Last month, the Jets re-acquired former third round pick Demario Davis in a trade with the Cleveland Browns.
Jets fans are familiar with Davis who was drafted in 2012 and was a three-year starter from 2013 onwards, but we're going to investigate how he played in his time away from the team and whether his role changed or he showed improvements in some of the areas where he struggled with the Jets. We'll therefore focus our efforts on how he performed last season.
The 28-year old Davis is listed as 6-foot-2 and 248 pounds and started 15 games last year with the Browns, registering 99 tackles, two sacks, two passes defensed and a forced fumble.
After the Jets drafted Davis out of Arkansas State in 2012, he sat behind Bart Scott in his rookie year and then replaced him in 2013. Over the next three seasons, he started every game, posting a career high 116 tackles in 2014. However, he didn't quite develop into the reliable starter that the Jets had hoped.
Towards the end of the 2015 season, he started losing playing time to Erin Henderson and the Jets opted not to re-sign him when his contract expired. He eventually signed with the Browns on a two-year, $8 million deal.
Let's move onto some more in-depth analysis of how Davis fared in Cleveland last year, based on in-depth research and film study.
Here were Davis' combine workout numbers:
As you can see, he showed some good strength, speed and explosiveness, but fared less well in terms of his agility numbers.
His 10-yard split being poor while his 40-yard time is so good is unusual. Maybe it's a sign of his poor first step and reactionary speed, or maybe he simply got a bad start. He improved on his time with a 4.52 at his pro day, but the 10-yard split was only three hundredths of a second faster.
The most interesting change since these numbers is that he's now listed at 248. He was only listed as 239 while with the Jets. If that's accurate, it might represent the fact that he's bulked up to be able to handle a middle linebacker role a bit better. It's worth noting, however, that a recent report indicated he has lost five pounds and feels faster than in recent years.
While with the Jets, Davis was the "will" (weakside inside) linebacker, with David Harris playing the middle or "mike" role. Now that David Harris is gone, Davis will be expected to fill that mike role.
Todd Bowles specifically said earlier in the offseason that he doesn't view the other projected starter, Darron Lee, as a mike and when they got Davis, he said Davis would compete with the likes of Bruce Carter and Julian Stanford for that role.
If he's bulked up a little, that might help, as will the fact that he got to play some reps at the mike with the Browns last year. With the Jets, there was always some built in interchangeability with Davis and Harris, but it was rare for Davis to play that mike spot. However, last year, it was much more common for him to line up in that role.
What was apparent was that Davis lined up opposite the center several times a game with the Browns, but only a couple of times a game with the Jets. Also, at the snap, Davis was usually staying in the middle to key a back or cover a short zone, whereas Christian Kirksey (and later, Jamie Collins) would go sideline-to-sideline and track players outside the tackle box.
Many analysts noted that Davis made a good start to the season perhaps because he was exposed less to coverage situations. He did match up in the slot less, but this was something he only did a few times a game with the Jets anyway. What exposed him to fewer targets was more the fact that he was covering in underneath zones whereas Kirksey, who was targeted twice as often, handled more of the man to man assignments.
Interestingly, Davis did not wear the headset in Cleveland but he was influential in getting Kirksey more comfortable with having the headset and making all the defensive calls. The Jets started giving Lee the headset at times last year, so the plan may well be for Lee to be the one who makes the calls with Davis mentoring him in that role.
Another interesting factor was that Davis was essentially a three down linebacker at the start of the year (97% of the snaps in the first seven games) but then moved into more of a two-down role over the rest of the year (51%). That's similar to 2015 where he played 99% of the snaps in the first 10 games but only 49% in the last six. Interestingly, he played much better in that part time role with the Jets. With the Browns, he again played better against the run once he went part time, but this time his coverage didn't really improve as he gave up a couple of touchdowns.
This was the one area that seemed to be holding Davis back from being the reliable starter the Jets needed alongside Harris. He seemed to be a beat slow in diagnosing the play and exploding to the ball. No matter how well you run - and Davis does run well - you won't get to the ball on time if you hesitate and that's why Davis was sometimes exploited in coverage or occasionally didn't get himself in position to make a solid tackle on time.
It's difficult to assess whether he's improving in this area, but there were still some plays where he made bad reads or was slow to react. However, he got some good early season reviews from Chris Simms, who said he was "phenomenal in the run game" and had played "better than he ever did with the Jets".
