While technically Davis was born on October 11th of 1989, which makes him, technically, six whole days older than the Loma Prieta earthquake, San Francisco's newest right tackle might as well have been born five minutes ago for all the introspective he'll be about this whole deal.
Which is fine. In fact, it's probably for the best. You don't want a guy thinking too hard about existentialism when he's lined up across from some surly defensive end who runs a 4.6 in the forty. Heck, the kid's got enough of a reputation for having lapses in focus as it is.
Still, sooner or later, Davis is going to have to be made aware of something. How people – the fans, the writers, the bloggers and so on – will judge how the 49ers did in this draft; whether it's a year from now or five or fifty, will depend solely on him.
It's all on his (massive) shoulders.
Oh sure, Mike Iupati matters. He's a first rounder, so of course he matters. No one's worried about him though. If there's a pick in the 49ers draft class you'd bet your life on, it's him. But he's also a guard and you can hide mediocre guards. Lord knows the 49ers tried their best to last season. A bad tackle, however, quite literally because of their placement on the line, stick outs like a sore thumb.
Again, ask the Niners.
So they have Iupati. And there's Taylor Mays, who's a fairly big deal too. Navorro Bowman and Anthony Dixon and so on and so forth; they'll all play their parts, this is true. That doesn't change the fact that if Davis fails then the whole draft is a failure. Even more to the point, Head Coach Mike Singletary is staking his whole reputation and career on this kid, even more than he's risking them with Alex Smith as his quarterback, because let's be honest, it's not like he threw away Peyton Manning in deciding to go with Smith. He was the best option of the available lot.
It's different with Davis. He was Sing's choice from a cast of hundreds of prospects. No matter how much responsibility Director of Player Personnel Trent Baalke will claim for the move, outside perception is not going to change that one iota. If Davis goes on to become the star that Singletary projects him to be; then his coach truly does possess talents beyond leadership and inspiration all the physical qualities that made him a Hall-of-Fame linebacker with the Chicago Bears. His gaze really does penetrate through men's eyes and into their very souls.
Or, to put it another way, he can out-Mel Kiper Mel Kiper.
By now we all know the story on Davis. Physically he has few, if any, peers among his draft class. When he was right, he dominated at Rutgers in the fairly competitive Big East Conference. It would be a fair statement to call him the best pass blocking tackle in the country – again, when he was on his game.
The whispers about him though, make one pause. First off, Davis has struggled to keep his weight under control, a flaw he shares with roughly 83 percent of his countrymen. He came to school as a chubby freshman, whittled away his frame some in the ensuing years, but like most of us it's a constant battle filled with good days and Kit Kat bars. Secondly, there's the rap on him for uneven, inconsistent play and for the aforementioned loss of focus. If he's so good, a cynic might ask, then how come he was only named second-team in his own conference in 2009? If he's so dominant, then how come he only finished with an 82.58 percent grade in blocking consistency last year, scoring over 85 percent in just four contests? Finally, there's the notion – which no one can prove either way right now and perhaps ever – that football loves Davis far more than the other way around; that the kid is in it for the money and the fame, but otherwise couldn't care less what the scoreboard reads at the end of four quarters.
Naturally, the 49ers don't feel any of these criticisms are valid, and we'll tackle them in order.
Regarding Davis' weight, Singletary said, "I think sometimes whenever you hear of a young man with a weight problem, he comes in and he's overweight, sometimes you can get a label and it's hard to get rid of," before adding, "So many people that I talked to and have tremendous respect for said, ‘Mike, this kid is special. He has a tremendous amount of upside. Every day he goes out to practice, he works hard. He gets after it. He's your kind of guy, I'm telling you, your kind of guy.' Guys that know me pretty well, I got that information from and I trust that."
Offensive line coach Mike Solari, meanwhile, opined that, "Davis was gifted in high school, and because everything came so easy for him, the way he dominated everyone, he didn't have a great work ethic coming out," while stressing that as Davis' competition improved, then so did his conditioning and work habits.
As far as the issues of laziness or inconsistency go, Solari was adamant that the critiques are off base. "I've seen a lot of film on him," he insisted. "If we thought he was lazy or unfocused we wouldn't have drafted him."
Baalke however, when screening highlights of Davis and the other draft picks for reporters, took a softer, more conciliatory tack. "When you're better than the guys you're going up against, it's hard to keep your focus, especially for young guys," he admitted. "But there is no bad film on this guy. There are bad plays, but no bad games. Was his performance as consistent as you want? No, but there's no film that says he can't play football."
Actually, the film Baalke showed the media showed that Davis is rather proficient at football, even accounting for the fact that it was a highlight reel with the bad plays omitted. In clip after clip even us laymen could see how quickly the young giant got off the snap, how his lower body exploded like an uncoiled python into defenders, how stunned opposing ends were by his punch and how utterly helpless they were to do anything once Davis extended his 34-inch long arms around their shoulders. Normally the way linemen react to the snap is in direct proportion to how close they are to the ball. First the center moves, then the guards, and finally the tackles. In all the Rutgers tape we saw however, Davis routinely reacted quicker than both of his guards to the snap and seemed in fact to be moving, down to the microsecond, in sync with his center. That extrasensory reaction time and cat-like quickness can't be taught anymore than Iupati's towering height or Mays' blistering speed.
According to Solari, Davis' talent and quickness aren't his only traits out of the coaching jurisdiction. "Both Davis and Iupati have that come off the ball, hit you in the mouth attitude," he gushed. "Not all of them have it. It's innate."
The 49ers have a couple of Nate's on the roster, but sadly neither are linemen.
Perhaps what his position coach likes most about his new pupil is that Davis is not old enough to buy any beverage more harmful than a Red Bull. "He's not grounded yet so we can really develop him," he said, before shaking his head at the thought of having both Davis and Iupati at his disposal. "He sure doesn't play like he's 20."
Finally there's the matter of Davis' motivation. This is the part where Singletary comes in. "I talked to his mentor," the coach explained, "and he said, ‘Mike, the most important thing to do for him is to really, really surround him with the right people. He's not an entourage kind of guy. He's not a guy that likes to party. He's kind of a loaner. Make sure that you keep your hands on him. He's a kid that wants to learn. He loves football. He wants to work.'"
You've read what everyone else has to say about him, so what about the kid himself? Well, Davis showed flashes of humor and appeared rather outgoing at first blush. The cameras didn't spook him in the slightest and actually he looked rather bemused by the whole scene, all these older strangers there just to take pictures of him and ask him questions. "It felt a lot different," he said of his visit to Santa Clara with Singletary and Solari. "That's why I was so big on the 49ers going through the process. Of course, I had to keep it to myself. There are great people in the building. The whole staff is great people. The team is a tight knit group. I like what Singletary is building over there. I can't wait to be a part of it and win some games." The Niners will win some games, regardless of how Davis plays. For them to win as many as Singletary and the fans want, the coach will have had to hit a home run with this kid.
"Whatever it takes to get him where he needs to be, it will get done," assured Singletary.