Editor’s note: Welcome to our series on the big questions the Commanders face when camp opens Tuesday in Ashburn. Today: Will Jamin Davis make a Year 2 leap?
Jamin Davis called his rookie year a “humbling experience.” How could it have been otherwise? Drafted 19th overall to be a three-down linebacker, the 23-year-old failed to live up to expectations as he struggled over the course of the year.
By the end of the campaign, Commanders coach Ron Rivera admitted that Davis may be better suited as an outside linebacker in the NFL rather than inside — which isn’t exactly what the team had counted on.
“There’s nothing I can do about it now,” Davis said last month.
The Commanders hope that moving Davis over will allow the linebacker to flourish in 2022 in ways he didn’t last season. Mainly, the goal is for Davis to become consistent: Defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio has said that the Kentucky product produced a number of highlights in 2021, but that he lacked consistency.
There is no guarantee that Davis is on the verge of a breakthrough, of course.
Coaches and players have been complimentary about his progress during offseason workouts, but the linebacker still occasionally worked with the second team behind veteran David Mayo. It’s not unusual for a coaching staff to experiment with different lineups throughout the offseason, though the move was a clear indication that Davis has yet to solidify his spot.
It’ll be on Davis to prove he can handle a switch, but the linebacker said he’s already noticed a difference.
“Waaaaay more confident,” Davis. “Way, waaaaay more confident. I feel more like myself.”
That boost in confidence came when he started to play at a faster pace, he said.
With a season under his belt, he feels better about recognizing coverages and gaps — meaning he’s quicker to react.
That was part of the problem last year. According to Football Outsiders, he missed 11 tackles and was the only linebacker in the league who allowed a catch rate above 90% with at least 12 targets.
Getting Davis to play faster — something he excelled in at Kentucky — is one of the driving forces behind the switch to outside linebacker. Focusing on one spot, in particular, will help the former first-rounder accomplish that, said linebackers coach Steve Russ.
“Growth is not the absence of mistakes, not the absence of issues,” Russ said. “It’s minimizing those mistakes. … That’s where you’re seeing him grow. When you grow, you’re more confident. And when you’re more confident, you’re more consistent. I’m really excited about where’s he going.
“Like Jack said … you could put together a really nice highlight together where you go, ‘Oh my gosh. Look at this.’ And that’s a good thing.”
The first time that Davis really popped as a rookie happened in Week 3 when the linebacker smartly diagnosed the pass to the flat and made a crushing stop on fourth down against the Buffalo Bills. Those types of series-shifting plays, however, were few and far between. Instead, as the year progressed, Davis’ playing time was mostly uneven.
There were four games last season in which Davis logged more than 70% of the team’s defensive snaps. By comparison, Cole Holcomb — the team’s main fixture at the position — met that threshold in every game he appeared in. In fact, Holcomb played all of the defense’s snaps in all but two games, one of which he missed because of COVID-19. Davis logged just 52.4% of the defense’s total snaps and 56% in the 16 games he appeared in, according to Pro Football Reference.
Perhaps the biggest test for Davis’ growth will be if coaches trust him enough to consistently stay on the field next season.
“He’s taken a lot of big steps from last year,” Holcomb said of Davis, “definitely got a better grasp on the defense. Playing outside I feel like it’s pretty natural for him. He’s taken the right steps and what he needs to do.”