Allen Park — It’s easy to set unreasonable expectations for first-round NFL draft picks. We want to see them start and we expect them to thrive, despite the steep learning curve and required adjustment to the speed, strength and demands of the professional game.
It shouldn’t surprise anyone that Lions’ linebacker Jarrad Davis is taking his fair share of first-year lumps, but, for some reason, it does. Maybe it’s because the Lions didn’t hesitate to immediately start him at one of the most-demanding positions on defense. Maybe it’s because we expect his off-the-chart work ethic and football character to lead to immediate results on the field.
And while we’ve certainly seen glimpses of the talents that led the Lions to invest in Davis, his transition to the NFL has been a rocky one.
Just look at the raw data Pro Football Focus has compiled on Davis this season. He’s missed 15 tackles, generated a mere four pressures on 37 pass-rush snaps and given up 33 completions on the 40 throws his direction — all below-average figures for the position.
“I think anytime you are a rookie in this league, and you’re playing early, it’s not going to be pretty the entire time,” Lions coach Jim Caldwell said. “You’re going to have some good times and really good games. You’re going to have some where you’re not as productive as you’d like to be.”
The Lions are going to need to see the learning curve level out down the stretch as the team pushes for back-to-back postseason spots, and Davis is optimistic about the way he’s trending.
“It’s starting to slow down,” he said. “It’s still got its ups and downs, still a lot of stuff I’ve got to continue to learn. I’m continuing to put in extra time to make sure I’m picking up what the coaches are bringing to us each week. This is the NFL, I’m seeing a new challenge from the jump. I’m starting to see and understand things cleaner.”
That’s what’s easy to love about Davis. He’s self-critical and willing to put in the necessary effort. No, he enjoys putting in the extra work.
“It’s exciting to work each and every week,” Davis said. “It’s so interesting, every time I sit down in the film room and break down a game plan, break down a team, and look what we’re doing, too. There’s always so many details flying around and I’m always locked in, always interested to soak up everything I can.”
That’s leadership, a skill that doesn’t show up in any box scores, but Davis has in spades. Now it’s a matter of cleaning up what he’s doing on the field, especially in coverage.
“I have a lot of work to do at that end, but each and every day in practice, I’m working on having the right eyes, knowing my technique and my job, making sure I’m not blowing things and leaving holes in the defense,” Davis said.
Some rookies settle in sooner than others. Last year’s first-round pick, Taylor Decker, was decent out of the gate, but took about half a season to really find his groove. Cornerback Darius Slay, on the other hand, was a disaster as a rookie, but looked like a completely different player his second season. Five years in, he’s now one of the NFL’s best at his position.
Who knows when it will all click for Davis, but his attitude and approach makes it feel like it’s only a matter of time.