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Scouting Jets linebacker Jarrad Davis

Detroit Lions v Jacksonville Jaguars Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty Images

Over the next few weeks, we’re going to take an in-depth look at each of the Jets’ offseason acquisitions, starting today with linebacker Jarrad Davis.

The 26-year old is listed at 6’1” and 245 pounds and was the 21st overall pick in the 2017 draft. In four years with the Lions, Davis racked up over 300 tackles, 10.5 sacks and seven forced fumbles. However, he was moved into a rotational role last season and the Lions opted not to exercise his fifth year option.

Background

Davis was a three-star prospect in high school and initially was set to attend Auburn. However, after a coaching change, the new staff wasn’t as high on Davis, so he opted to go to Florida instead.

As a true freshman, Davis mostly played on special teams but did make one start. Then, in his sophomore year, he was again limited to one start and missed the last three games due to injury. Over his first two seasons, he totaled 47 tackles.

As a junior, Davis became a starter and broke out with 98 tackles, 3.5 sacks and his first career interception. Then, in his senior year, he earned second-team all-SEC honors, although his season was again cut short due to injuries. He ended up with 60 tackles and two sacks.

Having been unable to participate at the Senior Bowl or Scouting Combine, Davis had a good pro day to solidify himself as a potential first round pick. The Lions selected him with the 21st overall pick and named him the starting middle linebacker before the season.

Davis was productive as a rookie, earning all-rookie team honors by racking up 96 tackles, two sacks and three passes defensed. However, he struggled initially before coming on strong late in the season.

He had a more consistent season in 2018, posting career-highs with 99 tackles, six sacks and five passes defensed. However, he regressed in 2019 as he was banged up with some injury issues. The Lions took the playcalling duties away from him and changed his role in the middle of the season, which seemed to help him as he had some good games in his new role.

Last season saw the Lions decide to use Davis in a rotational role, limiting him to four starts and only 330 snaps. He performed more consistently as a result, but the Lions had opted not to exercise his fifth year option and were prepared to move on. He reportedly agreed to a one-year, $5.5 million deal with the Jets, which also included $1.5 million in potential incentives.

Now let’s take a look at what Davis brings to the table, divided into categories.

Measurables/Athleticism

Davis is an excellent athlete and has excellent length despite only being listed at 6’1”. He ran a 4.62 in the 40-yard dash at his pro day and posted outstanding explosiveness numbers with a 38-inch vertical and a 129-inch broad jump. His agility and strength numbers were about average, though.

At the pro day, Davis measured 238 but he actually cut weight to 227 to play in Matt Patricia’s scheme. However, ahead of the 2020 season, he opted to bulk up and reportedly played at 248. He was said to be in the shape of his life with a body fat percentage of below 10.

Usage

Davis began his career as the Lions’ middle linebacker and remained as the Mike linebacker when Matt Patricia brought in a new system in Davis’ second season.

In 2019, the Lions began to transition him into a more varied role and he started playing more at the other inside linebacker position. He played a mixed role in 2020.

At times, he will match up with receivers in the slot or creep up to the line of scrimmage.

Making reads/Instincts

There’s no doubt about Davis’ athletic ability and he’s obviously been statistically productive during his career. However, he has had some issues dealing with the mental side of the game.

Sometimes, Davis will be quick to diagnose and will be able to impressively blow up some running plays or short passes.

However, it’s his over-eagerness to make plays like this which can sometimes lead to him running himself out of plays or getting caught on a block.

Against the run, he seemed to overrun a lot of plays or get caught inside because he misdiagnosed the play or was inconsistent with his gap discipline.

In coverage, there were times when he was late to react and even some plays where he looked completely lost. Miscommunication on plays like this one were all too common.

Davis was initially tasked with wearing the defensive headset and making defensive calls, but the Lions took this responsibility away from him when he moved into a rotational role in 2019. This seemed to help him, perhaps because he had too much on his plate when it was his job to get everyone lined up correctly.

Towards the end of the 2019 season, the Lions were sharing those responsibilities; often rotating who had the headset from one play to the next, which is hardly ideal.

