Lions Linebacker Jarrad Davis Delivered A Roller Coaster Performance In His Rookie Season.
Jarrad Davis was selected in the first round of the 2017 draft with soaring expectations. The Lions needed a makeover to the front seven and a new stud middle linebacker was the first step towards completing it. The run defense was a sieve and the pass defense was equally as bad, especially when covering tight ends. Jarrad Davis was general manager Bob Quinn‘s answer. Excitement was in the air in Allen Park. Now it’s a year later, and Davis has his first season in the books. It’s time to take a look back and see how it went.
As with most rookies, Davis had his share of problems. The biggest of those problems came in pass coverage. Often targeted and beat, his coverage became a liability that couldn’t be ignored. In week 11 he began to come off the field for passing downs. More on that later. While Davis has the physical tools to handle coverage in the NFL, it didn’t translate in his rookie year. Play recognition and adjusting to the speed of the NFL may partially be to blame. I expect this to be a flaw that improves as his experience grows.
Davis had some trouble with open field tackling as well. His pursuit angles weren’t lining up well and he would often arrive late or overpursue and get caught out of the play when a ball carrier cut back. As with his struggles in pass coverage, I feel comfortable chalking this up to the normal rookie learning curve and expect improvement. When he becomes comfortable playing full speed without overthinking he should look like a different player. That being said, it’s still a concern. Being able to trust your MLB to finish off plays is a key to any good defense. Davis must make those strides quickly if he’s going to live up to his draft price.
Davis played on roughly 86% of the Lions defensive snaps in the games that he was active (he missed weeks 3 and 4 with a concussion). That number was actually in the high 90s until week 11. That’s when he started coming off the field for most passing situations. While his playing time decreased he seemed to hit a stride in consistency and production. Pro Football Focus graded Davis a 46.1 for the entire year, a very poor grade. The upside to that is during the final 6 weeks he graded as the 4th best LB in the entire league. Those final six weeks happen to be when the coaching staff limited his responsibilities and playing time. This is hardly a coincidence. Allowing Davis to focus on less and do fewer things at a higher level seemed to click.
Davis is in line to go through his first full NFL off-season and is being welcomed at the door by new head coach, defensive guru Matt Patricia. That certainly can’t hurt his progress. As expected of any young player there should be a noticeable improvement in his play next season. Patricia and the staff must figure out why Davis was struggling and how to patch up those holes. A true difference maker at linebacker has to be able to stay on the field for three downs. However, if they can patch the leaks (which they should) Jarrad Davis should be a major part of the defense next season and for years to come.