Blazing speed and sure hands.
These were the words that aptly described Buffalo Bills wide receiver Lee Evans.
Evans recorded several 1,000-yard receiving seasons with the Bills during his seven-year tenure in Western New York.
He even recorded 205 receiving yards on just six receptions in the first quarter of a game against the Houston Texans in 2006.
Through it all, Evans never tasted postseason football with the Bills.
When his chance to win a Super Bowl ring with the Baltimore Ravens came prior to the 2011 NFL season, he dropped a potential game-winning touchdown in the AFC title game against the New England Patriots.
Despite the crushing defeat, Lee Evans has never let that one moment define his football career.
Evans was a reserved yet hard-nosed wide receiver who gave it his all every Sunday for eight seasons in the pro football ranks.
Lee Evans III was born in Bedford, OH on March 11, 1981.
He told BuffaloBills.com’s Kelly Baker in the spring of 2020 that he grew up following the Cleveland Browns.
Lee Evans attended Bedford High School in his hometown which is a southeastern suburb of Cleveland, OH.
He was a wide receiver for the Bedford Bearcats.
Evans also excelled on the track: he had a personal record of 13.59 seconds in the 110-meter hurdles and 37.32 seconds in the 300-meter hurdles.
Lee Evans would put that blazing speed to good use on the gridiron with the Wisconsin Badgers and Buffalo Bills as his football career progressed.
College Days With The Wisconsin Badgers
Lee Evans attended the University of Wisconsin from 2000 to 2003.
He suited up for Wisconsin Badgers head football coach Barry Alvarez.
Evans had 528 receiving yards and five touchdowns on 30 receptions in his true freshman season in 2000.
The Badgers won nine games that year and beat the UCLA Bruins in the 2000 Sun Bowl, 21-20.
Evans also exceeded expectations in the classroom: he earned Academic All-Big Ten honors as a true freshman in 2000.
Lee Evans’ college football journey was off to a good start.
He would reach unprecedented heights in 2001.
Evans had a then-Big Ten record 1,545 receiving yards and nine touchdowns on 75 catches in his sophomore campaign.
The fact Evans caught passes from three different quarterbacks (Jim Sorgi, Brooks Bollinger, and Matt Schabert) made the feat even more remarkable.
To nobody’s surprise, he became a finalist for the Biletnikoff Award.
Evans also earned the first of his two First Team All-Big Ten selections as a sophomore.
Regrettably, Wisconsin won just five games in 2001 and failed to appear in a bowl game for the first time in six seasons.
Evans ran into a huge stumbling block when he entered his junior season in 2002.
He told Mike Lucas of the Badgers’ official athletics website in 2016 that the spring intra-squad game from fourteen years earlier changed his life forever.
Evans ran a post route in the middle of the field before catching a pass over defensive back Johnny Sylvain.
Alas, Evans twisted his left knee when he came down after the catch. He tore his left ACL and underwent two surgeries. He sat out his entire junior season with the Badgers.
Ironically, just when Lee Evans’ college gridiron career took off, he came crashing down just as fast.
Fortunately, Evans viewed his ACL injury from a different perspective.
“One of the biggest things I learned from that whole experience was patience,” Evans told UWBadgers.com in 2016. “It forced me to understand what my body was telling me and what I could or couldn’t handle.”
Evans also told Lucas the fear of failing, the naysayers, and his support group motivated him to finish his rehab program successfully.
Lee Evans also learned a hard lesson during his time away from the college gridiron in 2002: when things aren’t going your way, not everyone will be in your corner.
He used that as motivation to propel himself forward in life.
Without Evans, the Badgers won eight games and beat the fourteenth-ranked Colorado Buffaloes in the 2002 Alamo Bowl, 31-28.
A rejuvenated Lee Evans prepared for his final season at Wisconsin in 2003.
Evans had a career day with 258 receiving yards and five touchdown receptions – all from fellow co-captain Jim Sorgi – in the Badgers’ 56-21 rout of the Michigan State Spartans on October 11, 2003.
Lee Evans came back from his ACL tear in resounding fashion.
Evans finished a tremendous 2002 NCAA season with 1,213 receiving yards and 13 touchdowns on 64 catches.
Evans consequently became a First Team All-Big Ten selection for the second time.
Wisconsin won seven games and received an invite to play in the 2003 Music City Bowl.
Unfortunately, the Badgers lost to the Auburn Tigers, 28-14.
Evans finished his college football career with 3,468 receiving yards and 27 touchdowns on 175 receptions.
