With the draft now complete, we’ll be providing in-depth breakdowns of each of the draft picks and undrafted free agents. We continue today with the 68th overall pick - defensive back Ashtyn Davis.
The 23-year old is listed at 6’1” and 202 pounds and attended college at California. He was a first team all-Pac 12 selection in 2018 and a second-teamer in 2019. Davis intercepted seven passes in three years as a starter for the Golden Bears.
Davis was not a highly-sought after recruit coming out of high school, but he had some success as a track athlete which eventually led to him attending college at California. He walked on to the football team and redshirted his first season.
After playing a key role on special teams as a redshirt freshman for most of the season, Davis took advantage of an injury crisis to earn himself three starts at cornerback towards the end of the season and held his own at the position. He ended the season with 25 tackles, three passes defensed and a forced fumble.
In 2017, Davis moved to safety and became a full-time starter halfway through the year. He ended up with 33 tackles and the first interception of his career.
Davis’ 2018 season saw him start every game as he was voted as an all-Pac 12 first-teamer, posting career highs in interceptions (four) and passes defensed (five). The four interceptions gave him the third-best mark in the Pac-12.
While he was only voted as a second-teamer in 2019, Davis still racked up a career high in tackles, with 55, and fumble recoveries, with two.
Davis couldn’t participate at the senior bowl or do a full workout at the scouting combine due to an offseason surgery which might have factored into him falling to the Jets despite being rated as a second round pick by many experts. For example, Mel Kiper had him rated as his number three safety before last season and PFF had him 33rd on their big board before the draft.
The Jets selected him in the third round with one of the picks they acquired in the Leonard Williams trade.
Let’s move onto some more in-depth analysis of what Davis brings to the table, based on in-depth research and film study.
Davis has adequate size, although he lacks ideal length with his arms having been measured at 30.5 inches long.
While we don’t have full workout numbers for Davis, he was a four-time all-American hurdler, so there’s no doubting his speed, explosiveness and agility. He was expecting to post a sub-4.4 time at Cal’s pro day, but it was cancelled.
Golden Bears head coach Justin Wilcox apparently wrote to NFL teams describing Davis as a “special athlete” and praising his speed, power and agility.
Davis managed to post 14 bench press reps at the scouting combine despite being injured.
Davis has played primarily as a deep safety but has displayed some good versatility by also playing in the box or up at the line and matching up against receivers in the slot.
As noted, he played as an outside cornerback in his redshirt freshman season and definitely has the speed to cover wide receivers.
In high school, Davis played cornerback, wide receiver and running back. Cal also snuck him onto the field for one play as a slot receiver and sent him deep but the pass was incomplete.
Davis’ coverage numbers are solid. He gave up a 61 percent catch rate in his college career with an average of just over 13 yards per catch and he was beaten for eight touchdowns in four seasons. He gave up two 40-yard plays but no 50-yarders.
Davis was primarily employed to roam center field, showing excellent range, positional sense and an ability to arrive on time.
He’s also adept at picking up coverage assignments down the field, which he showcases on this play.
His experience as a cornerback serves him well when he has to match up in the slot but he hasn’t been used much in press coverage. Generally speaking, he did a good job of preventing any big plays when matched up in the slot but he did give up 28 and 38-yard plays in the Arizona State game last season. One of these was due to a coverage mix-up, though.
Davis has shown an ability to make plays on the ball, or to arrive at speed so he can break up the receiver’s attempt to catch it with a big hit.
He’ll watch the quarterback’s eyes but needs to be wary of losing contact with his man while the ball is in the air. On this play, he is knocked off balance at the catch point.
His past experience as a high school wideout seems to help Davis come down with the ball when the opportunity presents itself as he made a few leaping interceptions and this low diving grab.
As a cornerback earlier on in his career, Davis made some good plays, but there were a few causes for concern. On this play, for example, he could have made a play on the ball if he managed to get his head turned and seemed to get lucky when it hit his arm.
Davis isn’t afraid to mix it up in the box and displays his physicality on plays like this; one of the most spectacular hits from last season.
However, his short arms make his ability to fight off blocks a concern and he can sometimes get caught up in traffic.
Penalties weren’t a major issue for Davis, who had six on defense and another three on special teams during his career.
In 2019, his only two penalties were a late hit after a quarterback scramble and this pass interference call as he arrived too early.
Although he makes a lot of big hits, Davis is generally good at ensuring these are clean and that he doesn’t lead with the helmet. However, he was ejected from a game in 2017 for targeting.