Davis said he had put in a lot of work getting to grips with the finer details of the scheme, noting that his technique would sometimes suffer if he was slow to make a read. Clearly this extra work helped him at times, but he never fully mastered the Lions’ system.

Run defense

With Davis’ quickness, he is able to cover a lot of ground and can be effective at shooting gaps or getting out in front of a blocker.

However, what he also brings to the table is excellent physicality. He’s not afraid to take on blockers and is relentless in his efforts to get to the football.

On this play, Davis superbly blows up a run by taking on the lead blocker and then getting in on the stop.

Nevertheless, he does also have issues with getting caught up on blocks at the point of attack of angled out of plays in space.

Coverage skills

Davis’ coverage numbers have been among the worst in the league a few times during his career, although he also had a couple of years where his numbers were okay.

His role often required him to drop off and react to short passes in coverage but he’s also capable of taking deeper drops and latching on to pick up an assignment in space.

However, when doing so, there are times when he takes a misstep or gets himself turned around due to inconsistent footwork. He has the athletic ability to recover, but finds himself having to rely on this too often.

Davis doesn’t generally get beaten for a lot of big plays, other than in situations where miscommunication led to someone blowing a coverage. However, his over-aggressive nature can also cost him in coverage.

In his pro career, Davis has just one interception, which came on a lucky bounce after he had got beaten in space. He also only had one interception at Florida.

With the Lions, Davis had nine pass breakups, albeit only one since 2018. He shows his ability to close on the ball with good anticipation here.

He has been called for defensive pass interference three times in his pro career and can sometimes struggle to get his head turned to locate the ball on downfield throws.

Tackling

Davis is a productive tackler who loves to hit and can stop runners in their tracks when he is able to square up correctly.

Inevitably, his propensity to go for a big hit can lead to him being reckless at times and missing a lot of tackles. He’ll often leave his feet, throw a shoulder rather than wrapping up or overrun plays so he’s off-balance when the runner cuts back.

His number of missed tackles reduced over the last few years compared with his first two. However, so did his statistical production and his total snap count, so this improvement was modest at best.

Due to his athleticism, Davis has outstanding range and is relentless in pursuit, although he’ll take overly aggressive angles at times.

One thing to note about Davis is that he’ll always play to the whistle and seek to finish plays. Again, though, he can occasionally take this a bit far, leading to a potential for penalties.

Something else Davis has a knack for is punching the ball out when making tackles. He has seven forced fumbles in four seasons.

Pass rush

Davis can definitely bring something useful to the Jets’ pass rush, as he’s been one of the best blitzing off-ball linebackers in the NFL during his career.

In his most productive season (2018), Davis had six sacks and was fourth in the league for total pressures by linebackers. His Pass Rush Productivity was the second-highest in the league according to Pro Football Focus.

He’s particularly adept at getting a clean shot at the quarterback on delayed blitzes or react blitzes, with some of his sacks coming as he simply keyed the quarterback and then came up to tackle him behind the line of scrimmage when he tried to scramble. However, he shows the ability to beat a blocker when they try to pick up his blitzes.

Special teams

Davis was an effective special teamer in his early years at Florida, but when he joined the Lions as a full-time starter, he didn’t play much on special teams and mostly only featured on the field goal rush unit.

However, with the shift into a part-time role on defense, Davis was employed more on special teams last season, rushing punts and covering kickoffs. He racked up four special teams tackles, including this impressive play.

Scheme Fit

Davis’ fit within the Jets’ system probably has as much to do with how successful this move will be as what he brings to the table from a skill-set standpoint.

There’s a good chance that this is a calculated gamble by the Jets, who may consider that Davis is undervalued because his inconsistent performance was impacted by him not being an ideal scheme fit in Detroit.

As noted, the Lions operated a 4-3 system during Davis’ rookie year and he initially struggled, but played well down the stretch as the middle linebacker. The Lions presumably hand-picked Davis as someone who could develop well within this system.

