- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 2, 2021

When Washington’s front office started to hold early draft meetings back in February, Jamin Davis’ name came up. General manager Martin Mayhew admitted to the group he had yet to dive into the Kentucky linebacker, but the scouts in the room couldn’t stop raving.

When Mayhew turned on Davis’ tape, he understood why. He saw the range, the speed, the motor — the versatility. He was intrigued.

“Then you start digging in on who this guy is,” Mayhew said. “He loves football, he loves the process, he loves the work, he loves that grind. That’s the kind of player you really want to build with.”

Davis, a one-year starter for the Wildcats, was considered one of the fastest risers in this year’s draft, but Washington was sold early on the 22-year-old — enamored enough to take him with the 19th overall pick in Thursday’s first round. Davis, it seems, didn’t rocket up Washington’s draft board. He was already there.

Washington is putting a lot of faith in Davis to become the next impactful contributor for the team’s already elite defense. Last year, coach Ron Rivera wasn’t shy about calling out his linebackers, and drafting Davis in the first round sends a message that the franchise sees the 6-foot-3 speedster as the solution.

The team’s brass is confident Davis is up for the challenge. Davis rose in 2020 from backup to starter, becoming one of the most productive defenders in the SEC along the way, with 102 tackles (third-most in the conference), 1½ sacks, a forced fumble and three interceptions.

“He’s what you look for in a football player,” coach Ron Rivera said.

For Rivera, who played nine years in the NFL at the position, studying and grading linebackers is “easy.” Rivera, like Mayhew, was fixated on Davis as soon as he started watching him. 

What separated Davis from the other linebacker prospects still available at No. 19, like Notre Dame’s Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, was his ability to play all three linebacker spots, Rivera said.

If Rivera and his staff needed any confirmation that Davis was a player to watch, they got it when staff members attended Kentucky’s pro day in March and saw all the other NFL teams there, eager to see Davis perform. 

That, Rivera said, was revealing. It was one thing for Davis to shoot up draft rankings like he did in the media, but entirely another to see a group of personnel executives closely monitoring a player who was just a three-star prospect coming out of high school.

Davis added to the excitement by blowing through expectations with a 4.37 40-yard dash, a 42-inch vertical jump and a 132-inch broad jump — numbers that put him at the top among all linebackers, according to MockDraftable.

Davis said it was “surreal” to see the way his stock climbed over the last few months. When Davis first went to the NFL Draft Advisory Board to gauge whether he should turn professional, the committee assessed he would likely be a fourth- or fifth-round pick. The assessment was disappointing,  but Davis said he was determined to prove them wrong.

“That was one of the things I learned from my mom,” Davis said. “Just bet on myself and not let anyone discourage me. Hearing some of the negative thoughts, it didn’t faze me, not one bit.”

Washington’s interest in Davis grew as the team held video conferences with him. Rivera bonded with Davis over their backgrounds, not just as linebackers but also as military brats. They talked football, and Rivera came away impressed with Davis’s understanding of concepts and schemes. The team quizzed Davis on his defense at Kentucky — and on Washington’s defense. 

On draft night, Mayhew and Rivera said the team felt no temptation to trade up for a quarterback — even as Justin Fields and Mac Jones fell out of the top 10. Instead, they waited until the team could pick at No. 19, where Davis was the top-rated defender left on Washington’s board.

Davis “checked all the boxes,” Mayhew said. Rivera agreed. 

“I believe his expectations will be as high as mine are for him,” Rivera said.

• Matthew Paras can be reached at mparas@washingtontimes.com.

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