ALLEN PARK — Sometimes, Jarrad Davis looks like a first-round pick. Other times, not so much.
But the Detroit Lions believe his best football is yet to come.
“As young players, you like to have some consistency,” coach Matt Patricia said of Davis recently. “That’s the best thing because then you can improve from year to year.”
But Davis hasn’t had any kind of consistency in his two years in Detroit. He played in Teryl Austin’s system as a rookie in 2017. He started slowly, and at one point lost his full-time job before turning it on down the stretch. Then Detroit threw that defense out the window when Patricia arrived last year, and Davis once again struggled early.
He’s a terrific leader and has the character makeup that Patricia prizes for his defense. All the intangibles are there. And hey, so are some of the numbers. He was the only player in the NFL last year with at least 100 tackles and six sacks. He is the only player in Lions history to do that.
But Davis also missed 12 tackles in the running game, which was third most in the league, and 17 overall. Me missed one tackle for every 6.7 tackles he made, which was the fifth-worst rate among linebackers last season according to ProFootballFocus. And he was even worse in coverage, which has long been his weakness.
He allowed 40 of the 52 balls thrown his way to be completed last year, including one thrown by Dak Prescott to Ezekiel Elliott that wound up downing Detroit in Dallas. Yeah, it took a precision throw from Prescott and a heck of a catch by Elliott to make it happen. But it’s not like that was the only ball Davis was beat on either. He allowed opposing quarterbacks to amass a passer rating of 106.6 when targeting him, which was 36th among linebackers who played at least half their team’s defensive snaps.
All told, Davis ranked 80th among 92 linebackers according to PFF.
Given his leadership and overall volume and availability, you can live with some of that. But you also expect a lot more out of a first-round pick. And the Lions hope that they’ll see some of it now that there’s some consistency building around Davis.
He’ll be working under the same coordinator in consecutive years for the first time. Same coach too. Same scheme. Same position coach. And most of the same personnel as well, with Devon Kennard and Christian Jones back alongside him at linebacker, plus defensive linemen like Snacks Harrison, A’Shawn Robinson, Da’Shawn Hand and Romeo Okwara. The biggest change will be the addition of Trey Flowers, who happens to be one of the most disruptive defensive linemen in the game, which should help free up Davis tomake more plays.
“We gotta just keep giving to him as much as possible, and that’s what keeps me up at night,” Patricia said. “Those are the things that I want to make sure I can do to help him be a better player, be a better person, be a better leader, all of it.
“So, guys like Kennard help the room a lot. (Quandre) Diggs. We got guys like that. Trey Flowers will help a lot. Snacks is great, his instincts, and you can learn from all those guys. And that’s what’s so important.”
Patricia, whose first defensive job was coaching the linebackers in New England, has a special passion for the position. He said he’s built this defense from the inside-out, and it requires constant communication between the coaches and linebackers to make it work. And he believes Davis is the kind of player he can rely on to make that happen.
Yes, he’s had some consistency issues. But he’s also been dogged by not having a veteran to lean on, instead being asked to step into a starting role right away as a rookie and then playing with new personnel in a new scheme last year.
“It’s hard because there hasn’t been that consistent, dynamic guy next to him that maybe has 10 years experience or 12 years experience that he can go have that conversation with,” Patricia said. “That’s just a little bit different. There should always be a, call it lineage transfer from positions, especially at the linebacker position.”