Here's one where he diagnoses the play well, though, avoiding the blocker at the second level to make the stuff. He was also credited with a forced fumble on this play:
Davis' instincts also had a tendency to let him down in coverage. Let's remind ourselves of a few examples. Here, Davis is fooled by the possibility of a gadget play, allowing a receiver to leak downfield completely uncovered:
On this play, Davis is guilty of peeking into the backfield and loses track of his man on the wheel route:
Unfortunately, he hasn't been able to eradicate mistakes like this from his game. You'll recognize that same flat-footedness followed by a momentary panic and scrambling to recover on this play from last season:
One positive memory from Davis' time with the Jets was on the occasion of his first game as a full time starter. Davis ran down the receiver in the open-field to save a touchdown late in the game and the Jets would ultimately win the 2013 season opener on a late field goal.
He still gives the same level of effort when trying to get to the football, but if he's heavier than he used to be then perhaps this would have an adverse effect upon his range.
Tackling is one area where Davis was improved from 2015 when he had 16 missed tackles including some especially costly ones like this one:
He made some good improvements in terms of his tackle efficiency, ending the season with 10 missed tackles including none in the last five games. However, his best season for tackle efficiency so far has been 2014, where he only had nine missed tackles and a career high 116 successful tackles.
It was in coverage that the Jets lost faith in Davis in 2015, although many of the plays where he got beaten were rooted in poor instincts rather than inadequate technique or being physically overmatched.
That was also often the case where he gave up plays in 2016. As you may notice on this example, he isn't completely prepared at the snap, reacts half a beat late so his jam isn't clean and has no chance to recover:
On the whole, though, there are some encouraging trends in Davis' 2016 coverage numbers. Perhaps as a result of his role, he was targeted a lot less and gave up fewer big plays and yardage after the catch. Maybe that's just the result of better safety play from his teammates though:
This was another big change in Davis' role. He blitzed a lot less in 2016 than he ever did with the Jets. In fact, he had blitzed more than ever in 2015, perhaps as the Jets wanted to keep him on the field in passing situations without exposing him to direct match-ups.
2015 was easily his most productive year as a pass rusher, as he recorded 12 sacks/hits, just two shy of his total for the four other years of his career combined. However, less was more in 2016 as he actually generated pressure at a higher rate.
He also ended up the season with two sacks, including this nice one:
Davis gets plenty of special teams reps in a variety of roles, but hasn't really produced much since he's been a starter. He had 10 special teams tackles in his rookie season but has had only seven since then, including none last year.
While Davis has only played the one season with Todd Bowles, there are plenty of similarities between the Browns system, Rex Ryan's old scheme and the one he'll be returning to this season.
As a full-time mike, his role would be different to that which he previously had with the Jets anyway. I wonder if the Jets will remove Davis from the game in passing situations, leaving Lee to wear the headset and play every down.
Davis' has a great attitude, is a good locker room guy and seemed to have moved into a mentorship role for Kirksey while in Cleveland, so he should be a positive influence.
Davis was healthy all last year and was never listed on the injury report, although he came off the bench once. He's yet to miss a game in the NFL.
Taking a big picture view of Davis' year in Cleveland doesn't reflect too well on him. The team still lost nearly every game, he lost playing time as the season went along and there were still the same kind of blown assignments that blighted his final year(s) with the Jets.
However, there are some possible reasons to believe that perhaps this could be a decent value move, especially after Davis' recent pay cut.
Hopefully Davis will replace some of the intangible qualities that Harris brought to the mike linebacker role and could be a good short-term sidekick to pair with Lee as he hopefully develops into a more reliable contributor this season.
Based on how both the Jets and Browns have used Davis over the last few years, it seems they are in accordance that Davis struggles when required to cover man to man in space, so it could be that the move into the mike position suits him better. Davis did say that he'd spent a lot of time identifying and working to improve upon his weaknesses and perhaps play recognition is one area where he would become a lot more reliable even with incremental improvements.
Davis was much maligned in his time with the Jets, especially towards the end, but he was never a really bad player, just one prone to particularly costly mistakes. For example, the Eagles, Texans and Raiders games, from which those bad mistakes in the above gifs came, comprised three of the six losses for the team that year, with two of them by just seven points.
This season, without the playoffs on the line and expectations for his development lower, Davis' mistakes perhaps won't be so frustrating. He'll probably always be an inconsistent player, but that implies he'll have some good games and hopefully this can enable the Jets to be competitive most weeks while Lee develops alongside him.
UP NEXT: We'll take a look at Marquess Wilson, the wide receiver signed earlier this week.