The Draft Prospect Cometh
When it comes to the NFL draft, none of us are experts.
Even though I spend so much time writing these posts, to be perfectly frank, it is kind of pointless for you to read them. For many of these prospects, it can be a wild guess for even seasoned and knowledgeable experts to predict where the prospects will get drafted or if they will even be drafted at all. Players we think will be great won't amount to anything in the NFL, while other players we've never even heard of will emerge and be stars. Did any of you know about Adam Thielen when he was in the draft? I had never head of the guy. That was the draft where the Rams traded up to take Tavon Austin. Who could have known that what the Rams should have done was draft Thielen in the 7th round or sign him as an UDFA? Years from now, things we discussed, debated or believed about draft prospects will look extremely silly in hindsight.
After the first day of the 2018 NFL draft, various experts did mock draft projections for the remaining rounds. The Rams had traded away their early round picks in the Sammy Watkins and Brandin Cooks deals. The first pick the Rams held that year was in the 3rd round, slot 87. What players did the experts think the Rams would draft and what happened to each of them in the NFL?
Remember, we're not talking about mocks that happened 2 months or 3 months prior to the draft. These are mock draft picks being made in the middle of the draft itself, almost contemporaneously with the actual picks.
Jeff Holland. One mock linked the Rams to this edge rusher from Auburn. An earlier mock within 2 weeks before the draft had Holland as a 3rd round prospect. That mock also had Okoronkwo as a 3rd round pick, ahead of Austin Corbett. Holland was an UDFA for the Broncos. He appeared in 3 games as a rookie. He joined the PS for the Rams late in the 2019 season, but was waived during the offseason in 2020. He's out of the NFL and had 6 career tackles. Sosa Kremenjas did a profile about Holland on TST before that draft and gave him a 5th round grade.
Tegray Scales. Matt Miller had the Rams drafting Scales in the 4th round. An earlier mock had him as a 3rd round prospect. Scales singed by the Rams as an UDFA after the draft. He was waived in August of that year. He was active for a few games last season, appearing on a few special teams snaps. He's currently on a future contract with the Steelers.
Kemoko Turay and Tyquan Lewis. The Rams did not have the opportunity to draft either of these players, because the Colts selected both of them in the 2nd round. Turay is a backup edge rusher. PFF named him a potential breakout player in 2020, but it didn't happen. He had one sack last year and a 57.2 PFF grade. In other words, Morgan Fox was a better player. Tyquan Lewis had the best season of his career in 2020, but only a 62.6 PFF grade. He has 6 career sacks. Greg Gaines (65.0 grade) is probably a better player. So far, the Colts don't have much to show from those 2nd round picks. Fox and Gaines were solid backups for the Rams last season, but if both of those guys had been former 2nd round selections, would Ram fans talk about them the same way? We'd probably be complaining about them and calling them busts.
Jaylen Samuels. He ended up being a 5th round pick by the Steelers. His role was marginalized in 2020, with only 74 yards from scrimmage. Some fans wonder why he's even on the team.
Ogbonnia Okoronkwo. He'll be in the final season of his rookie contract in 2021. The Rams drafted him in the 5th round. He has 2.5 career sacks. CBSSports in their mock draft said that the Rams needed to trade up in the 3rd round to grab Obo. Fans on TST were pumped to get this guy. I would have been fine with the Rams drafting him in the 4th round. Samson Ebukam gets grief as a former 4th rounder, but what has Obo done so far in his career compared to Ebukam? Can you imagine if the Rams had actually traded up to draft Obo in the 3rd round?
Owen Burks. This is the player who created this entire discussion, because Burks is the LB I'm going to compare to Jamin Davis. Burks had been mocked as a 3rd round pick. Peter Schrager mocked Burks to the Rams.
