For most, Jarrad Davis’ rookie year was considered a mild disappointment. Starting from Day 1 as the middle linebacker and quarterback of the defense was no easy task from the former Florida Gator, but his struggles out of the gate were self evident. He couldn’t hang with NFL-level receivers in coverage, he was often making the wrong gap-assignment reads, and he was even struggling with tackling.
It should come as no surprise, then, that according to Pro Football Focus, he was the sixth-worst graded first-round pick in 2016, with an overall score of just 46.1.
A look at how every first round draft pick graded as a rookie pic.twitter.com/U4gZ6c9TiC— Pro Football Focus (@PFF) January 9, 2018
But that doesn’t tell the entire story. In fact, that overall grade is hardly representative of the Jarrad Davis we saw in the final two months of the season.
In Week 11’s game against the Chicago Bears, the Detroit Lions made an adjustment. Because of his rookie struggles—especially in coverage—the Lions limited Davis’ playing time. No longer was he in during obvious passing downs, and for most third downs he’d be standing on the sidelines.
His overall game participation dropped from an average of 97.0 percent of playing time in his first seven starts to just 75.3 percent in his final seven starts. And did that help his performance? There is absolutely no question about it.
PFF’s Twitter account followed up their original tweet and put his overall score into perspective. Take note of what they said about his performance in the final six games:
> Because he struggled badly in coverage up to and including week 11. For the last six weeks of the year he was our 4th graded LB— Pro Football Focus (@PFF) January 9, 2018
You read that correctly. Jarrad Davis was the No. 4 overall linebacker in the final six weeks of the season. Not a top four rookie linebacker. Not a top four rookie. A top four NFL linebacker.
And the grades line up almost exactly with Detroit’s coaching adjustment. Take Davis off the field when he’s most vulnerable, and Davis is suddenly a better linebacker. The Lions used that tactic for the final seven games of the year. Davis’ performance started to really turn around in the final six games.
Now you may be concerned about Davis’ future. If the Lions already have to take him off the field on passing downs, does that mean he’s not the three-down linebacker Detroit had hoped for?
It’s a legitimate concern, even if it is extremely young in Davis’ career. However, there is one very promising sign that Davis could assume that role to begin 2018: Week 17.
Granted we’re talking about a Brett Hundley-led Green Bay Packers team, who was missing nearly all of their receiving threats, but Detroit leaned on Davis heavily in their season finale. In fact, for the first time since Week 10 against the Browns, Davis played in every single defensive snap. All 68 of them.
And how did Davis do with full responsibilities again?
The highest graded LBs in Week 17! pic.twitter.com/FCUpWIIh4X— Pro Football Focus (@PFF) January 2, 2018
So if you’re down on Davis’ rookie year, don’t be. He clearly improved as the season went on, and even gained back some of the responsibilities he had lost earlier in the season.
It’s always too early to judge a rookie based solely on their first handful of games at the NFL level. But the way a player finishes the season is certainly more important than the way they started. And that’s a very, very good sign for Jarrad Davis.