What would you do to play in the NFL?
You’ll be going up against players from the top schools in the country just to get invited to an All-Star game and/or the Combine. The competition is brutal. Many of the schools you’re up against have professional coaches and programs that turn out NFL players year after year. Something has to set you apart from other players.
What if you attended a small school? Perhaps you aren’t invited to All-Star games or to the Combine and your Pro Day is a disaster. You still try to stick it out but you’re not drafted, even in the seventh round. Do you keep on striving?
Most people would give up. You don’t, if you’re Todd Davis.
Davis led his college team in tackles for three years running. He was awarded the team’s Defensive MVP as a senior. He’s an overachiever with no fear of hard work.
Fate eventually dropped him in Dove Valley when the Denver Broncos were linebacker-deficient. Denver has been Mecca for players that other teams didn’t have a slot for. Todd fit the slot where his new team had a crying need, with injuries to Danny Trevathan and Brandon Marshall. Could he step up?
"It felt like home. It didn't feel like I was coming here as much as an outsider or anything," Davis said. "It just felt like the right fit. As soon as I got here, it felt good."
Todd was born in Palmdale, CA on May 17th, 1992 to parents Todd and Karen Davis. He grew up in Lancaster, CA. and attended Paraclete High School. It was hardly an NFL football mill, but Todd managed to make a name for himself. He was named to the High School First-Team All-State (small schools) by recording 119 tackles as an outside linebacker in 2010.
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They played 11 games that year. Davis had at least 10 tackles in 10 of them. He added three sacks. His season high was 16 tackles against Village Christian. As a junior, he’d racked up 161 stops, with 14 sacks. That garnered him Second-Tteam All-State and First-Team All-Southern Section Mid-Valley honors.
Todd moved on to Sacramento State. He played in all 11 games as a true freshman, with 21 tackles. His sophomore year saw him play in all games, leading the team with 96 tackles, 46 solo. That earned him an honorable mention for All-Big Sky honors.
He led the team in tackles again in his junior year, with 106 total tackles and 13.5 tackles for a loss. During his senior year he was voted the team’s Defensive MVP. He made 131 tackles that season, earning him All-Big Sky Conference honors. It was time to make his move to the NFL.
His inner drive led to a disastrous Pro Day. Davis had worked himself too much in his preparation. He had even been running wind sprints the day before his Pro Day, out of sheer nerves.
When his Pro Day finally arrived, his legs felt like granite. Davis ran a slow 4.87 40-yard dash. It turned away the scouts in droves. His quickness was one thing they were there to see. Todd took responsibility for the experience and summed it up:
“I think my body was gassed,” he said simply.
His 40-time scared off the NFL teams, leaving Davis undrafted. He was picked up as a college free agent by the New Orleans Saints. They used him for special teams in just three games. He responded with three ST tackles.
As often happens with CFAs, he was waived and brought back three times. On the fourth go-around, New Orleans unexpectedly let him go. Nate Irving had just been injured in Denver, so later that day, Davis became a Bronco. It was November 13th, 2014.
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Replacing the likes of Danny Trevathan and Brandon Marshall was a major challenge. If that expectation wasn’t enough, both linebackers had been wearing the defensive radio helmets used to relay play signals from the sideline. When Davis started playing weakside nickel LB, it left Davis without one. He was playing where both Trevathan and Marshall had played, but sans communication.
Making sure that everyone knew the play was one of his key responsibilities. Davis and the coaches worked out a series of hand signals to use. Through them, they managed to work through the communication issues. The only question then was how well Davis could play.
Davis is smaller, listed at 6-foot-1 and 230 pounds. He plays very fast, especially quick laterally. Davis is highly disruptive in both run defense and in coverage. He’s very smart and learns quickly.
He shows talent in reading offensive plays. Davis played special teams for Denver starting on November 9th, in New England. He responded with a ST tackle. He had another the following week. Soon, he was replacing Lamin Barrow and Corey Nelson in sub-packages.
Todd was given 28-of- 66 defensive snaps at the ‘Mike’ against San Diego on December 14th. He responded with two tackles (one solo, one assist) in run defense. Pro Football Focus graded him wth positives for his run stopping that day. The game film I watched supported it.
The next week against Cincinnati he played 51-of-66 defensive snaps and had his best game, back at the ‘Will’. Denver lost, but Davis made six solo tackles, with one assist. He added six more solo tackles and two assists against Oakland the next week.
In the playoff game against Indianapolis, he had five solo and one assisted tackle. PFF graded him at +3.6 for the game. He ended his short season with 19 tackles, 11 of them solo.
Davis is listed at 230. He should fill out more over time, assuming the roster weight is accurate.
A few years back, people claimed Danny Trevathan was ‘too small’. Danny was listed at only seven pounds heavier than Davis. The idea that it would interfere with his tackling died a quick death. The player who I watched lead the SEC East in tackles over his junior and senior years wasn’t likely to suddenly fail. I see Todd the same way.
Davis surprised a lot of people with his work in coverage. Brandon Marshall had filled in well for Trevathan before he, too, was injured. Davis was a similar case. He showed that his tackling in college adapted to the NFL. He sacrifices his body effectively and without hesitation. Both his coverage and pass rushing were substantially better than expected.
He was constantly around the ball. PFF gave him a +5.2 cumulative grade for the season. He graded in positives in coverage, pass rush and run stopping. Not bad for a slow, unwanted castoff.
In the GIF below, watch Davis knife through traffic to stop the ball carrier for a three-yard loss.
"I just wanted to come here and make the best I could of the opportunity," he said. "I just feel blessed to be here, and I'm just excited for the future."
With the Broncos moving to an ‘odd’ front defense, Davis fits Denver’s ILB and weakside nickel needs. With experience at both ILB and OLB, he’s position-versatile. With Marshall and Trevathan still rehabbing their injuries, Davis was paired with Steven Johnson at ILB throughout OTAs.
Related Story: Early Broncos 53-Man Roster Projection: ILB
Last season showed how easily injuries can decimate even a deep position. But that series of LB injuries also gave Todd a national stage. Davis is proving that regardless of where he went to school or how his Pro Day went, he has the chops for the NFL.
He had an excellent 2015 OTA and minicamp. In Andrew Mason’s summary of Five Takeaways from OTAs, Mase has this to say:
“Injuries to Brandon Marshall and Danny Trevathan forced Steven Johnson and Todd Davis into extensive work, and also bumped Lamin Barrow and Corey Nelson up. All had their moments, but Davis was a revelation (italics mine)...”
If both Marshall and Trevathan return as hoped, Davis will probably provide backup at ILB and/or weakside nickel LB. Wade Phillips loves aggression. Davis is his kind of player.
I’ve read scouting reports saying that he was weak in coverage during his college career. Scouting reports are usually posted without year to year upgrades. He looked good for Denver last year. Film showed Davis flipping his hips smoothly and easily. He’s drawn positive comments on his coverage skills from coaches and players alike. He knows who comes into his zone and when they leave it.
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With proper coaching and physical training, Davis can emerge as a versatile starter. He’s on a $510,000.00 contract for 2015, and is an Exclusive Rights Free Agent (ERFA) in 2016. He’ll be around Denver for a while.
If either Marshall or Trevathan are slow to return, it’s good to know that a previous starter is ready to step in. Emerging players who begin as depth, as Todd Davis did, are an essential part of any playoff run. When they become elite depth, it’s a game changer.
Bring on training camp!