Lance Zierlein for NFL.com had a round 4 to 5 grade on Burks. LZ liked his long arms and pass coverage ability. Burks was a LB who got moved to S, then back to LB in college. He was a team captain considered to have good character. LZ said that Burks was raw, that he needed to improve as a tackler and be more aggressive.
Burks was 6'3'' tall, 233 pounds with 33 3/8'' arms and a 79.5'' wingspan. He ran 4.59 sec in the 40, had a 39.5'' vertical jump, nearly 11'' in the broad, 4.15 sec shuttle and 6.82 sec in the 3 cone. Excellent athleticism and length. His testing and size were better than Ogletree, who was a 1st round pick.
The Rams traded down from slot 87 to 89, where they drafted Joe Noteboom. The player selected at slot 88 by the Packers, sandwiched in between those 2 draft slots, was Owen Burks. GB traded up to get Burks, giving away a 5th round pick.
Burks dislocated his shoulder in the preseason as a rookie. He was projected to be a starter in 2019, next to Blake Martinez, but tore his pec in the preseason. In 2020, with Martinez gone in FA, the 2 projected starters at ILB for the Packers were supposed to be Burks and medium priced FA, Christian Kirksey. PFF and other articles named Burs as a potential breakout player for 2020.
Kirksey had an injury plagued year. He had battled injuries for years, the Packers rolled the dice that he could return to healthy, but lost the gamble. They recently waived him. He made 11 starts, but only had a 43.9 PFF grade. Burks was outplayed by other LBs and ended up buried on the depth chart. Krys Barnes, a rookie UDFA, made 10 starts and finished 3rd on the team in tackles (with a poor 43.7 PFF grade.) Kamal Martin, a 5th round rookie, also passed Burks on the depth chart and made 6 starts.
Burks played a high number of ST snaps, but rarely saw the field on defense. In the middle of the year, the Packers experimented with cross training him to play OLB in pass coverage situations. There was a game where they had to play him at ILB, because Kirksey was on IR, Martin was out due to covid protocol, and Barnes got injured during the game. It was the only game where Burks got substantial snaps on defense all season. In limited action, Burks posted a 28.6 PFF grade. That's like being the Jamil Demby of LBs.
The 5th round pick that GB gave up in the trade to get Burks ended up in the hands of the Rams when the Rams traded down from the compensatory part of the 4th round into the 5th. With that 5th round slot, the Rams drafted Micah Kiser. If the Rams had drafted Burks in the 3rd round that year instead of taking Kiser in the 5th, the result likely wouldn't have been any better. Might even have been worse.
To try to upgrade at ILB in 2021, the Rams could have the opportunity to draft Jamin Davis. Should then? Is believing in Davis to be the answer at LB just a pipe dream wrapped up in the illusory nature of the draft itself? Maybe Davis would be no different than if the Rams traded for Burks from the Packers in exchange for a bag of potato chips. Or, maybe the Rams would be drafting the biggest draft sleeper at ILB in this draft class.
I don't know the answer to this question. None of the draft experts can predict the future and tell you where Davis will be drafted or how he will perform as a pro. That just how it goes in the NFL draft. We don't know what we don't know.
6'4'' tall, 234 pounds.
Name pronounced "JAY-min". From rural southeast Georgia. Dad played football at Bethune Cookman.
Redshirt junior. Supposedly ran 4.65 sec in the 40 with a 38'' vertical jump in high school. He was barely over 200 pounds as a recruit. 3 star recruit.
Community and leadership development major.
Had "minor" knee injury in spring 2018 practices. Sounds like possibly a sprain.
It is amazing that we're even talking about Davis as a potential early round draft pick. Prior to this season, Kentucky football fans were very excited about their defense. They had an experienced group returning and thought they were loaded. Davis's name almost never came up when fans talked about the defense. He wasn't supposed to be one of the core players. Fans were more excited about DeAndre Square, the WILL linebacker.
