free Agent
95. DB Mike Edem, Saskatchewan Roughriders
96. DE John Bowman, Montreal Alouettes
97. DB Taylor Loffler, Montreal Alouettes
98. QB Nick Arbuckle, Ottawa Redblacks
99. ST Mike Miller, Winnipeg Blue Bombers
100. DE Chris Casher, B.C. Lions

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Josh Smith has been writing about the Ticats and the CFL since 2010 and was sporting his beard way before it was cool. Will be long after, too.