Everyone has had that déjà vu feeling before; seeing something you feel like you have already seen. In this series, we are looking at players who almost declared for the 2019 draft but returned for another year of college football. We’ll take you through their strengths and highlight some areas for improvement for the coming year as these players are expected to be near the top of their respective positions throughout the coming CFB season and therefore should be pretty high draft picks, should everything go to plan.
For the third installment of Draft Déjà Vu we’re moving into the trenches to look at our current number one interior defensive lineman, today it’s the turn of Alabama’s Raekwon Davis.
Davis is 6’7 and over 300 lbs, so we’re talking about a big fella here, first and foremost and you might say that when you’re a man of that stature, it’s pretty easy to catch the eye for onlookers. However, it’s more than size that catches your eye when watching #99 in crimson.
I’m a fan of Davis and in the build up the the 2019 draft, I had him down as one of my players to watch when thinking about who I wanted the Chargers to draft, although once it was decided that Davis would return to Alabama for his senior year, both myself and the Bolts had to turn their attentions elsewhere. However, given that the Chargers picked Jerry Tillery with the 28th overall pick, an interior defensive lineman of similar height and build, it begs the question of what could have been?
So what do I like?
One thing that really jumped off the page through all the games I watched of Davis is that he’s always searching for the football or the ball carrier. Davis is very aware of his surroundings and almost always has an eye in the offensive backfield, even when he’s being engaged by offensive linemen.
This is from the game against Auburn in 2017, when Davis is a Sophomore, he’s lined up as the left defensive tackle in Alabama’s 4 man defensive front. I love how he uses his long arms to keep the offensive lineman at bay, whilst he watches the play develop, then as soon as Kerryon Johnson makes a cut to the left, Davis sheds his man and then wraps up the ball carrier for a very solid run stop.
Run stopping is Davis’s big strength. He doesn’t often, if ever from what I have seen, get pushed back and as above, he’s always on the lookout for the ball carrier and is ready to take them down.
Opposing teams clearly realise that Davis is a threat and he is often double teamed. Even so, Davis still maintains eye discipline and still doesn’t get pushed back all that much.
This next clip is from the 2017 National Championship game against Georgia;
Davis, looks to move towards DeAndre Swift on the play action hand-off, however, even with the right tackle and the tight end bodying him up, keeps searching and even though he doesn’t get the tackle on the play, there awareness is plain to see – If Christian Miller didn’t take Fromm down, Davis would have.
It’s one thing being aware and knowing where to be, I can do that from my couch, it’s another thing altogether to stop a running back in their tracks when they’re in the middle of getting up a head of steam.
Again, Davis is double teamed on the play but yet again, ends up bringing the ball carrier down.
I think by now we can check off football IQ, awareness and play strength. Three vital qualities when looking for a high end defensive tackle prospect
When playing for a school like Alabama, you have to be scheme versatile and still be able to hold up.
We often see Davis lined up with the Tide’s Jack linebacker on his outside, so he is essentially tasked with attacking gaps and doesn’t often have the responsibility to set the edge. However, can Davis set the edge if needed?
Of course he can.
Ok, so as I said at the top, Davis is going to improve the run defense of whichever team drafts him next spring. I guess you get it now…
One last thing I will mention before moving on is, when you’re done reading this article, rewatch all the clips and just notice how low to the ground Davis plays. For very tall man, he plays really low – which is really important from a leaverage standpoint. He very rarely, if ever, pops up vertically out of his stance, which not only allows him to stay low but also keeps his chest plate clean.
What does he need to improve upon?
Well, at times, Davis is pretty slow off the snap and I feel that it impacts him as a pass rusher. As we all know, in today’s NFL interior pass rush is pretty key to becoming a top echelon team and therefore having a chance to win a Superbowl.
Admittedly, this clip is from 2017 but this is about as slow as it gets. Jarrett Stidham, then Auburn QB, is in the motion of handing the ball off when Davis finally gets out of his stance.
This is kind of disappointing, because as we see in this next clip, Davis definitely can show some explosivity out of his stance.
Davis gets out of the blocks and beats his man, collapsing the pocket from the middle in an instant. Jordan Ta’Amu is fortunate to escape and actually creates a really nice play with his legs.
Nine times out of ten, or against less mobile QB, Davis gets the sack here.
If only he can develop more consistency in the pass rush moves. If that occurs in 2019, we have another monstrous Alabama defensive lineman on our hands.
Let’s look at the good and the bad of Raekwon Davis the pass rusher. Let’s start off on a positive note.
The push/pull is a pretty basic pass rush move and is ideal for someone with Davis’s reach and strength to utilise. Here’s a nice example of this from the Ole Miss game in 2018;
It’s a real shame that he and Quinnen Williams collided here otherwise one of them could have made a play on Ta’Amu. It kind of serves as an insight into what havoc could be on the cards if consistency can be found and Davis paired with another strong interior rusher. Because folks, you can’t teach guys to be 6’7 and this athletic…
This is a play that gets fans out of their seats. [Heart eyes emoji].
Look how Davis just discards Ben Cleveland on this play before sacking Jake Fromm. By the way, Ben Cleveland is a pretty good guard who just got tossed aside like he was playing above his age group.
Now, for the bad, unfortunately. Or if we’re keeping it positive; the areas for improvement.
Davis is sent on a twist here and it frees Davis pretty well. However there’s just not a lot of burst when it comes to moving laterally and when right tackle, Andrew Thomas (#71) recovers, Davis is just running completely upright and Fromm gets the pass away. I’d love to see more agility here, especially some bend in the hips to make it harder for Thomas to lay to glove on him.
This tells me that Davis is pretty much a linear pass rusher and isn’t going to be a Calais Campbell type from the defensive end position, despite the two men sharing similar builds.
There are signs there though.
Davis tries to pull an inside spin here but again, I just feel he’s a little slow to execute this. It’s nice to see that he’s thinking and has the spin in his arsenal – it just needs a lot more refinement.
So all in all, we’re looking at a streaky pass rusher, at best, which is probably why we’ve only seen 11 sacks in 31 college outings for the young man.
To sum up, I like Davis. I was a fan last year and even after diving a little deeper, I’m still a fan of what he brings to his team. He’s got a lot of qualities that head coaches and general managers are going to love when it comes to the draft next spring and some of those qualities are just natural gifts that he is blessed to possess.
But at the end of the day, as things stand, Davis is a 6’7 run stuffer with limited pass rushing prowess. A team can draft run stuffers in the mid rounds, so in order to cement himself as a top prospect, I need to see more splash plays or even just an expanded repertoire of pass rush abilities, as well as a player who is a little more light on his feet, whilst maintaining his excellent anchor and play strength.
Probably a good thing he’s gone back to Tuscaloosa for another year but as with all the players covered in this series so far. At least that means we get to watch them in the college game for a little while longer.
Keep your eyes peeled next Tuesday for the next installment of Draft Déjà Vu
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