Just before Thursday evening turned into Friday morning, Frisco Liberty wide receiver Evan Stewart unexpectedly announced his commitment to the Texas Longhorns weeks after stepping back from making an early decision.
Stewart’s pledge gives the Longhorns another highly-rated offensive weapon to pair with Gardena (Calif.) Junipero Serra quarterback Maalik Murphy, who committed last Saturday, Klein Cain running back Jaydon Blue, and Lewisville wide receiver Armani Winfield.
Ranked as a top-40 prospect, Stewart is the No. 5 wide receiver nationally, according to the 247Sports Composite rankings. He’s also a track standout with personal bests of a 10.74 100m, a 21.08 200m, and 47’9 triple jump.
As a deep threat, Stewart can use his speed to take the top off opposing defenses to create big plays, but he’s also a home-run threat on short passes.
In a lot of ways, Stewart looks like new Texas head coach Steve Sarkisian’s last standout receiver, Heisman winner DeVonta Smith, who racked up 12 receptions for 215 receiving yards and three touchdowns before halftime in the national championship game. Listed at 6’1 and 175 pounds, Smith has a similar build to Stewart, who is 6’0 and 175 pounds. With a 4.13 shuttle and 34.5-inch vertical leap in high school, Smith also has similar athleticism, although Stewart might be faster on the top end.
Some of the schemes used by Frisco Liberty even look like how Sarkisian take advantage of motion to put Smith in position to succeed. Isn’t this almost straight out of Sarkisian’s playbook from the title game?
It's hard to imagine a play that could look more like how Sark used DeVonta Smith at Alabama than this one by @0fficial_evan showing off his big-play ability in space. Just an absolutely elite TD here. #22EFFECT #AllGasNoBrakes pic.twitter.com/VjmTTmeJnx— Wescott Eberts (@SBN_Wescott) February 19, 2021
Stewart begins motioning into the backfield, then pivots back outside into the flat, to use his speed and after-the-catch ability. Thanks to his acceleration, some slipperiness, and strong vision, Stewart takes it all the way for a touchdown.
But Stewart can also serve as his quarterback’s best friend, making the passer right for throws that are off target with his ability to track the football and the body control to adjust to make the catch.
The speed for Evan Stewart is obvious, but plays like this show his ability to track the football in the air and then the body control to come down with it. That's a really nice dimension to his game. pic.twitter.com/lgUfcv6D1j— Wescott Eberts (@SBN_Wescott) February 19, 2021
As good as Stewart is at Frisco Liberty in recording 89 catches for 1,670 yards and 13 touchdowns over the last two seasons, there are a handful of base plays in Sarkisian’s offense that can feature Stewart as the primary target or on crossing routes.
Sarkisian described this run-pass option as the “simplest form of what we do” — if the strong safety is low, the quarterback throws the speed out to the Z receiver. The speed and quickness of Stewart makes him an appealing player to use in that role and pick up easy yardage with the potential to break a tackle for a big play.
Stewart is also a strong fit for the Glance RPO that allows the Z receiver to “break to daylight” on the fourth outside step, a scheme that typically features the team’s most explosive receiver.
When defenses try to play a single-high safety at 10 yards in response to the RPO game, Sarkisian designs his play-action passing game to look like an RPO while forcing defenses to defend post routes. Stewart’s speed makes him an appealing option on those plays, but one area where Sarkisian will likely use him more than Frisco Liberty does is on crossing routes like the Hi cross run here by the H receiver where Stewart can run away from man defenders or run through zone defenses.
If the safety has to retreat to a deeper positioning due to the threat of balls getting thrown over his head, Sarkisian wants to run deep crossing routes in front of him by the Z and H receivers, a concept known in Sarkisian’s offense as Wave.
Expect Sarkisian to also use Stewart on Mesh-style concepts like Railroad that features the X and Y receivers running shallow crossing routes to create natural rubs against man coverage.
On all the routes that Stewart will run in Sarkisian’s offense, the emphasis will be on getting Stewart the ball on the move to take advantage of his athleticism — that’s something that Sarkisian values for all his wide receivers. So as good as Stewart has been in high school, there is some upside left for Sarkisian to tap into because the design of Sarkisian’s offense is built to feature wide receivers with Stewart’s skill set.