By Kyle Rota
I’m not normally a big fan of writing these two game reports, as I don’t believe two games gives enough snaps to make a confident prediction on a player’s ability. Anthony Davis is a prospect who will require even more games than the usual 4 I aim for, but I only have two 2009 Rutgers games so I was forced to stop earlier than I’d like.
Two games is a nice number for one reason, though – they show us, in depth, what a guy can and does do on the field. That’s half the battle, the other half being how often he does it, and what he’ll be able to do at the NFL level. But the first half is important, and with the Anthony Davis rumor Rob wrote about (here) it seemed like a good time to write about the Rutgers tackle.
The first thing that stood out watching Davis is obviously his size and strength. He’s a good athlete, don’t get me wrong. Good enough to play LT in the NFL. But even more impressive is his size and strength. He’s 325lbs (or more) and he really does play like it. He really creates space for the running back on his side of the ball, and (in limited attempts) he does a good job getting to and removing the LB (a key part of zone blocking). While he is absolutely huge for a Gibbs-coached-player, he is every bit as athletic as Russell Okung in the running game and should have no problems in Seattle’s zone blocking system.
The one possible exception is cut blocking – given Davis’ strength advantage over almost every opponent, he had little desire to cut block opponents and I’ve only see him try at most one cut block (it was such a terrible attempt at a block I’m not sure what he was trying to do – sadly not the only time I was confused when watching Davis block). Cut blocking is very important in a Gibbs system, but it is also one of the easier skills to learn so it will be interesting to see (in other games) if Davis gets any opportunities to cut block. If he can’t or doesn’t, it will add yet another confusing issue for Seattle to deal with when deciding what grade to give Davis.
It takes a little longer to spot, but it becomes clear pretty early how inconsistent Davis is. You never know what you're going to get. I can talk about ten plays where Davis did a great job, and ten plays where Davis looked like he should’ve been riding the bench for Rutgers. Davis really impressed me with how he handled the speed George Selvie (USF, DE) brought to his rushes – Davis was able to handle Selvie with minimal help (something a lot of teams have been unable to do) while showing the lateral slide that makes me think he’s one of the rare players who has the athleticism to play LT at 325lbs in any system (Davis was standing up on most of the pass plays against Selvie, he’ll have to show the same athleticism with his hand on the ground as I watch more of him). He’s also (consistently, of all things) quick off the snap – so quick I actually thought he was cheating and beating the center, but really he’s just that quick. That’s an athleticism, instincts, and smarts skill all in one movement, and Davis really excelled there in the two games I broke down.
Unfortunately, Davis has also done some of the poorest blocking I’ve seen, from a technique perspective. There’s the time he launched himself a few feet off the ground at a LB’s general direction in what I am assuming was a terrible cut block. Or the time Davis thought blocking in the back (on a guy with no real chance to impact the play) was a good way to start a drive. Or when Davis flung his leg out in what was either a spasmodic movement or a poor attempt to trip the DE after getting beat, I’ll probably never know. It was really interesting on the few occasions when USF DE Jason Paul-Pierre was matched up against Davis, as you had two great athletes (JPP being more fast, Davis being more big) with terrible technique squaring off. Davis played very well against USF, but JPP was occasionally able to get pressure (Selvie struggled to even do that).
Inconsistency involves more than technique – Davis’s effort seems to grow and fade almost at random. He almost always starts each half playing with fire (sometimes too much so, as he is a walking penalty machine who I swear must be paying Big East officials not to flag him), but after the first series you see him mix great effort with poor effort, especially in the passing game – I think it is telling that some Cincinnati DE who I’ve never heard of was able to get two sacks on Davis, but the vaunted Selvie/JPP duo could not even touch the QB when lined up against Davis. We could be looking at either a motivation issue (playing up/down to competition across from him) or a conditioning issue (Cincinnati game was early in the year and he had to pass protect a lot due to the score, USF was much later, meaning Davis should be in better shape, and Rutgers was able to build a big lead and ran the ball much more frequently). Neither is good, but neither is unfixable either.
I can certainly understand why the Seahawks front office might be interested in Davis. He has the prototypical size and athleticism to play either tackle spot, flashes great nastiness and intensity, and gets off the ball quickly. However, the glaring inconsistency and poor technique really make me pause, as almost every nice thing I say about Davis has to be followed with “sometimes”. It is worth noting that the Shanahan Denver Broncos (with Jeremy Bates on staff) – who still ran Gibbs’ system, albeit without Gibbs – drafted a pretty similar prospect in Ryan Clady, who they coached up to be the best in the league. I can see the similarities between Clady and Davis, and it is certainly possible that the Seahawks are indeed giving the Rutgers tackle a long look.