Prior to 2020, Davis did not get much playing time and had only started one game in his career. The only reason he got that start was because other LBs were not available. Square was injured. Another LB, Chris Oats, was suspended for a violation of team rules. A 3rd LB didn't play half of the game for an undisclosed reason. With the top 3 LBs for the team not playing, Davis had to play more.
In the spring, multiple projections for the depth chart listed Chris Oats as the starting MLB ahead of Davis. Regardless of who ended up starting, people expected Oats and Davis to split time at the position.
In May of 2020, Oats suffered a very serious, undisclosed medical condition. He was put into a medically induced coma. He couldn't walk, talk or use his arms or hands. He was in a wheel chair and had a long rehab to try to regain his motor abilities. During the 2020 season, UK players took turns wearing Oats's number 22 jersey during games to honor their teammate. Davis wore the 22 jersey in UK's first victory of the season, making an important INT in the end zone. The team gave the game ball to Oats. He seems to be improving and trying to recover, but I don't know the details on his long term health prognosis.
In November of 2020, John Schlarman, who had been an assistant coach for UK until he was diagnosed with cancer in 2018, passed away. Off the field, it was a challenging season for Kentucky football. On the field, the team didn't win as many games as they had hoped, going 4-6 in the SEC, then winning a bowl game.
The unfortunate medical situation with Oats resulted in more playing time for Davis. He blossomed and piled up tackles.
Made 10 starts in 2020. 102 tackles (48 solo), 10.2 tackles per game, 4 TFL, 1.5 sacks, 3 INTs, 2 PD, FF, blocked FG.
One INT was off a tip by another defender. Another INT was off a tip when the ball went off hands of the WR. The 3rd INT went for a long pick six.
The blocked FG wasn't really a blocked FG. The opponent was trying a super long FG at the end of the half. The snap was bad, the hold was bad, the timing messed up so the weak kick squirted out to the side. Davis just happened to be at the LOS, he wasn't even jumping high and the ball happened to hit him in the arm. Why is that a block? The kick had no chance of making it even if he hadn't touched it.
ESPN 36th overall (early 2nd round). The 4th ranked ILB.
CBSSports not ranked top 150 (5th round or later.)
PFF 85th overall (3rd round)
Daniel Jeremiah top 50 board, version 2.0: 35th overall (early 2nd round), ahead of Jabril Cox at 43.
I like DJ (former NFL scout). Typically, I'm in agreement with most of his evaluations. DJ likes Davis's length, eyes, quickness, range, and pass coverage. He says Davis needs more strength.
Matt Miller mock draft: 26th overall pick in 1st round.
Drafttek 379th overall prospect, 19th ranked LB (UDFA). I guess they really don't like this guy.
Lance Zierlein (NFL.com) 6.21 draft grade. Most prospects with similar grades from LZ in last year's draft were 3rd to 4th round picks. Compared to Kiko Alonso. LZ likes his quick, lateral scrapes, awareness and vision, and ability to cover big TEs. LZ says Davis needs to improve on taking on blocks, constricting run lanes.
Not in first 3 rounds of Chad Reuter mock draft.
That is quite the spread. Possible late 1st round pick on some lists, maybe 3rd round on others, and one outlier board with him as an UDFA. This doesn't surprise me, because Davis is almost all projection based on traits. He only has 11 career starts in college. He's raw in technique. Not a consistent player right now. Boom or bust type prospect.
From a certain POV, Davis never won the starting job outright on merit. If it weren't for the situation with Oats, we might be talking about Davis as a late round to UDFA draft sleeper, someone who could be a much better pro player than a college player. Or, we might not be talking about him at all.
Looks like a dude getting off the bus. Tall, with long arms, athletic mover, flexible. Scouts probably salivate watching him in pregame warmups or in drills in practice. Fits the mold of a modern NFL LB. Physical traits make it seem like he should be a really good football player.
Ceiling as high as a 1st round LB. Could be 3 down LB who is very good against both the run and the pass. Pro Bowl potential.
