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2021 Detroit Lions free agent profile: Jarrad Davis could be back, but why?

The coaching staff has praised Davis, but his on-field production is lacking

NFL: Detroit Lions at Arizona Cardinals Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

The Detroit Lions defense has a rotten problem. The last two guys who tried to piece it all together clearly didn’t do a good job, and the patchwork attempt left the Lions with a lot of tough decisions to make in order to patch things up for the future.

Jarrad Davis is one of the top picks of former general manager Bob Quinn’s short-lived career. Davis has unfortunately become the emblem of Quinn’s failures in the draft, a mid-to-late first round draft pick with extensive struggles on the field to play at even a baseline starter level.

The harsh news for Davis is that he’s failed under two different defensive systems now—both that of Teryl Austin under Jim Caldwell and the system of Matt Patricia and Paul Pasqualoni—and has little to show that he could succeed in a third. Nevertheless, Lions observers seem to believe he’s going to be back with the team.

This deserves some investigation, mainly to the fifth of the five W’s: “why?” If you so choose, you could embellish it as, “oh my god, why?

Previous free agent profiles: Mohamed Sanu, Oday Aboushi, Danny Amendola, Matt Prater, Jamal Agnew, Everson Griffen, Duron Harmon, Kenny Golladay, Don Muhlbach, Jalen Reeves-Maybin, Darryl Roberts, Marvin Jones Jr., Adrian Peterson, Miles Killebrew

Jarrad Davis

Expectations heading into 2020

The Lions declined to pick up Davis’ fifth year option heading into the 2020 season, so expectations couldn’t have been too high; the Lions continued to add new linebackers to the roster, hoping something could work. The linebacker position was at the heart of the Patricia and Pasqualoni system, and Davis’ failure to meet expectations was dragging down the whole thesis. He was consistently grading as one of the worst starting linebackers on Pro Football Focus, and something had to give.

Nevertheless, Davis gained muscle weight and seemed to add speed as his key improvements going into the 2020 season. He recognized that he’s been missing tackles, and he told the media that he believed he could become a good coverage linebacker. Without the fifth year option, Davis had all the world to play for.

Actual role in 2020

14 games (4 starts): 46 tackles (25 solo), 0.5 sacks, 4 QB hits
PFF grade: 62.2 (30th among 99 qualifying LBs)

Davis had played a starting role in every game in his first three years, but 2020 saw him lose out on that position as his performance continued to flag; he started in just four games. The same issues that had dogged Davis in prior years continued into his fourth season: missed tackles and over-pursuing targets both were common themes to Davis’ play.

As for improving as a coverage linebacker, the polite way to address the matter is that it didn’t really work out. Pro Football Reference holds that he was targeted on a pass as a defender 15 times, and he allowed 15 receptions at an average of 9.2 yards per completion. This was staggeringly worse than his performances in previous years. Did he have the talent to be a good coverage linebacker? If he does, it wasn’t on display.

Outlook for 2021

Contract status: Unrestricted free agent

The good news for Davis is that the new head coach in Detroit seems to have really taken a shine to him, at least in press conferences.

The bad is everything in his past is stacked up against here, and the question of whether Davis wants to be back in Detroit. Of course, it’s fair to ask if anyone would pay him a fair shake to play linebacker anywhere else.

If Davis is retained, a short-term deal could be likely, as it would be on another “prove it” scenario for the team. The team needs all the help it can get at linebacker, and it may just be prudent to go with the devil you know.

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