As the 2015 NFL Draft approaches, Iowa DL Carl Davis hopes his intriguing size and untapped talent are enough to make him a top 50 pick despite his underwhelming production along the Hawkeyes defensive front.
After limited action in his first two seasons, the redshirt senior started the last 26 games at defensive tackle in Iowa’s 4-3 base defense. Davis, who earned second team All-Big Ten honors in each of his final two seasons, recorded 36 total tackles (14 solo, 22 assisted) in 2014 with nine going for losses, as well as two sacks, a fumble recovery and a blocked field goal.
Davis was voted the top practice player during the week of the Senior Bowl by a panel of NFL scouts. The defensive lineman registered one assisted tackle for a 2-yard loss in the game.
Tale of the Tape
Standing at an imposing 6-foot-5, the 23-year-old Davis tipped the scales at 320 pounds during the NFL Scouting Combine. However, the mammoth defender posted unspectacular results overall at the combine, failing to gain a spot in the top 10 in any event among defensive linemen.
The lone bright spot was his 1.73-second 10-yard split from his 40-yard dash, fourth best among the 18 defensive linemen also weighing in at 300-plus pounds ‒ a promising indication of the defender’s straight line burst when compared to his peers.
Davis, who tied for the seventh slowest three-cone drill time among 43 participants at his position, did not take part in the bench press. The lineman will have another opportunity to impress scouts during Iowa’s Pro Day on March 23 and with personal workouts in April.
What He Does Well
Primarily a 1-technique defensive tackle with some experience aligning over center in college, Davis has the potential to be a dominant interior run defender in the NFL.
Anchor In The Middle
Converting his ideal length and wide frame into the functional strength needed at the point of attack, Davis was mostly an unmovable anchor in the middle of the Hawkeyes defensive line:
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Aligning in various techniques, Davis utilizes his tree-trunk-like legs in coordination with his broad upper body to dominate single blocks and hold ground against double-teams. The defender has the agility to work through traffic and squeeze off running lanes if not stop the ball carrier himself.
Davis also has the physical traits to withstand double teams at the next level, making him a capable fit in a system with two-gap principles.
When not absorbing double teams, the defensive lineman demonstrates the ability to win one-on-one scraps through leverage, hand placement and arm extension:
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As shown in the two plays above, Davis fires off the ball with good lean and bend at the knees, following through with a strong punch to knock back his opponent and reset the line of scrimmage. After controlling the block and closing the gap, Davis finds the ball and sheds his man to pursue the tackle.
In college, Davis ‒ even when failing to lower his pad level to get better leverage on blockers ‒ could rely on his upper body strength and arm extension to prevail against a majority of his competition. Most of the time, however, the defender exercises sound technique to bolster his natural power ‒ an encouraging sign as it relates to his transition to the NFL, where raw strength will only get him so far.
In addition to utilizing his length well when shedding blocks, Davis also has the potential to be disruptive in the passing game by using his long arms and big hands to shut down throwing windows at the line of scrimmage:
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One way to neutralize a quick pass is with active hands in the passing lane. In the clip above, Davis explodes out of his stance, transferring power from his lower body into the two-hand strike to the offensive guard’s chest. By getting his hands inside the target, the defender prevents the blocker from latching on, throttling him back a full yard to create separation in the process. As the quarterback starts his throwing motion, Davis is free to elevate with his arms raised high to swat down the attempt.
Although only racking three-and-a-half sacks in his career at Iowa, Davis demonstrated a high-powered club move in his limited pass rush arsenal:
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On the above line stunt, Davis exhibits good lateral movement as he slants around the edge before landing a forceful club up high on the offensive tackle, rocking the blocker sideways. The defender steps through on the same side as the heavy hand strike and teams up on the sack.
In the film reviewed, Davis also showed promise as an effective weapon on line stunts in general, whether as a penetrator or block occupier. Equipped with nimble feet, Davis can transition smoothly between moves and then finish with power.
While far from an impact defender from sideline to sideline ‒ an expected characteristic given his size and position ‒ Davis does flash the lateral movement to chase down plays from behind:
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In the instances captured above, the defensive tackle stands his ground against an initial double team and uses his hands to fend off the blockers. Davis then shows good footwork and vision, clearing through the trash in front and locating the ball while moving laterally before breaking outside to assist on the tackles.
