Secret Superstars: New York Jets
The New York Jets are next up in our Secret Superstars series. After a disappointing season the Jets enter 2015 with a clean slate — new coach and general manager Todd Bowles and Mike Maccagnan give the Jets a fresh start, and with a talented and exciting first draft class there is an optimistic outlook for the future.
Besides the new faces the other key moment of the offseason has been bringing back old teammates Darrelle Revis and Antonio Cromartie to improve what was one of the weakest secondaries in the league last season.
The Jets don’t need to look far to see the impact Revis can still make as his one year in New England lead to a fourth championship for the Patriots and coincided with breakout performances from linebackers Dont’a Hightower and Jamie Collins. While Revis might not be able to lead the Jets to the promised land so quickly, perhaps his presence will contribute to a similar breakout in a young linebacker, our secret superstar, Demario Davis.
Davis played his college ball at Arkansas State and although he put up solid numbers and was praised as a leader, he was only viewed as a late-round pick because of the perceived lower competition in the Sun Belt conference. But he impressed with his speed and athleticism leading up to the draft and his stock started to rise – with the caveat being although he was fast he still struggled in coverage and had a tendency to over pursue in the running game. But it’s no surprise the Jets took him in the third round; he had the physical and mental attributes to make it in NFL.
While his rookie year started out with a bang (Rex Ryan compared him to Ray Lewis after first meeting him) the rest of his season was fairly typical of a third-round pick. For most of the season he only got in a few plays on defense each game, but from Week 6 to Week 12, the coaching staff gave him a chance to play more snaps.
Although his grades were up and down it was mostly a positive experience as Davis placed in the Top 15 at his position in both Run Stop Percentage and Pass Rushing Productivity during this stretch. This, along with the departure of Bart Scott led to Davis entering the next season as a full-time starter.
For the first half of the season Davis graded out to +1.3 as he was able to mostly replicate his play as a rookie despite the huge increase in snaps. But playing 95% of the snaps for that season was a pace that started to wear him down as he finished with a -12.8 grade in his final eight games. Although he had proven his durability and that he could hold his own as a three-down player, Davis entered 2014 needing to prove he could play efficiently for an entire season.
After a rough opener against Oakland, Davis rebounded quickly to post a +5.5 grade over the next seven games. During this stretch Davis’s grade was the sxith-highest of any inside linebacker due to his stellar work against the run (+8.3) and his ability to finish tackles (only one miss for the second-best Tackling Efficiency mark among inside linebackers).
Finishing tackles had been one of the pre-draft knocks on Davis and something he had struggled with in his first two years, making this an important part of his development. And despite playing an incredible 1,033 of 1,044 snaps, this time Davis didn’t wear down as the season progressed. His +2.7 overall grade for the year might not seem so impressive, but he was one of only four inside linebackers to cross the thousand-snap threshold and retain a positive grade.
Most encouraging for Davis was his improvement in what was perhaps the weakest part of his game – pass coverage. In the first half of the season he was picked on in the passing game, getting targeted once every 7.3 coverage snaps – the ninth-highest rate at his position.
This led to four of his first eight games grading in the red for pass coverage and an overall mark of -2.5. But at the same point in which he wore down the year before, this time Davis stepped up big time. In the final eight games, despite being targeted just as frequently, Davis tightened up his coverage dramatically – reducing his Yards per Cover Snap from 1.15 in the first half of the season to just 0.87 in the second.
While his numbers might still be modest, Davis has steadily improved his game each year he has been in the league. Especially impressive was the way he shored up the weakest aspects of his play.
If the Jets were to continue to struggle it may be hard for Davis to get noticed, but he is the type of durable, versatile and consistent player that should get recognition if the team is able to bounce back to the levels they reached during Revis’s first stint. And if Davis can continue his current trajectory, perhaps those days are closer than they seem.