Size and athleticism make him versatile. Probably could play multiple LB spots in both a 4-3 and 3-4 scheme.
Can't teach size, length and athleticism. Some plays his technique isn't good, but the blocker still has trouble handling him, especially out in space. They can't get to his body or he turns and gets skinny and skips past them. Dodges blocks in space. Reminds me sometimes of Leonard Floyd.
Length helps him beat blocks and set edge. OL blockers pull, LB uses inside arm to take on block, keeping his outside shoulder free, sets a hard edge, then tackles the RB. Uses hands to try to swipe away arms of blocker at 2nd level. Uses hands to shed combo block by TE. Takes on pullers or climbers with his inside arm to set the edge and box the RB back towards the inside. Holds off blocks with his long arms.
Quickness to avoid climbers in box and flow wide around blocks out wide when in pursuit. On wide run, gives TE half a shoulder, then able to step to the side of the block and slip it. Swims over TE, defeating 2nd level run block.
Very good hook curl defender in zone. Not used in man coverage, almost exclusively a zone defender. Reads the QB and squeezes passing windows. Adjusts when receivers leave his area. Long 3rd down, has crossing routes in front of him. Deep in cut behind him. Gets depth and nearly 20 yards from LOS nearly gets INT in front of the deep WR.
Initially widens, reads the QB and squeezes inside to take away route behind him, discouraging the throw and causing QB to pull ball down and scramble.
Long arms make it tough for QB to get ball around him as zone defender.
Eyes and Vision
Good recognition that QB has ball after play action fake, gets depth in pass coverage.
In zone coverage, great job seeing RB sneak out of backfield going towards the opposite side of field, against the flow of the action and races over to try to stop pass to RB.
Scans well with his eyes in zone coverage.
Doesn't wait for climbing RG, moves forward, avoids the block and pops the RB. Dances around block by LG with skip step, sending LG flying by, then tackles the RB.
Uses quickness to avoid block in space, then pounces on RB in flat like a lion.
Makes himself skinny at LOS and dips to split between the guard and tackle to penetrate into the backfield.
On short 3rd down, shoots gap, turns very sharply inside and drags the RB down by the legs.
Pitts of Florida, the great TE, gets him wrong footed as the LB steps inside way too early in pass coverage. But, Davis flips his hips, turns back around and runs with Pitts, making an outstanding recovery and limiting the separation. Davis might be a wild untamed stallion at times, not knowing what he's doing, but he's a good athlete.
Covering WR on short out route, he is balanced in his stance, covers so much ground with 2 strides and is all over the WR, zero separation.
Played on the punt coverage unit, playing on the line as a blocker.
Raw and unpolished. Details in technique lacking in how he moves around the field and executes football plays.
Doesn't make a big impact on the game.
Makes many "quiet" tackles. Clean up type tackles with other defenders. Only had 4 TFLs on the year, so only 3.9% of his total tackles were for a loss. That is a small percentage. To compare, Josh Forrest from Kentucky (Rams 6th round pick) had a 6.9% TFL rate in college. Daniel Bituli (Rams UDFA last year) from Tennessee had a 5.9% TFL rate. Littleton has a 6% TFL rate in the NFL. Micah Kiser had an 8.2% TFL rate in college at Virginia. Davis wasn't making many plays in the opponent's backfield, he was making almost all of his tackles down the field.
Leaks yardage on runs
It is 2nd & 6. Outside zone run. The LG double teams the DT. On the RB's 3rd step, I think the LB needs to anticipate the cutback and trigger, attacking so that he can meet the RB and stuff the play. There is a lane and opening for Davis, he needs to see it and run through that space, cutting right behind the LG. He doesn't move up, too passive. The RB literally runs into the back of the LG. If the LB had shot the gap, he could have been there and would have been in the perfect position. The LB makes the tackle, but it is a 5 yard gain. I bet if he had attacked, it would have been about a 2 or 3 yard gain. It might not seem like a big difference, but now it is a short 3rd & 1 instead of being a medium distance 3rd down.
