Mobile, Ala. — In many ways Carl Davis' football career has been trending up since high school.
As a junior at Sterling Heights Stevenson, Davis' team went 10-2 before his senior season in which it finished 13-1 with a loss to Detroit Catholic Central in the Division 1 championship in 2009.
When he arrived at Iowa, Davis slowly worked his way into the rotation. He redshirted in 2010, appeared in six games in 2011, then played in 11 games in 2012. Then, he started every game as a junior and senior, improving from four tackles for loss in 2013 to nine in 2014.
Now, Davis is hoping to show he can be one of the top defensive tackles in the NFL.
At the Senior Bowl this week, Washington's Danny Shelton is the top defensive tackle, a potential top-15 pick who has the size — 343 pounds — to play nose tackle and the skills to play in a 4-3. But Davis, his teammates on the North squad said, established himself as the clear second-best tackle in Mobile by consistently winning his one-on-one matchups.
Some draft analysts who watched practice even think the Detroit native could have vaulted into the discussion of being a first-round pick.
"He's a big-bodied kid with some movement skills, and I think this is a good week for him because they're going to ask him to do some different things than he did at Iowa," NFL Network's Mike Mayock said.
"I think he's a little bit of a dark horse. I think he's probably a better player than a lot of people realize."
The 6-foot-45/8, 321-pound Davis only had 31/2 career sacks at Iowa, which is far fewer than some of the other top-tier defensive tackles in the 2015 class. But he was primarily a run stuffer, and it's rare to find tackles who consistently sack the quarterback.
Davis, though, is familiar with one NFL defensive tackle who succeeds consistently against the run and pass. Lions All-Pro Ndamukong Suh is his favorite player.
"I've been watching him since Nebraska. He's a dynamic player," Davis said. "I like what he brings to the game. He's physical, he can play from sideline to sideline and control the line of scrimmage, get sacks. He's an overall dominant player.
"I feel like if you want to be a defensive tackle, you want to play like him. He's top-notch. There's not many people that can do what he do."
Davis interviewed with the Lions during the Senior Bowl week. They tried to talk to as many players as possible, but defensive tackle will be one of their biggest needs in the draft.
Suh, Nick Fairley, C.J. Mosley and Andre Fluellen are all pending free agents, which leaves 2014 fifth-round pick Caraun Reid as the only tackle guaranteed to be back in 2015.
Of course, the expectation is the Lions will retain Suh, whether they sign him to a long-term deal or use the franchise tag to avoid having him hit the open market, and Davis said he would cherish an opportunity to play with the three-time All-Pro.
"That's an opportunity to learn from the best," he said. "I try to study his game as much as I can. To be around a guy like that, spending a lot of time with him in the building and being able to learn from what he does, that would be great."
ESPN ranks Davis the No. 53 overall prospect and No. 6 tackle behind Shelton, Oklahoma's Jordan Phillips, Florida State's Eddie Goldman, Texas' Malcom Brown and Ohio State's Mike Bennett, but he certainly helped himself in Mobile.
If he continues to progress, he could be a first-round pick in April, whether by the Lions or another team, but his continual improvement is a good sign for his future.
"That would mean a lot, playing for my home city," he said. "That's even more sense of pride.
"You've got more pressure, but it's good pressure. You're playing for your city, and you know that everybody is behind you and they want you to do good."