Were it simply a matter of talent, Florida linebacker Jarrad Davis would probably be a first-round pick in the 2017 NFL Draft. Back in 2015, the 6-foot-1, 238-pounder tallied 98 tackles and 3½ sacks for the Gators. But after an injury-marred senior campaign, there’s more than a little debate whether or not Davis will hear his name called on April 27.
As Lance Zierlein of NFL.com wrote, at least one AFC executive is hoping teams nit-pick Davis’ game – he’s hoping that will cause a slide-and-steal situation that enables his squad to snatch Davis up.
“He’s good,” the executive said. I don’t care about some of those holes you are talking about. Kill him so maybe somebody will listen to you and he can fall to us. We’ll take him.”
As Zierlein said, there’s plenty to like about Davis’ game.
“Praised for both his football and personal character,” he wrote, “Davis has athletic gifts to go along with the character traits teams are looking for. His ability to cover ground, operate with loose hips in space, and finish his tackles make him a draft favorite for some teams.”
However, after leg and ankle injuries both tarnished Davis’ 2016 season and prevented him from working out in Indianapolis, Davis’ durability became a question mark. Davis allowed to Alec Shirkey of SEC Country that there were more than a few questions regarding his health at the combine, although he thought he answered those questions satisfactorily.
“It was a rough process, I’m not even going to lie to you. It was rough,” he said. “But it turned out pretty well. I came out good. I felt healthy. If they found something, they found something. But I feel great. A lot of teams, they’re telling me I built a good resume for myself on film. I played hard. I did a lot to make myself a standout player. The injuries are the injuries. I got to make sure I’m healthy. And I can come back and show them I’m the same guy they see watching that tape.”
Mel Kiper of ESPN appears to agree, telling Dan Salomone of the New York Giants’ website that a strong outing at Florida’s pro day has worked Davis back into the Round 1 discussion – pick No. 23, to be exact.
“An ankle injury kept Davis out of workouts at the combine,” Kiper said, “but he had a spectacular pro day, running a 4.56 40 with a 38.5-inch vertical. Kelvin Sheppard started 11 games at middle linebacker for the Giants last season, but he’s a free agent, while 2016 first-round pick B.J. Goodson only played 14 snaps. The versatile Davis, my No. 2 inside linebacker, would slot in on Day 1.”
Davis told Edgar Thompson of The Orlando Sentinel he had a mission during his pro day workout – show the assembled scouts and coaches his injury woes are in the rearview mirror.
“I came out here with the mindset of coming out and showing everybody I’m the same athlete I was before,” Davis said. “Just showing an ankle injury is an ankle injury. That happens, but I can bounce back every time. I came out here today wanting to show guys that I’m going to compete, I’m going to compete at the top level. I’m going to execute every time I get a chance to. I feel like I did that.”
Kiper isn’t alone in his first-round assessment. Dane Brugler of CBS Sports also forecasts that Davis will be taken before the first day of the NFL draft ends, mocking him to the Kansas City at No. 27.
“When healthy and on the field, Davis was one of the best linebackers in the country with his combination of explosive traits and power,” Brugler said. “It wouldn’t take long for him to carve out a leadership role on the Kansas City defense.”
Colleague Rob Rang agrees that Davis is a first-round talent, citing his varied skill set as one that will appeal to a good many NFL clubs.
“Davis will provide his future NFL defensive coordinator with options,” Rang wrote, “as he possesses the speed and agility of a traditional 4-3 outside linebacker, as well as the instincts and toughness to handle inside duties.”
It’s that last part that should pique the interest of Individual Defensive Player (IDP) owners. Not only does Davis have the requisite combination of size and speed to play either outside in the 4-3 or inside in the 3-4, but he’s also shown enough athleticism and ability in coverage to inspire confidence he could lock down a three-down role sooner rather than later.
Now, this isn’t to say that Davis doesn’t have flaws. His poor use of leverage sometimes gets him swallowed up by blockers at the point of attack, and he can actually be overly aggressive at times when coming downhill at ball-carriers, taking bad angles. And his durability issues (he missed substantial time in two of the past three seasons) are a real and valid concern.
But Davis has the ability and upside to (in theory) earn significant playing time early in his NFL career. Given that and a “neutral” landing spot on draft day, Davis should at least be worth a look on the IDP 3/4 fringe in redraft formats. A favorable destination (like the aforementioned Giants) would bump him even father up draft boards. And in any event, Davis will be one of the first few rookie linebackers chosen in dynasty IDP leagues.