Is Jarrad Davis the Lions answer at linebacker?

Gif Breakdowns, NCAA Football, NFL Draft

Mansur Shaheen

As the Lions first round pick in the 2017 draft, Jarrad Davis is heading to Detroit with all kinds of expectations surrounding him. The linebacker is joining what was the worst defense in the NFL in 2016, and he’ll be expected to contribute immediately. Detroit parted ways with long time linebacker DeAndre Levy at the beginning of free agency, leaving the rookie with big shoes to fill.

Linebacker is the biggest point of concern for the Lions entering 2017. The unit was depleted by injuries last season, and the linebackers that were on the field were awful. Detroit elected not to chase any big name free agents, and instead used the draft to fill the team’s biggest need.

Davis will have a lot of pressure on him to succeed from day one in Detroit. It was already announced last week that he will most likely be the team’s starting middle linebacker come fall. This means he will be one of the most important players on the Lions roster.

So does Davis have what it takes to be the player the Lions need?

One big point of concern for the Lions defense last season was their awful run defense. Their front seven was weak between the non-existent linebacking corps and a defensive line that disappeared consistently. Opposing running backs, especially power backs, got to the second level with ease. They weren’t burned for huge yardage that often last season, but consistently allowing six or seven yard carries took its toll over time.

Jarrad Davis excels at defending against the run. He has great vision and anticipation from the backfield. He plugs up gaps, and knows how to read the offense to stay a step ahead.

On this goal line play during the Florida Gators match up against Ole Miss in 2015, he saves touchdown by stuffing a running back in the back field.

He uses the first second after the ball is snapped to read the offense. Davis quickly sees the gap right up the middle and jumps it to stuff the ball carrier in the backfield.

His ability to shed off blocks is even more valuable than his vision, though. Davis is strong in the trenches, and can easily create separation between himself and a blocker. Even when he doesn’t get a clean run into the backfield, which is rare in the NFL, he can break a play up.

During the Gators 2016 match up against UMass Davis displayed his ability to shed blocks on this play. He reads the offense and puts himself in position to make a stop on the ball carrier. The guard gets in front of him though. He quickly dispatches the offensive lineman, and bursts into the hole for the stop. UMass isn’t prime opposition, but he made big plays like this against even the best of teams.

That right there is Jarrad Davis stuffing Leonard Fournette at the line of scrimmage and shoving him back a few yards. Fournette, who already is one of the more terrifying running backs in the NFL only days after being drafted. Davis is strong.  Combine his strength with his vision, and you have a potential elite run defender.

He made plays like these all season for Florida, and if his talent translates into the NFL the Lions may revive their amazing rush defense from only a few years ago.

His anticipation doesn’t only help at the line of scrimmage. Davis has a knack for sniffing plays out and breaking them up before they get going. The most impressive example is how quick he is to screens.

On this play against Vanderbilt in 2016, Davis takes a second at the snap to digest what is happening in front of him. He treads to the side a bit, but doesn’t not commit to the play until he is sure to what is happening. The linebacker see’s the screen developing in front of him and manages to get to the running back as the ball does. He takes down the runner at the line of scrimmage and forces a third and long.

His natural instincts and vision allow him to sniff out play actions. In the 2015 SEC championship against Alabama, he reads the play action into a reverse and chases down the receiver on the sideline. Just like the previous plays, he takes a second at the snap to just watch what’s happening. His patience allows him to stand pat when the ball is faked to the running back. He then see’s the reverse and quickly reacts. His acceleration allows him to break to the sideline fist and make a tackle for minimal gain.

Davis made a name for himself making quick reads from the linebacker position, and breaking up plays before they could truly get going. It’s a skill vital to a middle linebacker in todays NFL, and allows him to serve the same role DeAndre Levy did on the Lions previously. This was not always the case though, as we will see later.

Instincts fail Davis at times, though. Sometimes he isn’t as patient as he should be reading a play, and makes costly, embarrassing, errors.