On the very next snap, the exact same thing happens. The LG double teams the DT. The LT blocks out, working a double team with the TE on the DE. This opens up a nice lane between the LG and the LT. The LB can shoot this gap and try to stuff the run to prevent the first down on 3rd&1. He has plenty of time to see this, because the QB hasn't even handed the ball off to the RB yet. As the RB gets the ball and starts to move forward, the gap is still open, this is the moment to strike, because he knows it isn't a play action pass or QB keeper. The DE is doing a great job occupying 2 blockers (the LT and TE) to keep the LB clean. The LB needs to do his job, take advantage of the situation and not waste that effort by the DE. He doesn't trigger. LB finally makes contact with the RB 3 yards from the LOS (2 yards past the first down marker) and tackles the RB for a 5 yard gain (4 yards past the marker). If Davis had done his job right, that possession should have been over, the offense should have been kicking the ball. Instead, it is a first down. Yes, he just made 2 tackles on 2 plays. It looks good on the stat sheet. But, those are "bad" tackles, not good tackles. They were successful runs by the opponent when he had the chance to stuff both of those runs, but the LB doesn't get it done.
RPO give to RB on 2nd&4. LB takes a step back for unknown reason (no receivers went down the field, I have no idea where he thought he was going), making him late to fill his gap. He tackles the RB just past the marker for a first down conversion.
RB run off tackle. LB has a clear path to attack the RB if he goes immediately and attacks. He breaks down instead and holds his ground, allowing the TE to get half a block on him as he misses the tackle.
Way overruns some tackles. Takes some poor angles. One play, with the RB heading wide, the LB's feet are more to the outside than the RB's feet and he completely whiffs on the tackle.
Overruns tackle, just grabbing onto jersey of RB as another defender helps to finish the tackle.
One vs one on RB in hole, head goes down as he overextends and nearly whiffs.
Missing power element and lack of aggression
Poor technique makes him very weak on some plays. Too upright, not prepared for impact, losing contact balance. Guard blocking him, he's not ready and blow from G delivers impact shock, knocking him off balance.
3rd&2, wide run off tackle. The TE combo blocks from the OLB up to Davis, who is not prepared for it and is too upright. The TE gets under his pads, slams into him, and drives him 4 yards backwards.
Pulling blocker, LB not ready, fails to engage his lower body. Gets blasted backwards off balance, big run by RB. Outside zone run, gets knocked to the ground.
Another outside zone run, his feet are way too close together, heels almost clicking. Body upright and arms weak at his side instead of extended and powerful. Just catching the LT block. The LT blasts his shoulder into chest of Davis.
Not a heavy tackler or hitter. Poor angles robs him of power on tackles. Gets dragged some plays for an extra yard.
Slow to shed block by small slot WR on wide run. Needed to attack this block with a more aggressive move instead of letting WR get into him and lock him up.
4th quarter drive, the opponent trying to bleed the clock and seal the game. Defense has to get a stop and get the ball back to give their offense another chance. I'm pleading with him to do something. Opponent just running the ball down their throats. Like a boxer stuck in the corner getting pummeled, about to get knocked out. He can't deliver. If you're a big time LB, this is the situation where the team needs you. Finally, after several plays, he makes a tackle on a run to limit it to a small gain. Do you know why he made that tackle? Because, the center who was supposed to block him stumbled and wasn't able to get to the block.
Hands not violent. Unable to knock down center's arms, and center hugs him at 2nd level. Long arms aren't as much of an advantage if you don't have the right degree of aggression and physicality to use them properly.
Tries finesse moves instead of power moves. On short 4th down play, tries to knife through line, it doesn't work and he gets neutralized. I think he would have been better off stacking his blocker with a powerful punch with his hands so that he could keep himself alive and in the play. Tries to knife backdoor when he sees OL pull, but misses and ends up out of position.