Lee Evans eventually became a reliable wideout with the NFL’s Buffalo Bills on the next phase of his gridiron journey.
Pro Football Career
The Buffalo Bills made Lee Evans the 13th overall selection of the 2004 NFL Draft.
It was the first time in eight years the Bills drafted a wide receiver. They drafted Mississippi State Bulldogs wideout Eric Moulds 24th overall in 1996.
Buffalo couldn’t pass up on Evans’ rare combination of speed and catching abilities.
“Rarely do you find guys with this kind of speed who have hands as good as his are,” Bills head coach Mike Mularkey told The Buffalo News in 2004.
It was a gamble that paid huge dividends for the Bills.
When the Bills drafted Evans, he told The Athletic’s Lyndsey D’Arcangelo in 2019 that he didn’t know much about Buffalo.
He had the impression Buffalo was similar to his hometown of Cleveland.
Evans told the Bills’ official website some sixteen years later that his biggest concern coming into the draft was league doctors’ perception of him following an injury-ravaged junior year at Wisconsin.
Evans watched the draft festivities from his parents’ home in Ohio. He admitted to Baker that he felt stressed during the draft because it was rich in talent at the wide receiver position.
When the Bills called him before NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue announced his name with the 13th overall pick, he felt it was a surreal experience.
Evans told BuffaloBills.com that the memory that stood out the most was seeing his family members celebrating his selection.
— Bills Legends Community (@BillsLegends) March 12, 2021
Evans cherished the moment and promptly started his pro football career in spectacular fashion.
He regularly played opposite Moulds at wide receiver during the former’s rookie year in 2004.
Evans spent two seasons with Moulds in Buffalo. The latter gave him sound advice when he started out in the pro ranks.
“One of the first things he told me, he said, ‘These years fly by. You’re going to be at 10 years before you can blink,'” Evans told D’Arcangelo in 2019. “And sure enough, that was the case.”
Evans had a 65-yard reception against the Bills’ AFC East nemesis, the New York Jets, in Week 2.
He then had a 93-yard performance against the New England Patriots and a 46-yard touchdown catch against the Jets in the next two weeks.
Evans exploded for 110 receiving yards and two touchdowns against the Miami Dolphins five weeks later.
His 843 receiving yards and nine touchdowns on 48 receptions helped a high-octane Bills offense string together six consecutive victories as the season wound down.
Unfortunately, the Bills blew a chance to end a four-year postseason drought with a late-season loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Nonetheless, Lee Evans proved he belonged in the pro football ranks.
Evans’ performance remained consistent over the next few seasons.
When the Bills traded Moulds to the Houston Texans prior to the 2006 NFL season, Lee Evans took over the No. 1 wide receiver spot.
Evans responded to the challenge.
He set a new Bills team record with 205 receiving yards on six receptions in the first quarter of Buffalo’s game against the Houston Texans on November 20, 2006.
Evans had two 83-yard touchdown receptions courtesy of quarterback J.P. Losman in the game’s first eight-and-a-half minutes.
It was the first time the Bills recorded two touchdowns from at least 80 yards in the same game, per The Associated Press (via ESPN).
Evans nearly surpassed the Baltimore Ravens’ Qadry Ismail’s 210 receiving yards in a quarter in 1999.
Evans finished the 2006 NFL season with a career-best 1,292 receiving yards and eight touchdowns on 137 receptions.
He had arguably his best touchdown catch during the 2007 NFL season.
In a game against the New York Jets, Evans outjumped two defensive backs to catch Losman’s underthrown pass.
Evans scored on a spectacular game-clinching 85-yard touchdown moments later.
Evans recorded another 1,000-yard receiving season in 2008 before tailing off in his last two seasons in Buffalo.
Evans never had more than 578 receiving yards and four touchdown catches during that stretch.
Lee Evans spent his first seven seasons in the National Football League with a mediocre Buffalo Bills squad that averaged just six or seven wins per season.
Buffalo never made the postseason during Evans’ seven-year tenure in Western New York.
That trend changed during the 2011 NFL season.
The Bills traded Evans to the Baltimore Ravens for a fourth-round selection in the 2012 NFL Draft three weeks before the 2011 NFL campaign kicked off.
Since the Ravens hired John Harbaugh to become their head coach in 2008, they had averaged eleven wins per season.
Baltimore won twelve games in Lee Evans’ first year with the squad in 2011.
Evans was a non-factor with just 74 receiving yards on four receptions in nine games during an injury-riddled regular season.
