CFB’s second full weekend brings fans some compelling non-conference matchups and the chance to really focus on potential NFL draft prospects. Shawn Spencer’s second piece for Inside The Pylon examines a prospect currently under the radar – and perhaps the best WR prospect you don’t know.
Western Michigan wide receiver Corey Davis began the 2015 season the same way he began his collegiate career in 2013: against Michigan State. In his debut as a freshman, Davis finished with an impressive eight receptions for 96 yards and a touchdown. The second time around, he was even better, catching 10 passes for 154 yards and a score.
In both 2014 and 2015, a Michigan State cornerback was selected in the first round of the NFL Draft. First it was Darqueze Dennard, and then this year Trae Waynes. While those two are no longer with the program, Michigan State is still expected to have a very good secondary. One area in which this year’s group is lacking is play strength. At 6-foot-3, Davis had a significant size advantage over the Spartan defenders and he was clearly more physical as well. Here, he is interfered with by CB Arjen Colquhoun, but still hauls in the pass for a touchdown on fourth down:
[jwplayer file=”http://cdn.insidethepylon.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/09/Davis3.webm” image=”http://cdn.insidethepylon.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/09/Davis3.jpg”]
His size and competitive toughness in critical situations are two reasons why he could be a very good red zone target in the NFL. Fortunately for Western Michigan, he’s capable of making plays outside the red zone as well. Over his first two seasons, Davis caught five touchdown passes of more than 60 yards. He’s certainly not the fastest player in college football – NFLDraftScout.com lists his 40-yard dash time as 4.62 seconds – but he knows how to create separation at the top of his routes and in the open field. Last year against Eastern Michigan, his athletic ability in the open field was on full display as he channeled his inner Rob Gronkowski:
[jwplayer file=”http://cdn.insidethepylon.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/09/Davis2.webm” image=”http://cdn.insidethepylon.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/09/Davis2.jpg”]
When Western Michigan needs a big play, Davis is the receiver QB Zach Terrell looks for first. With the Broncos down by 13 points and just under five minutes left in the fourth quarter, Davis was the intended receiver on six consecutive plays. He ended up making the catch on three of those plays while drawing pass interference on another. It’s easy to see why Terrell has so much confidence in Davis. Not only does he have a large frame which he uses to shield defenders, but he also has solid hands to fight through press coverage and catch the football. As seen here, Davis is able to create separation at the top of a curl route, adjust his body to an off-target throw and show off his large catch radius and hands by extending for the football:
[jwplayer file=”http://cdn.insidethepylon.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/09/Davis1.webm” image=”http://cdn.insidethepylon.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/09/Davis1.jpg”]
Although Davis plays in the Mid-American Conference, he’s already proven he can be successful against tough competition. In five games versus schools from the Big Ten Conference, Davis has averaged roughly six catches and 84 yards per game. His next opportunity to impress scouts on the big stage will be in two weeks when Western Michigan takes on the top-ranked Ohio State Buckeyes.
The biggest concern I have with Davis isn’t even as a receiver; it’s as a blocker. His ability to block doesn’t show up on tape because Western Michigan typically runs between the tackles. Against Michigan State, however, the Broncos threw about 10 screen passes. The majority of those were designed to the side of the field opposite Davis. When a screen was run to his side, he would run a go route rather than stay close to the line of scrimmage and block. Now this may just be because defenses shade a safety towards Davis to help out in coverage, or it could be by play design, but it could also indicate he hasn’t developed into a reliable blocker in practice. This is something to keep an eye on as the season progresses.
He’s only a junior, but Davis has all the makings of a solid possession receiver at the next level. Being labeled as a “possession receiver,” he will immediately draw comparisons to current San Francisco 49ers WR Anquan Boldin. While the two do have some traits in common, Davis is more similar to Mohamed Sanu of the Cincinnati Bengals. Neither Sanu nor Davis is going to take the top off a defense, but both are very technically sound route-runners with good hands and separation skills. While Sanu is a starter in the NFL, Davis has received very little national attention – likely because of his conference and the other talented wide receivers in the game today. Whether he enters the 2016 draft or waits until 2017, Davis is someone who will slowly climb draft boards once coaches and scouts take a closer look at his tape.
Follow Shawn on Twitter @Spencer_NFL