Demario Davis’ career as a New York Jet began with a staggering comparison and 36 tackles. When the Jets called his name with pick number 77 in the third round of the 2012 NFL Draft, Jet fans were left wondering who the linebacker was. This reaction was justified as Davis had not been linked to the Jets and had a fifth round or lower grade from most “draft experts”.
The first thing Jets fans would learn about Davis came from Rex Ryan’s lips: “Wow. … This is amazing. He reminds me of Ray (Lewis).” While Ryan later clarified his statement, saying that the comparison was directed more toward Davis’ leadership ability and mannerisms than play, the flood gates were opened. The media had a field day with the quote, raising expectations for the unheralded linebacker out of Arkansas State while simultaneously bemoaning Ryan’s grandiose opinion of his player. Social media was flooded with highlight videos from Davis’ time with the A-State Red Wolves that featured punishing hits and running down backs from across the field.
Despite all the noise that surrounded Davis’ entrance into the NFL, the young linebacker remained quiet and preferred to let his play do the talking. Davis saw limited action in 2012, playing only in relief of Bart Scott and on special teams. Davis played in all 16 games last season and came away with a quiet 36 tackles. However, Davis excelled on special teams and showed flashes of the athleticism that could help him find his niche on defense. Lets take a look at what Davis brings to the table and where he fits with the 2013 Jets and beyond.
The Tangibles: Davis’ play at Arkansas State was impressive but his draft stock only began to rise after a noteworthy combine. The former Red Wolf led all linebackers with a 4.61 second 40 yard dash, a 38.5 inch vertical, a 124 inch broad jump, and 11.65 seconds on the 60 yard shuttle. His speed and agility were not the limits of his athletic ability as Davis posted an impressive 33 reps on the bench, demonstrating explosive strength to complement his quicks. At 6’2″ – 240 pounds, Davis’ ability to cut, move laterally, and zip across the field are even more impressive.
The Intangibles: Ryan’s early quote said much about what he thinks of Davis as a man, but the linebacker himself takes a different outlook. Davis told Connor Orr of the Star Ledger that “I don’t feel like I have to overexert myself. I have a locker room full of guys that respect me because they know I respect them. To get respect you have to give it, and I think the guys respect me for who I am.” This quote gives greater insight into Demario Davis as a leader. His teammates attest to the fact that Davis can be a vocal leader when the situation calls for it but it is clear that Davis prefers to let his actions speak for him. He doesn’t want to lead by words but by example, a trait that will hopefully foster competition and get the best out of his teammates.
The On-Field Evidence: By leadership and combine results alone Davis should have been a first round pick. However, Davis played at Arkansas State, a member of the Sun Belt Conference that poses such competition as Florida Atlantic, Middle Tennessee State, and Troy. Davis finished a 4 year career, against middling competition, with 229 total tackles, 7 sacks, 4 interceptions, and 5 forced fumbles. These numbers, while solid, do not jump off the page. Furthermore, Davis’ athleticism did not translate into solid coverage, his self proclaimed best attribute. “I’m pretty natural in coverage. Not to boast or anything, it was just one of those things that I was natural at when I came into college. The thing I struggled with was run fits and playing the run.” Scouting reports and tape study showed that Davis had no trouble keeping pace with receivers but showed him struggling to diagnose the play and be in the right position.
Though he self admittedly struggled playing the run early in college, he now excels at hitting the hole and chasing the ball carrier down from the inside out. Though his speed sometimes causes him to over pursue, his power makes him a solid tackler and allows him to deliver punishing hits. His 5 forced fumbles as a Red Wolf serve as evidence for his tenacity with the hit stick. Receivers and backs hesitate to face him head on over the middle of the field for fear of his crushing hits.
2013 Projection: The turnover at the linebacker position from 2012-2013 has been significant. Old stalwarts have moved on to greener pastures and fresh faces are poised for new roles. It would be easy to say that Davis should look to fill the shoes of the departed Mad Backer, but #56 hopes to build his own legacy. Davis’ role should not be confined to a run stuffing middle linebacker in a 3-4 defense. As has been broached by Turn On The Jets in the past, the Jets 2013 defense can not (and should not) be pigeonholed into a base 3-4 label. Davis will most likely be the de-facto starter alongside David Harris on CBS’ starting defense widget but, more importantly, he will see a significant number of snaps that best utilize his abilities. Davis will be asked to cover tight ends one-on-one over the middle of the field. He will see time in sub packages where his role will be disguised, leaving offenses to guess whether he hits a gap or drops into coverage. Davis’ ability will allow him to play multiple roles and provide him with one of the highest snap counts on defense.
If Davis can put it all together, his leadership and athleticism could make him a stalwart on the Jets defense for years to come. His prospects in coverage and ball-jarring hits could make him a walking highlight reel. When asked about Davis this offseason, Rex Ryan said: “Either a guy has it or he doesn’t, and he has it.”