The Arizona Cardinals, for the second year in a row, used their sixth round pick in the NFL draft to select a defensive end with the idea of moving him to outside linebacker. Last year they chose blue-collar, high motor Chris Harrington from Texas A&M, but after nearly the entire season on the practice squad he was snatched by the Cincinnati Bengals. This year the Cardinals decided to target a player with more athleticism and in the sixth round they selected Will Davis, from Illinois. Davis, a former receiver and tight end, had a great junior season (12.5 tackles for loss and 9.5 sacks) but took a big step backwards as a senior recording just seven and 3.5, respectively. The question that he must answer as a professional is, who is the real Will Davis?
The Cardinals, as you might expect, are banking on Davis reclaiming the form that he showed in 2007 when he was second team All-Big Ten and named to a couple preseason watch lists (Rotary Lombardi Award and Ted Hendrick Defensive End of the Year Award). To get a better idea of Davis' collegiate career we contact Toki Wartooth, the head blogger at Hail to the Orange (SBNation's Illinois blog) and here's what he had to say...
Why did Davis' production fall off in 2008 and what are his strengths?
It is true that Will Davis was probably the best pure pass rusher on the team last year and the year before. Unfortunately the Illini had a glut of talented DE's but very few experienced DTs, so when Sirod Williams went down for the season before the first game, it meant that Davis would be largely the one to take his position. Against Mizzou, the Illini gave up a lot of yards right up the middle, exploiting his inexperience at DT and his lack of size.......In pure passing situations his quickness and instincts will result in him getting to the QB more often than not, but he's in trouble when teams run at him.
So if you were a defensive coordinator, how would you use Davis to maximize his potential?
My advice: put him on the outside, especially on third and long, and he will probably be productive. Put him inside and he probably won't. Basically what I am saying is, it is good that you guys picked him up for pass rushing, because the biggest hole in his game is probably stopping the run.
All in all, that's honestly about what you'd expect to hear about a guy who is being moved to outside linebacker. Most of them are smaller or weaker defensive ends who are a a liability against the run but excel at coming off the edge and rushing the passer. When you add in the note that he being used inside as a defensive tackle and it's no wonder that his production fell off in 2008 (there can't be too many defensive tackles who are former wide receivers).
So what, if anything, can we make of this? First, the Cardinals certainly won't be lining him up on the inside of the defensive line and he'll probably be asked to drop some weight in order to gain speed and flexibility. His lack a superb strength will not be such an issue at outside linebacker although he will need to get a bit stronger. The good news for Davis is that he won't be asked to contribute much, if at all, this season.
What to Expect in 2009: It wouldn't be surprising at all, given the current depth at OLB, for Davis to spend the season on the practice squad. He has zero experience in space his transition to OLB will be more difficult than second round pick Cody Brown. When you add in that he also needs to get stronger and possibly drop some weight, a year on the practice squad seems to make sense. If he does find his way onto the roster, it'll likely be because he's made a name for himself on special teams.
What to Expect in the Future: Davis is basically your traditional high risk/high reward type of prospect. He's certainly got the quickness and foot speed to turn the corner on an offensive tackle and if he can fully develop his game, he should be viewed as a starter in a couple of seasons. Of course his history of nagging injuries and his reliance on athleticism (instead of developing proper technique), could derail his career before it even gets started.
It'll likely take several years to determine what kind of professional player Davis can become but in 2009, I'd have to think his first goal should be to make the '53.' With depth ahead of him and a lot to learn, that task will be difficult enough. Thoughts? Anyone seen Davis play in college?