The ability to make plays on the far perimeter of the field when starting from the interior line is a rare asset for most 320-pound defensive tackles.
The concerns surrounding Davis center on lapses, both in technique and discipline, leading to inconsistencies as a run stopper and ineffectiveness as a pass rusher.
Davis sometimes loses track of the ball carrier because he dips his head at contact or fails to stay square to the line of scrimmage:
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Above, Davis falls victim to his own momentum as blockers turn his body using finesse instead of strength. Once off balance, Davis struggles to regain control of his base and loses track of the ball carrier.
The defender needs to fine-tune his weight transfer and balance to avoid playing too top-heavy, where crafty offensive linemen can take advantage.
Pass Rush Effort & Discipline
Unless working off a stunt, Davis ‒ after gaining an initial push ‒ typically has to grind hard to progress further into the backfield. His lack of quickness results in needing an extra second to make an impact:
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The defender has a limited pass rush repertoire and a difficult time escaping blocks. At times, he shows some fatigue after sparring with a blocker for a few seconds. Davis flashes a counter spin move used to disengage from opponents but it’s not an explosive maneuver. Even when able to break into the pocket, the defender lacks the closing speed needed for a sack or hurried throw.
After showing little pass rush upside in college, Davis is unlikely to provide much in that department. While that does not preclude him from becoming a three-down defender, Davis will at least need to improve his rush lane integrity against mobile QBs to avoid becoming a liability on passing downs.
Change of Direction
As indicated by his poor outing in the three-cone drill, Davis labors when trying to change direction:
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Here Davis’s pass rush attempt is easily mirrored by the blocker. Once heading in one direction, the defender is unable to course correct with enough burst to beat his opponent ‒ a consistent theme in the tape reviewed.
Similarly, the defensive tackle struggles with reverse handoffs, middle screens to receivers out of the backfield and misdirection plays in general.
Davis – like most big body anchors in the middle – lacks elite short-area speed and needs to work on sharpening his angles to the ball, making every step count:
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By tightening his path to the ball carrier, Davis can appear to play faster than he actually is, and increase his impact radius as a defender. Without stability in this area, he will instead be a half-step slow and left grabbing for air, such as in the play shown above.
Various scouting reports state the defensive lineman’s snap-to-snap effort can be spotty – though, based on available film, Davis did not appear to be a low-effort player.
While not the swiftest defender, tending to run with a heaviness about him – which can sometimes be perceived as an effort issue – Davis’s inconsistencies are belied in his discipline and pass rush ability.
With his height and heavy frame, Davis needs to work hard to get under the pad level of most offensive linemen – and that challenge will become more difficult against stronger competition. Against lesser talent at the collegiate level, Davis was able to get away with flaws in technique, encouraging poor habits as a result. Those are the inconsistencies that need to be ironed out of his game.
Davis missed seven games in 2011 after dislocating his knee cap on two separate occasions, resulting in offseason surgery. However, the defensive lineman remained relatively healthy following his injury-riddled redshirt freshman year.
Comparable Player: Alan Branch / Randy Starks
With the same body type and level of production in college, Davis compares favorably to New England Patriots defensive tackle Alan Branch – a dependable run stuffer with modest output as a pass rusher. If Davis improves his ability to get to the QB, he could carve out a similar career to Cleveland Browns defensive tackle Randy Starks, who has amassed 41 sacks over his underrated 11-year career.
Certain to cause a great amount of head-scratching among pro scouts given his up and down nature, Davis leaves all of those who analyze him wanting, and waiting for, much more. The defender has the perfect build for an NFL defensive lineman – capable of fitting both 3-4 and 4-3 schemes and playing multiple techniques. But he has never produced as a pass rusher and may lack the closing speed to make a significant impact in that role at the next level. These issues may limit him to an early-down rotational defender for most teams.
However, the big defensive tackle’s ability to almost effortlessly tie up multiple blockers and smother inside runs makes him an immediately useful piece for any team looking to upgrade their run defense. If Davis ever does reach his potential as a pass rusher, he already has the other tools to become an elite defender – an intriguing prospect that could push a team to take him at the end of the first round but more likely in the early stages of round two.
Follow Brian on Twitter @Brian_Filipiak.
Brian Filipiak knows about proper blocking technique, the basics of run defense, how to defeat an overload, and the point-of-attack.
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