However, Matt Patricia’s arrival turned the Lions into a 3-4 team. Also, with Patricia’s background in New England, this influenced the type of 3-4 system being employed. The New England version of this system typically employs one inside linebacker to take on blocks so the Mike linebacker can be kept clean to make plays in space. Although Davis is actually pretty good at taking on blocks, they opted to continue to employ him at the Mike, so he slimmed down to 227 pounds for the role.

Clearly this didn’t work out too well, which may have been partly attributable to him struggling with the play-calling responsibilities as well as his fit within the system. As they changed his role away from this, he saw some initial success and then obviously bulked up to be able to handle a more physical role in 2020.

The Jets could in theory play Davis alongside CJ Mosley, who would handle all the playcalling and free up Davis to fly around making plays. Alternatively, they could opt to employ Davis situationally, although it’s worth noting that in 2020, Davis’ part-time role wasn’t really a situational role and instead was just more of a rotation. In fact, he played a lower percentage of snaps on passing downs than in the past.

Bear in mind that the new system is a 4-3, which should automatically mean Davis is more suited to playing within it. Also, the Mike role would typically call for a bigger, more physical player like Mosley while the other inside linebacker would ideally be more of an athletic player who can roam around making plays. Davis would suit this well and might even cut some weight again for such a role.

While Davis can bring the kind of physicality you might ideally want from your middle linebacker in Robert Saleh’s system, the Jets might not be as high on him being the guy to take over the wearing of the headset and the calling of the defense. However, the fact that he has done this in the past gives them options in the event of injuries or other issues.

One final option would be to move him over to the strong side. He’d be more equipped for this having bulked up last season, although there were still times where he was overwhelmed at the point of attack. This could give him more chances to rush the passer though, which he obviously does well.

In Detroit, Davis was a teammate of current Jets Ty Johnson and Leo Koloamatangi. He was college teammates with Marcus Maye, Lamical Perine and Jabari Zuniga.

Intangibles

Davis’ father was in the Navy so he grew up with a sense of discipline and an impressive work ethic. He was a captain at Florida and the Lions also voted him as a captain.

In practice, Davis will often stay late to keep working on his game and he has a details-based approach to learning his role. He has excellent character and his position coach compared his leadership abilities to those of NFL Hall of Famer Ray Lewis.

On the field, he’s a demonstrative player who is constantly working at high speed and remains fired up before, during and after every play.

His on-field discipline can be an issue at times, though. He had 12 penalties in his first three seasons, including five for unnecessary roughness. He was fined for slamming Jermaine Gresham to the turf in a tackle. In 2020, he managed to go the whole season without a penalty flag, though.

Injuries

Injuries cannot be discounted as a major factor in Davis’ development over his first four years. He’s missed nine games in total, after also having had some injury issues while in college.

In 2020, the only two games he missed were because he was placed on Covid-19 reserve, but he missed time following a high ankle sprain in preseason in 2019 and then was placed on injured reserve with a knee injury towards the end of the year.

In his rookie season, Davis missed two games due to a concussion and in college he suffered a season-ending meniscus tear as a sophomore and missed time with a sprained ankle as a senior. This also affected his pre-draft preparation.

Conclusions

It seems most logical that the Jets will pair Davis with Mosley at inside linebacker but he’s flexible enough to give them alternatives in the event Mosley doesn’t return for whatever reason.

It’s interesting to compare Davis to Darron Lee because if that pick had worked out, the Jets would presumably be signing Lee long term right now and wouldn’t need Davis. Although Davis hasn’t been as much of a flop as Lee was, he’s still been a disappointment. However, he brings a couple of things to the table that Lee did not - namely his physicality in the box and pass rushing abilities.

There have been times in his career when Davis has played really well, but it’s been an inconsistent ride for him in his career so far. The Jets will obviously point to those incidences and seek to harness the abilities he showed during those times to foster a more consistent performance.

This was an interesting first move for the Jets to make because they’re gambling to some extent on the fact that Davis will perform better within their system than he has so far in his career. It’s only a one-year deal so if the gamble doesn’t pay off, then it’s not the end of the world, though.