On this play against LSU in 2015, Davis tries to make a similar play to the one he made against Ole Miss above. He tries to shoot the gap at the goal line and stuff the runner in the backfield. Fournette beats him to the spot, though, and waltz’s around the corner for the easy touchdown. If Davis had instead taken a step back then treaded towards his left he would meet Fournette at the goal line. Trying to take down Fournette at the goal line is tough, but it’s better then letting him walk by you for an easy score.

His struggles against LSU didn’t end there. He fails to sniff out a screen on this play and ends up in no man’s land.

Davis reads the screen, and positions himself well. There are blockers in front of him, though, so he guesses which way the runner will go. He goes the wrong way and get stuck on the wrong side of the play. If he had stayed in position he could have stopped the play for medium gain. Instead LSU got by Florida’s first defender and the rest of the defense had clean up the play.

The one benefit from Davis’s move, though, was it kept the ball carrier away from the side line. He cut off the corner and forced him towards the inside.

Davis’s tendency to sometimes get to far ahead of a play really hurts on play action. On this play against UMass, he gets a clear run into the backfield, and the quarterback. He falls for the play action and decks the empty-handed running back while the quarterback runs by him.

He times the snap perfectly and should have had an easy tackle for loss. His instincts fail him, though, and he makes an embarrassing error.

Play action is something Davis struggled with a lot during him time at Florida. He tries to over anticipate plays, and finds himself turned around chasing a ghost while the play continues behind him.

Davis has a knack for over committing. His mistakes on play action plays are not the only times over commitment burns him.  His issues with over anticipation also lead to him whiffing on tackles. He will chase down a runner at full speed, then get his ankles broken trying to make a tackle.

Against UMass last season, he was juked out by the Minutemen’s QB, and allowed a preventable touchdown.

Davis knows where the QB is running, and tries to beat him to the spot. The UMass QB sees him coming and hesitates. The small hesitation sends Davis flying by and the Gators give up a touchdown.

Against Alabama in the 2015 SEC title game, he misses out on a sack due to an over commitment.

The play breaks down and Davis manages to chase down the quarterback. That should have been a sack for a huge loss, but instead Davis is left grasping the air. Luckily, his teammates cover him and his error only costed Florida five yards.

Still, there is no reason for him to miss the tackle.

Davis struggled with open field tackles against Ole Miss in 2015 as well.

Neither of these misses were that costly, in the second one he still technically made the tackle. But the Lions play Aaron Rodgers twice a year. Rodgers will make a team pay for whiffing on sacks.

Both issues are coachable so Lions fans should not have too much to worry about surrounding their new first round linebacker entering the season.

The key to everything Davis does, whether it’s the good like stuffing an RB and the goal line or the bad, like bursting into the backfield to tackle the wrong guy, is his speed.

Davis fly’s around the defensive backfield to make plays all around the field.

On this play against Alabama he partially redeems himself. Davis quickly closes on the quarterback as he leaves the pocket. He gets into the backfield fast when the play breaks down and doesn’t make any errors tackling the quarterback. The play is ruled an incompletion as the ball was quickly thrown out of bounds, but his chase stopped the Tide from converting on an easy check down.

Against Vanderbilt he again forced an incompletion with his blazing speed into the backfield.

He erupts through the line after the snap. Davis shoves off a blocker in the backfield then goes full steam ahead towards the quarterback. He forces a bad pass and an incompletion despite still being a few yards away. Just his speed and presence his scary for an opposing quarterback.

All year his speed was the most important factor to his game, he was everywhere at once and always happened to be at the right place at the right time. He had the ability to take a second to scan a play because he knew he was fast enough to get to the spot he needed to be.

Davis is an exciting prospect for the Lions and will fill their biggest need this season. He makes a few errors at times, but he is a pro ready player with potential to hold down the middle linebacker spot for years down the line.

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