Nevertheless, he was excited about tasting postseason football for the first time in his career.
He told The Baltimore Sun’s Matt Vensel on January 5, 2012 that he felt like a rookie all over again because it was a brand-new experience for him.
Arguably the lowest point in Evans’ pro football career came during the waning moments of the 2011 AFC Championship Game against Tom Brady’s New England Patriots.
January 22, 2012
Billy Cundiff misses a 32-yard FG by a country mile with 15 seconds to go.
CB Sterling Moore breaks up a potential go ahead TD pass to Lee Evans as the Patriots defeat the despised Ravens (23-20) in the AFC Championship gamepic.twitter.com/5Be03J3CXg
— Boston Sports Info (@bostonsportsinf) January 22, 2022
Evans couldn’t hang on to a potential game-winning touchdown reception in the fourth quarter. Patriots cornerback Sterling Moore swatted the ball away from his hands in the end zone.
Baltimore kicker Billy Cundiff’s 32-yard field goal try sailed wide left with 15 seconds remaining in the game.
New England prevailed, 23-20.
Despite the heart-breaking loss, Lee Evans doesn’t obsess over it.
It’s been a decade since Evans and his Ravens teammates lost to the Patriots. Instead of moping about it, Evans has been using it as a valuable teaching tool to younger athletes.
“It’s not necessarily what happens to you; it’s how you react to it,” Evans told ESPN Baltimore Ravens reporter Jamison Hensley in January 2022. “I think the biggest thing, when you’re talking to kids, is letting them know it’s okay to fail, and you’re going to fail. It’s going to happen.’
Evans asked the Ravens’ public relations team for a picture of his failed catch against the Patriots.
According to Hensley, Evans hung the photo in his home as a reminder to keep moving forward in life.
Evans also recalled stopping Hall of Fame middle linebacker Ray Lewis as the latter was about to board the Ravens team bus after the loss to the Patriots.
Evans wanted to apologize to Lewis for the failed catch. It also had bigger implications on Lewis’ career: back then, he thought the 36-year-old linebacker might not play in the Super Bowl again.
He thought wrong: Lewis eventually won his second Super Bowl ring after the Ravens beat the San Francisco 49ers a year later.
Lewis told Hensley he himself missed many tackles he should have made. He implicitly stated Lee Evans was one of the reasons why the Ravens made it to the 2011 AFC title game.
“And so as a brother, I’m proud of him,” Lewis told ESPN in 2022. “I’m proud of him that he’s kept himself together and he’s living a really good life.”
The loss to New England was Lee Evans’ final NFL game.
He signed a one-year deal with the Jacksonville Jaguars in the spring of 2012.
Unfortunately, they released him several weeks before the 2012 NFL season kicked off.
Lee Evans subsequently announced his retirement from professional football following his release from Jacksonville.
Evans had 6,008 receiving yards and 43 touchdowns on 318 receptions in his eight-year NFL career.
Evans prided himself in being a silent yet silky-smooth operator who let his game do the talking on the gridiron.
“I’m just not as wild and outspoken as some other guys,” Evans told the Niagara Gazette’s Jay Skurski on September 30, 2006. “It’s about the way you play, the way you interact with your team and the way you perform on Sunday.”
Lee Evans spent seven of his eight years in the National Football League with the Bills.
He told D’Arcangelo he missed the people – his teammates, coaches, and the fans – the most after he left Western New York prior to the 2011 NFL season.
Lee Evans and his wife Miranda have two sons: Lindon and Lee IV.
They currently reside in the Northern Virginia area. He’s a real estate investor and junior high school football, basketball, and baseball coach, per ESPN.
Lee Evans IV was born during his father’s playing days in Buffalo, NY. Consequently, he grew up following the Bills, per Hensley.
Evans has been making frequent visits to Baltimore in line with his real estate business.
He also joined the ranks of Drew Bledsoe and Rick Mirer as former NFL players who have ventured into the wine business.
Evans told The Athletic in 2019 that his wine shops dwell more on the retail side rather than actual wine-making.
He became a member of the Wisconsin Badgers Hall of Fame in 2016.
Evans learned about his induction from former Badgers head football coach Barry Alvarez.
Evans gave credit to Alvarez for instilling that competitive fire in him.
“He taught me about competing, being aggressive going for the ball and not being afraid to make mistakes: things that I still remember to this day,” Evans told Lucas in 2016. “I don’t know where I would be without him.”
Lee Evans has also been organizing youth football camps during his retirement years.