Inexperienced and raw
No pass rush moves or instincts. Lacks feel and timing as looper to get through the line at high speed. Doesn't use his hands to disengage from pass blocks. Ran into DT, getting in his way on pass rush.
Didn't play every snap, UK had LB rotation in some games. Sometimes out an entire series, other times would come in in the middle of the series.
WRs running diagonal routes, crossing in the middle of the field. He's the MLB in the middle in zone coverage. He doesn't read and anticipate what is happening and collides with the 1st WR. This creates a pick, causing the 2nd WR to be wide open.
Two WRs cross in middle of field. He should get depth and carry the 2nd WR vertically more, but doesn't do this and it is an easy throw for the QB for a first down.
4th down pass, doesn't stay close enough to TE in his area of the zone, gives up first down conversion over middle.
Briefly loses sight of the ball, goes under block in the wrong direction, making him late to pursue to the edge. Motion by WR one play, he's late adjusting to it.
Several times, it looked like he had problems communicating with the S or other LBs before the snap. Excessive pointing and talking late in the play clock. Confusion and late reactions. One time, the defense called timeout.
Doesn't strike me as having great leadership ability or as the most mature player. A "lieutenant" who might not have the right personality to be a lead dog and captain of the defense.
Pro Comparison and Grade
Oren Burks (Packers, 3rd round 2018) 4th round grade.
I hated Josh Forrest when the Rams drafted him out of Kentucky. His college tape was terrible. He quickly was out of the NFL. Davis is a better prospect compared to Forrest. Still, how do you grade a prospect like this? Like Oren Burks, he could end up being just a ST player, which would be a very bad result if the Rams used a 2nd round pick on Davis. On the other hand, I honestly think that Jamin Davis has a higher ceiling than Rolando McClain from Alabama, who was the 8th overall pick in the 2010 draft. The question is whether Davis will ever realize that high potential.
Should a team speculate on Davis's upside and potentially reap a huge jackpot? Or, should they shy away from the substantial bust factor and go with a less risky prospect, even if that player has a lower ceiling?
I wouldn't assume that Davis would be an immediate upgrade from Reeder, Kiser and Young. We're talking about a player who entering last season was going to have to battle just to be the starting MLB on his college team, let alone an NFL team. He had 1 career start in college prior to last year.
Burks played very little as a rookie (he officially made 4 starts, but didn't actually play a large number of snaps) and was graded poorly by PFF. When Burks was drafted, both of the starting Packer ILBs, Blake Martinez and Jake Ryan, were considered to be poor in pass coverage. People thought that Burks would improve GB's pass defense from the LB position and potentially be one of the starters right out of the gate as a rookie.
Ryan injured his knee in 2018 in training camp and was done for the year. He never started another game in the NFL. When Ryan got hurt, the Packers traded for Antonio Morrison, an in the box run stopper who was on the roster bubble for the Colts. He'd be comparable to Ramik Wilson, who was with the Rams that season. Morrison ended up playing more than Burks that season.
Davis probably couldn't step in as a rookie and start. He's a developmental player a team would groom for the future. I don't see Davis as a borderline 1st round pick the way ESPN and Daniel Jeremiah have him ranked. That feels too risky. I think prospects like this should be targeted in the middle rounds.
The LB coach for the Rams is Chris Shula, who previously was the OLB coach. He played 4 seasons with McVay in college at Miami of Ohio. He was a smart, but undersized LB in college. Don Shula is his grandfather. If you think that Shula is a rising star in the coaching ranks, who could be a DC or HC someday, maybe he's the perfect guy to help teach a young LB. If you think he's too young and inexperienced, maybe the Rams aren't the right team to take on a raw, project type ILB, especially when there isn't a seasoned vet in the position group to act like a player coach and teach the rookie the ropes.