What does Kentucky LB Jamin Davis bring to the Washington Football Team?

What is Washington getting in its first-round pick?

After months of speculation, the Washington Football Team selected Kentucky linebacker Jamin Davis with the 19th overall pick in the 2021 NFL draft. I previously profiled Davis before the draft, which you can read here, but wanted to go a little more into detail about his game and how he fits in Washington. Let’s take a closer look at the 6-foot-4, 234 pound linebacker that now gets to play behind one of the best defensive lines in the league.

Run Defense

Davis is perhaps a little light in terms of weight for an ideal run defender from the linebacker spot, but as the modern NFL trends more and more towards the pass, having those lighter, more agile linebackers with speed and athleticism is more important than the traditional 250 pound thumpers. Davis doesn’t pack a huge punch, but that doesn’t mean he’s not a good run defender. In fact, his understanding of how to fit run schemes and react to cuts is excellent.

On this play, Davis aligns to the weak side of the offense line (meaning away from the tight end) as the offense looks to run an inside zone play to the left. He appears to work off the nose tackle for his fit. The nose tackle gets reached by the center off the snap, who passes the nose tackle off to the guard before climbing to reach Davis. That tells Davis he needs to fit in the A gap between the center and left guard initially. Davis works up to the line to fill that gap, but also keeps his eyes in the backfield. Instead of fully committing to the gap and getting himself caught on the block, he reads the running back looking to cut back early and adjusts his position to fall back and match the cut back. As the runner cuts, Davis does too, eluding the center’s block and falling back into the lane to make the tackle.

That was a good example of Davis fitting the correct gap initially and being in position to make the play, but then adjusting once the runner cut back and falling back down the line to make the play. It’s great awareness of how to fit runs as well as using that athletic ability to execute the play as he read it. Davis shows quick reads and run fits against different schemes. In the same game against Georgia, the offense switched to a power run scheme and Davis coped well.

This time, Georgia runs a power scheme to the right, away from Davis. Both the left guard and left tackle pull to the right side of the line, with the guard kicking out the edge defender and the tackle wrapping around for the first linebacker. The tight end on that side is meant to help the right tackle double team his defender before peeling off to pick up Davis. Davis, however, has other ideas. 

He reads the pull of the guard and tackle early, shuffling across to the front side of the play from his initial position on the back side. When teams pull lineman, they look to create extra gaps for the defense to try and fill. That requires quick reactions from the linebackers to work across and fill the newly created gaps. Davis works across so quickly that the tight end is late to peel off his double team and pick him up. That allows Davis to flow freely to the ball carrier, who takes his run outside but is soon met in the hole by Davis.

Being able to read, process and react to different run schemes is essential when it comes to correctly fitting the run and Davis clearly understands how to do just that. With quick mental processing, Davis can use his athleticism to even greater effect, allowing him to get in the correct position earlier and shut down runs faster. 

Where Davis might struggle is if blockers get their hands on him. I mentioned that frame is slightly on the lighter side, though it is around the typical size of a modern linebacker. Still, 234 pounds is a lot lighter than most offensive lineman, who typically weigh anywhere from 300 to 350 pounds. Those bigger guys will naturally have an advantage if they can get their hands on him. Fortunately, Davis is adept at eluding blockers in the open field, using subtle tricks to avoid them.

Here, the right guard looks to climb to reach Davis on the second level and cut him off. Davis initially shuffles to the right side of the line, mirroring the movement of the offensive line while reading how his nose tackle is working against the center. He spots the running back looking to cut the run back instantly and feels the guard approaching. However, the cut back isn’t available for the running back and the nose tackle suddenly gets inside the block of the center. This causes the back to bounce his run to the right side. As Davis is watching this play out in front of him, he feels the guard getting closer and begins to step towards him to initiate contact. However, just as the guard arrives, Davis suddenly gets skinny and hops forward, causing the guard to completely miss on the block while Davis positions himself to make the tackle.

In Washington, Davis will have the advantage of playing behind an incredibly talented defensive line that should be able to keep him relatively clean when fitting the run, which should allow Davis’ quick mental processing and outstanding athletic ability to shine. For his part, Davis’ ability to read and react off of his defensive lineman will allow the likes of Jonathan Allen and Daron Payne to be more aggressive and free with how they attack certain gaps and blocks. They’ll be able to go under blocks knowing Davis has the intelligence and speed to make them right by working off of them and filling the other gap.

Coverage

The biggest upside of Davis’ game is his coverage ability. He’s an outstanding athlete and can turn and run with just about any running back or tight end up the seam if need be. What stood out most to me was his ability in zone coverage.

On this play, Davis aligns over the tight end in the slot. The tight end runs a corner route while the receiver next to him spots up underneath. Davis is in zone coverage and drops back to his spot off the snap. However, rather than just mindlessly dropping to his spot, Davis relates his drop to the route of the tight end. He gets his hands on the tight end and shoves him wider, trying to force him off his path. After doing that, Davis peels off the tight end’s route as he notices the other receiver spotting up. Davis then relates his coverage to that receiver, taking that route away from the quarterback. 

The quarterback feels pressure and begins to step up in the pocket. The receiver spots his quarterback in trouble and goes off-script to try and make himself available for him. Davis doesn’t panic, he sinks back underneath the path of the receiver, continuing to take that option away from the quarterback. It’s only when the quarterback steps over the line of scrimmage that Davis breaks off the receiver to close on the quarterback. The quarterback throws the ball past Davis to the receiver, but at that point he was already a yard beyond the line of scrimmage and it was flagged for an illegal throw.

Davis has natural coverage instincts and awareness of threats to his zone as well as how opposing offenses might look to attack his defensive scheme.

Here, Vanderbilt align in a trips formation to the left. Davis lines up as the only linebacker in the box, so has both run and pass responsibilities. He has to be able to fit the run should the ball be handed off, but he also is aware that teams like to send that inside receiver from a trips set on a deep over route across the middle of the field. As the ball is snapped, Davis takes a shuffle step inside as he diagnoses if it’s a run or a pass, but as soon as he reads the pass his eyes go to that inside receiver. He shows great fluidity, opening his hips instantly to turn and run with the receiver, sinking back to match the route. Unfortunately he runs into the referee which knocks him off the coverage slightly, but it’s still a good example of how quickly he can diagnose a coverage threat and respond to it to take it away.

Davis’ athleticism allows him to close on the ball quickly too. He has great range because of his athleticism and can shut down throws to the flat in a hurry.

On this play, Kentucky rushes two defenders off the right side of the offensive line, including the slot cornerback. Georgia sends the running back straight to the flat as the hot route and the quarterback instantly looks to throw to him as he spots the slot corner blitzing. A lot of linebackers might struggle to make up this type of ground and get to the running back before he could secure the catch and turn up the sideline, but Davis has no such issues. He quickly gets his eyes on the back and as soon as the back turns to look for the ball, Davis knows it’s going to him. Davis shows off his closing speed as he bursts towards the running back. He arrives just after the ball but lands an impactful hit that prevents the back from securing the pass. Even if the back had caught the ball, the tackle would have been made at the line of scrimmage.

The coverage upside for Davis is what makes him worthy of a first-round pick for Washington. He has the athleticism to match up in man coverage against running backs and tight ends, but still has the instincts and awareness to play in zone coverage too. That should provide Washington with a valuable piece that the defense has been lacking for years while allowing Davis to stay on the field for all the downs.