Davis has been a productive tackler and has generally been efficient, although he did miss 15 tackles in the past two years.
Despite his short arms, Davis does a good job of dragging his man to the ground and can make saving tackles even when he has to reach beyond his frame to corral the runner. Nevertheless, he does have an occasional habit of going in for a low hit with the shoulder, something which could be exploited at the next level.
Davis has said that he will constantly be seeking to knock the ball out, both in coverage and when making tackles. He officially had two forced fumbles in his career at Cal.
Although he mostly lines up deep, Davis will often creep up into the box in run support with 2018 being his most productive year as a run defender.
As noted, he needs to be careful to avoid getting caught up on blocks, but he’s good at coming off the edge to make a play.
Davis didn’t blitz much in college as he had no sacks and just a couple of pressures. However, he was an effective run blitzer and his speed off the edge could have been a good weapon if they’d used him in that way more often.
On this blitz from deep, he knocks the blocking back off his spot to help pressure the quarterback into a wayward throw.
Davis was a major special teams contributor at Cal, starting off in his redshirt freshman season when he racked up 11 tackles and a forced fumble in kick coverage. He continued to see action on the coverage units over the next few years, although he was used less and less as his defensive duties increased.
In 2017, however, he also took over as the team’s kickoff returner. His best season, in 2018, included an 89-yard touchdown and saw him average over 26 yards per return. That was good for second best in the conference.
In 2019, Davis was called into emergency duties as a punt returner and gained 14 and 19 on his only two returns of the year. On the longer of those two returns, he injured himself trying to hurdle over a defender but he stayed in to fair catch three punts after that, even though he missed the following week’s game.
In terms of kickoffs, he only returned seven last season. This included one where he lost a fumble on opening day, so he needs to be more careful in terms of ball security.
He has plenty of experience at the gunner position and also played the vice role as a freshman.
Davis has been called a “student of the game” and is regarded as an intelligent player who puts in a lot of extra preparatory work to understand concepts and defensive roles.
On running plays and short passes, it’s important for Davis to read his keys so that he can navigate traffic and avoid getting caught up on blocks. For example, against Stanford in 2018, he got caught up on a block as the Cardinal ran a screen pass to Cameron Scarlett and it ended up going for a 46-yard touchdown.
When in coverage downfield, though, Davis makes a lot of plays where he showcases excellent anticipation.
There are sometimes plays where he will be caught peeking into the backfield or take an over-aggressive angle, but he has good recovery speed.
Even going back to high school, Davis’ coaches have been praising his work ethic and preparation time.
He has been described as quiet and is considered someone who will lead by example. However, he is also said to have a chip on his shoulder and is determined to prove he had first round talent when he gets to the NFL.
Davis has shown good tenacity and determination to make it into the NFL considering where he was as a high school prospect and displayed toughness by playing through injuries in his senior year.
As further evidence of his intangibles, Davis won the team’s Joe Roth Award, which is given to a player who showed courage, attitude and sportsmanship during the year.
Davis had played 47 straight games and started 29 in a row when he missed the penultimate game of the regular season last year. He returned to play the final game despite clearly not being close to 100 percent and then missed the team’s bowl game because he required surgery.
The injury was called a groin injury in some places and a core injury in others, but apparently the surgery was to his adductor muscles. Davis was supposedly 100 percent in time for the pro day, although it never took place.
It definitely raised eyebrows when the Jets drafted another day two safety. With both Marcus Maye and Jamal Adams due to sign an extension soon, there has been speculation that Davis will replace one of the veterans.
However, there’s no urgency to make that decision at this stage. What Davis will do is give Gregg Williams some extra options in terms of playing with some three-safety sets or employing the rookie as a big nickel.
Davis will also provide valuable cover for Maye, who has had durability issue in the past. He can, of course, contribute on special teams as well.
Davis has the makings of an extremely valuable pick, even if it’s not immediately clear what his initial role will be with the Jets. Further down the road, he could be Maye’s replacement alongside Adams, but perhaps it’s not impossible they’ll find a way to keep Maye and employ Davis in more of a utility or specialist role.
Given his unconventional path to the NFL so far, it almost seems far-fetched to expect Davis to continue to ascend and become a great NFL player, but his film is impressive, he has some really good tools that Gregg Williams can make use of and it’s difficult to bet against a guy who literally made his name overcoming hurdles.
Following on from the Mekhi Becton and Denzel Mims picks, this pick continues the pattern. Davis is athletic and with a very high upside but with enough raw ability to contribute from early on in his career while he works on those few things he needs to improve.