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Player Spotlight: LB Jarrad Davis

A detailed look at Jarrad Davis' fantasty prospects for 2017 and beyond.

POSITIVES

  • Davis will be a three-down starter from day one in a very productive situation.

  • He profiles as a high-character leader.

  • Davis has an unrelenting motor, loves contact, and can drop into coverage.

NEGATIVES

  • Davis leaves his feet too often and displays poor form when making tackles, something that won’t fly at the pro level.

  • He will need to get better at shedding/beating blocks to reach his full potential in the NFL.

  • His small frame could lead to continued durability issues.

THE LEVY BREAKS

At the end of the 2014 season, DeAndre Levy was on top of the world. He had just logged a whopping 151 combined tackles and was widely considered one of the top five linebackers in the game. He signed a contract with Detroit for an eye-popping four-year, nearly 33.8 million dollar deal. At age 28, it looked as if he had a few more very productive years ahead.

Fast forward to 2017, where Levy is now 30 and looking for a new team after the Lions cut him in March. What happened in two years that caused this dramatic shift in fortune for Levy? It all began with a hip injury that landed him on injured reserve in 2015 after having appeared in only one game. In 2016, he played through knee and quadriceps injuries before being shut down again after toughing it out for five games. General Manager Bob Quinn made comments that suggested Levy would be retained, but when the new league year rolled around, the plug was pulled.

DEBUT DAVIS

With major holes in their linebacking group caused by Levy’s departure and losses in free agency, most draft analysts predicted the Lions would take a linebacker early in the Draft.  Detroit did not disappoint, using their first round pick to select Jarrad Davis. Almost immediately, Head Coach Jim Caldwell cleared up any concerns about Davis’ role when he stated, “He’s fast. I think the numbers speak for themselves. It’s rare to see a guy with his size and bulk that can move like he moves. He’s a guy that’s versatile. Certainly going to be able to play three downs for us…”  Caldwell also hinted before the start of minicamp that Davis would be the day one starter: “We expect him to be a factor for us. Smart guy. He’s got ability, can run, hit, etc. So I think he’ll help us quickly.” As for where he’ll play on the defense, that also was not left a mystery for very long. Days after the Draft, GM Bob Quinn stated, “We’ll play him at middle linebacker (we hope for many years) with him calling our defense.” Tahir Whitehead will move outside and the third linebacker spot will be a camp competition. Both positioning and speed (which he has in spades) will mean that Davis will have plenty of tackle opportunity.

In the modern game in which having a linebacker who can drop and cover tight ends is paramount, Davis has the quickness to stay with them and prevent them from ripping the seam. He moves fluidly from sideline to sideline, much in the way his predecessor (Levy) did in his prime. One can also tell by watching his tape that Davis’ motor is always running hot and that he craves contact. After he was drafted, Davis told reporters, “I love hitting. I love striking people. I love just exerting force on another person. You can't do it in any other way. You can't do it on the street. You can't do it at anybody's house. You have to do it within the lines, within the paint.”

Unlike fellow draft mate Reuben Foster, character hasn’t been a concern for Davis. Quinn hinted in his post-draft comments that he may have even selected Davis ahead of Foster for these reasons when he stated, “You are drafting the whole player, the whole person. You’re not just taking a guy (you’re) going to see on Sunday. He’s going to be in this building. He’s going to be in this community.” Scouts and coaches alike praise Davis as a high-character leader whose commitment to the game is evident.

DAVIS THE DUD?

There are some reasons for apprehension regarding Davis. He has had well-documented injury concerns. In 2014, he suffered a meniscus injury that ended his season. In 2016, he struggled with an ankle injury that he tried to play through, but that ultimately caused him to miss the rest of the year. Some scouts feel he is too undersized, which is why he was often hurt in college. They maintain that he will not hold up to the rigors of the NFL.

There are also some technical issues with Davis’ game that must be corrected before he can hit his ceiling. It’s been noted that Davis often does not square up to tackle, but instead launches himself to make stops. This is a tendency that may have worked for Davis at the college level, but something that he’ll need to correct to be impactful in the pro game. Also, when Davis was with Florida, big interior defensive lineman generally kept Davis clean from blocks, allowing him to identify plays and flow to his target more easily. The few times that his line was outmatched, it became evident in Davis’ tape that he struggles to stack and shed blocks. If Detroit’s defensive front four are healthy and can play well together, they can keep the blockers from reaching Davis’ level. However, the Lions’ defensive line has struggled to find health and continuity since the departures of Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley nearly two years ago. Haloti Ngata has struggled to stay healthy for the past two years. Ziggy Ansah also battled through injuries last year and played poorly as a result. Tyrunn Walker departed and left second year A’Shawn Robinson to fill his shoes. If these health and synergy problems continue along the defensive line, Davis may struggle to free himself from blockers and find the runner, as was sometimes the case in his college days.

FINAL THOUGHTS

In redraft formats where an owner must start three or more linebackers, Davis will be somewhat under the radar in leagues because he’s a rookie. The productive situation and the fact he’ll be a three-down player makes Davis a fine low end LB2 to high-end LB3 option in typical scoring systems. Detroit’s statistical crew issues solo tackles among the upper half of the league, which will help in leagues that award generous points for tackles.

In dynasty formats, caution is more advisable. Not investing in Davis with any more than a mid-third round pick is wise. Davis is one that could easily follow the same career path as Levy-- having moments where he shines and shows his motor and heart, but ultimately missing a great deal of time. Additionally, Davis is usually the first linebacker off the board, but both Zach Cunningham and Reuben Foster have similar or greater long-term upside to Davis and can typically be drafted later.

2017 PROJECTIONS

JOHN NORTON'S PROJECTIONS

G

TKL

AST

SCK

FF

FR

PD

INT

TD

FPT

16

86

34

1

2

1

5

1

0

180.0

 

Daniel Simpkins' PROJECTIONS

 

G

TKL

AST

SCK

FF

FR

PD

INT

TD

FPT

16

65

24

1

2

1

5

1

0

144.0

OTHER VIEWPOINTS

Bee Salamat of FakePigskin writes of Davis:

"He will be the starting MLB for the Lions; he brings attitude and athleticism on what was a pourous linebacker unit in Detroit last season."

Writing about Davis before the draft, CBS Sports’ Rob Rang concluded:

“Davis will provide his future NFL defensive coordinator with options 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.”

Lance Zierlein sees promise in Davis, but voiced the following concerns in his NFL.com scouting report:

“While it is easy to fall in love with the traits and potential, (Davis) will have to take better routes to the ball and learn to keep himself clean against blocks.”