Ready To Make The Leap: Jarrad Davis
A season ago, the second-year linebacker from Florida was tipped to be a day-one starter for the Detroit Lions. In his first few games, it appeared that Davis had transitioned well to the pro level and he started fourteen games at MLB in a 4-3 scheme that relied heavily on the MIKE to be reliable in his instincts and play recognition.
Unfortunately for Davis, as the year progressed, he struggled in pass coverage to the extent where he pulled in certain passing situations. Teams would target Davis in pass coverage with tight ends and elusive backs causing defensive coordinator Teryl Austin to bench Davis.
It was a Week 11 matchup against the Chicago Bears where the Lions tweaked Davis' playing time. His playing time over the final seven starts drastically reduced – from 97% to 75.3 – most of the reduction constituted third down passing situations, something that Davis struggled with.
However, this benching proved to highlight Davis' actual value, as PFF rated him the fourth overall linebacker in those final seven games. During those last seven games, Davis was sprinkled into those obvious passing plays to foster his growth as a coverage linebacker, and in week 17 the results showed promise.
In the season finale against a Green Bay team without the majority of their receiving targets, Davis played every defensive snap and was rated by PFF the fourth highest line-backer for the week.
Davis will benefit from an extra year in the film room as well as the addition of Lions new head coach Matt Patricia. Patricia, famous for his thick beard, backwards cap and pencil behind his ear, came from New England where he learnt his craft under the guidance of Bill Belichick. Patricia started out as the linebackers coach where he helped develop the likes of Mike Vrabel, Teddy Bruschi and Junior Seau. Having a coach of this calibre will allow Davis to flourish in a defence that stresses the flexibility of linebackers to play both 4-3 and 3-4 schemes.
It is easy to write off Davis as a bust after being drafted so high and being benched as a result of poor coverage. Nevertheless, the final stretch of the season proved Davis' true potential, an every-down linebacker who is capable of 100 tackles and a satisfactory coverage guy in a Patricia lead defence.