PFF's Top 101 of 2014: No. 6, Vontae Davis
Sometimes a player’s early career can be tough to shake off when it comes to how the league perceives him. Vontae Davis had a mixed time of it in Miami before being traded to Indianapolis for a second-round pick.
Despite never posting a negative coverage grade over a season throughout his career, Davis seemed to get caught out in Miami making outlandish statements (like he and Sean Smith were the best corner tandem in the league), while the Dolphins would get shown up by the Patriots and gashed for huge yardage figures. Davis always tended to have bad games and they often came at inopportune times when the world was watching. Those were the games people remembered the most about him, and it’s why he was moved on to Indianapolis at a relatively reasonable price.
His first year in Indy wasn’t much different. His coverage grade for that year was just +1.3, actually worse than his average in Miami (+3.3), but over the last two seasons once Chuck Pagano brought his more aggressive man-coverage defensive scheme to town he has been a completely re-born player.
In that time his coverage grade has improved from +1.3 to +15.8 and if you include this year’s playoffs into the equation he ended 2014 with a +27.6 grade.
Davis has blossomed into one of the league’s most aggressive and difficult corners to play against now he is fully comfortable within the defense, but the hangover of the inconsistent player he was early in his career seems difficult for many people to shake.
Perhaps the best illustration of how good Davis has become comes by looking at his performances recently against Peyton Manning. They have faced off three times over the past two seasons and they have been some of the best games Davis has had, and some of Manning’s worst. In those three games Davis has posted a coverage grade of +15.5, and Manning has not exactly shied away from going after him.
Manning has targeted Davis on 24 occasions over those three games. Only nine of those passes were caught (37.5%) for just 38 yards (4.2 YPC). None went for scores, Davis broke up five of them, and the longest pass he has been beaten for across all three games was just 10 yards.
In short, Vontae Davis has owned Peyton Manning over the last couple of years.
That dominance hasn’t quite extended to the rest of the league in such dramatic terms, but he has still been right up with the best when looking at the big picture. If you include the playoffs, his overall grade actually leaps atop the cornerback rankings and his coverage grade ends up hot on the heels of Chris Harris Jr.. Davis didn’t allow a touchdown all season, including the playoffs, and got his hands in to break up 13 passes in addition to the four he picked off.
Despite being targeted 92 times (again, including the post season) he allowed just 41 receptions (44.6%) and was beaten for an average gain of just 10.8 yards despite playing on the outside exclusively, where gains are usually longer than from the slot. Quarterbacks targeting him this season had a passer rating of just 41.2, a figure better than every cornerback other than Richard Sherman (39.8).
Vontae Davis was one of the league’s most dominant players in 2014, and he only got better in the playoffs. Long gone is the inconsistent and at times unreliable defender from early in his career and in his place is an aggressive, unrelenting coverage specialist, difficult to shake and extremely stingy when it comes to giving up catches.
Davis remains a little inconsistent, but those inconsistencies now come in the form of huge games rather than poor ones. Every now and again he will be virtually perfect over the course of sixty minutes of football, allowing nothing of significance while breaking up several passes sent his way.
The great news for Colts fans is that Davis is only getting better within this system. If his 2015 shows the kind of progress that this year did we could be on the verge of seeing a truly special season. Even if he just remains at the level he hit this year we are talking about one of the best players in the NFL at his position – a guy who deserves to be in the conversation with names like Revis and Sherman when it comes to best cornerback in football.
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