It’s over. The 2017 NFL Draft is all over. To be honest, I’m a bit sad. The draft was the last great stop on our way to football. Now Lions fans will have to wait another 70 arduous days before they can see their team take the field again. Nothing happens between now and then.
As for me, it’s time for me to get on the bus and get a roll call of all the Lions new rookies.
Or in other words, it is once again time to travel the country in search of answers on the nine players the Lions drafted in the 2017 NFL Draft.
The first ticket that our editor Jeremy Reisman slid across my desk was to Gainesville, Florida. “It’s time to learn about Jarrad Davis” he said. When I asked him about Teez Tabor, he told me to get to Florida at once. Or he would “have my badge.” I think he had just watched Last Action Hero, but that’s a story for another time.
So I grabbed my laptop, and I headed out to Florida. I’m not a fan of flying to Florida. The last time I did, they sat me next to this guy.
Of course they sit me next to the Bears fan pic.twitter.com/LEFXHrLHYR— Mike Payton (@POD_Payton) October 21, 2016
Luckily, this time was a lot easier. Until I realized it was a United flight. Hey, there’s a month old reference for you. Once I got to Gainesville, I had to find a place to reflect and try to clear my mind. So I went to the Kanapaha Botanical Garden and got my meditation on.
After I grabbed a torta and some horchata at La Tienda Latina, I headed over to Ben Hill Griffin Stadium. It was there that I met up with Andy Hutchins of Alligator Army. After I asked him to teach me the proper way to to do the Gator Chomp, he gave me some good info on the Lions’ first-round pick. Here’s what he had to say:
POD: What are your thoughts on Davis’s time in Gainesville?
AA: “Jarrad Davis was one of my favorite Gators ever, and it's a crying shame that he didn't get to go out with the titles and accolades he richly deserved. He came in as the fourth man in a star-studded linebacker class in 2013, and turned into the best of those players before that year was even out, leading Florida linebackers in tackles in that infamous loss to Georgia Southern that year. He played hard and well throughout his time, closing like a panther on many, many ball-carriers and quarterbacks, and it was a joy to watch him grow from an instinctive freshman to a powerful, fearsome senior, one who stated openly that he came back for his senior season to play with his brothers and aim for titles.
I'm gonna miss him more than any other Gator drafted this year.”
POD: What are his strengths?
AA: “Davis has always had superb quickness and closing speed as a north-south linebacker, and his career highlights are dotted with instances of him deciding he needs to get to Point B from Point A and turning on the afterburners to do so. He's typically a sure tackler, though not an automatic one, and he has great instincts as a run-stopper, adding the strength to rock back SEC offensive linemen as an upperclassman.”
POD: What are his weaknesses?
AA: “Despite his tremendous athleticism, as displayed in his scintillating Pro Day after knee maladies last fall, I don't think Davis showed that he is exceptional at moving laterally in his time in Gainesville, and don't think he's especially good at flipping his hips to run with tight ends in pass coverage.
Could he develop that east-west quickness, and learn how to play as a cover linebacker? I think he could, given how he improved himself both physically and mentally over four years at Florida. But those are the areas where he can shore up his game.”
POD: The Lions sorely needed help in the middle of the field in 2016. Can Davis make a major impact in his rookie year?
AA: “If Davis is mostly used as a middle linebacker in run-support and blitzing roles, I think he could have a very good rookie year. I don't think there's all that much difference between him and a player like Deion Jones, who starred for the Atlanta Falcons this past fall, though I do think Jones is probably slightly quicker and significantly better as a cover linebacker. If Teryl Austin can put Davis in roles where he can win, and I believe he can, then Davis could be an impact player very early on in the Motor City.”
POD: Is his injury-filled senior year something to worry about going forward?
AA: “I think the answer to this is no, especially because Davis had all of his athleticism and then some at that Pro Day, but I do worry that he plays a little too intensely to not have some concerns about injuries going forward. His injuries as a senior were the sort of minor ones -- ankle and knee tweaks that weren't full-on tears, as far as I know -- that probably amount more to bad luck than bad process, and he's never had a significant upper-body injury, to my knowledge, despite 44 games and about 130 tackles as a Gator.
Davis also tore a meniscus in 2014, but was better than ever in 2015 and 2016, so that's probably not a major concern.”
So to put a bow on this, Davis is probably the best way the Lions could have gone at 21. I know some wanted a pass rusher there, or even a offensive player, but when you look at the film, it’s quite clear there was a gaping hole at the linebacker spot.
What Lions fans have to hope for is that Davis’s speed will be able to plug up the leak in the middle of the field. Too many times the Lions allowed tight ends to beat them over the middle of the field. Davis should shore that up.
With his athleticism and freak-like build, I see Davis as an immediate starter for the Lions, and a player that could have an impact for a long time to come. But he must stay healthy.