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Potential Breakout Stars: Demario Davis, LB

Could the athletic linebacker take the next step?

Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

One of the fun games to play every year is to see which young player on the team is due to make the leap to the next level.  Last year, we saw Damon Harrison leap from an undrafted afterthought to the league's top run stopping nose tackle.  The year before that, it was Mo Wilkerson going from solid rookie season to elite defensive lineman.  In the coming days, I will profile some of the Jets young players who could be "making the leap" to the next level of play.  I'm going to kick things off with a guy who has flown under the radar but has played a lot of snaps for this defense, Demario Davis.

Davis was drafted in the 3rd round of the 2012 draft out of small school Arkansas State.  Davis was received with a surprising amount of fanfare for a third round pick out of a small school, undoubtedly due to superior athleticism and a tantalizing amount of potential (at the Combine, Davis benched 32 times, ran a 4.61 40 and posted a 38.5 inch vertical and a 10-4 broad jump).  Davis was expected to be the heir apparent to Bart Scott, who was on his way out the door and would be out of football one year later.

The early returns on Demario Davis have been, to say the least, not very promising.  Although Rex gave Davis favorable comparisons to the legendary Ray Lewis, Davis was anything but.  As a rookie, his most notable moments came during a game against the hated Patriots.  Early in the game, Davis abandoned his lane while covering a kick return, opening a hole that Devin McCourty would dash through en route to a 104 yard touchdown. Later, Tom Brady picked on Davis as a target in a game tying drive that sent the game into overtime, where the Jets would eventually lose.  Davis did start 3 games that year and finished with 36 tackles, 10 of which came on special teams, and it was notable that Davis's playing time did not significantly increase down the stretch when it appeared that the Jets were highly unlikely to make the playoffs (Davis played 34 defensive snaps in the last 5 games of the season).

Although Davis had a tough rookie season, there was optimism that Davis could handle a starting role.  Bart Scott was cut, lopping off a bunch of cap hit for little performance. Davis was thrust into the role next to David Harris.  Davis was given the opportunity to sink or swim, and unfortunately he sunk. Davis did finish second on the team with 107 tackles, however he was notably poor in coverage and did not make very many plays, with only 5 tackles for a loss, 1 sack, 1 pass defensed, and 1 interception.  Per ProFootballFocus, in coverage, Davis was targeted 70 times, allowed 56 completions (80%) for 546 yards and a touchdown.  Davis had 4 games where he allowed 50 or more yards in coverage, and 2 others where he allowed 49 and 44.  To put this into perspective, out of 35 inside linebackers (50% of the passing snaps), Davis was the 5th most targeted, allowed the most receptions, the third most yards, and had the 5th worst yards per cover snap. Not only was Davis poor in coverage, but he also ranked 30th out of 40 in run stop percentage, and was one of the worst tacklers with 14 missed tackles and a tackle efficiency of 7.7 (good for 35th out of 40).

By almost all advanced measures, Davis has stunk in the NFL.  But every now and then, we get some glimmers of the athleticism that makes him an intriguing prospect.  He did finish 13th among inside linebackers in pass rush productivity, garnering 18 pressures (14 hurries, 3 hits, 1 sack) in 105 pass rushes.  And who can forget Davis chasing down Vincent Jackson last year, preventing a sure touchdown and keeping the Jets in a game they eventually won?  Davis strikes me as the kind of guy who's awareness has not yet gotten up to speed with the NFL.  He seems to play much slower than we know he is.  It's certainly not a good thing at this point, but at still just 25 years old, he does have time.  The light could turn on for him.  Certainly, the defensive line in front of him will be a major help.  If the Jets can find some increased pressure from the edge, Davis will be set up for success.  Allowing Davis to free flow to the football could yield a playmaker at linebacker that the Jets desperately need.  Could this be year Davis makes the leap?