Start of a Comeback?

Several days before the draft, Scout.com's Clemson site published this article on intriguing running back James Davis. Could his selection in the NFL draft signal a return to prominence?

CLEMSON - James Davis had no idea what was going to happen that faithful night in January 2008 when he woke up around 3 a.m. and decided he was going to return to Clemson for his senior season.

At the time, the 5-foot-11, 218-pound running back thought he was coming back to a Clemson squad that could contend for an ACC Championship and maybe even a national title.

A projected second-round pick by the NFL Advisory Committee, Davis felt he could only improve his status and would be one of the elite runners in this year's draft.

Unfortunately none of that materialized.

"Overall, I think he is a real good prospect," said Chris Steuber, Scout.com's NFL Draft Analyst. "I think this year's draft class is pretty deep at running back and unfortunately he is going to drop down a little bit. If he came out after his junior season, he probably would have been a second round pick."

Maybe Davis should have. Clemson sputtered to a 3-3 start, head coach Tommy Bowden was fired at mid-season and an offensive line that was a question mark to begin with was decimated by injuries almost every week. The quarterback play suffered as a result and subsequently so did Davis' draft stock.

"Sometimes, and unfortunately, that happens," said Steuber, who has Davis coming off the draft board in the fourth round this weekend. "I think guys feel that if they do stay an extra year then their draft value will increase. Sometimes it does, but sometimes, what happened to James happens more than you think."

Looking back, Davis had his most unproductive year of his career in 2008. His 751 yards were his lowest numbers of his career as was his 4.4 yards per carry. The biggest disappointment was the fact he fell short of the 837 yards he needed when the season started to become Clemson's all-time rushing leader.

"That season was such a letdown for a lot of these (Clemson) guys," Steuber said. "I think all of them came back for that last season to maybe win a national championship and it just did not happen."

But despite all that, Davis said he has no regrets and if he had to do it over again, he probably would. By coming back to school, he moved himself just a couple of classes short of graduating which is what his mother wants more than anything.

He plans to return to school in the off-season and finish what he started.

And as for the rushing record and those other things, sure he is disappointed, but he said he got the opportunity to build even stronger relationships at Clemson than he had before and those are the things he will value the most.

"Being second in school history, that still means a lot to me," Davis said. "People might not think that much of it, but that is a lot. Raymond Priester was a good running back. I had chances to break his record, but more importantly, we had to win games and we had to do whatever we could do to win games.

"I'm all for winning games. I probably could have got the rushing record and we could have run the ball more, but I think winning games is more important than getting the rushing record. I would rather have that winning season than getting the record.

"I'm in second place and I can accept that. I'm still on that great wall of great running backs here and I kind of like that."

Davis' positive and upbeat attitude is one of the many things scouts still like about the two-time First-Team All-ACC selection. They also like the fact he is quick to the hole and has good lateral quickness to make defenders miss, while being a threat to gain big yardage every time he touches the ball.

"He can be a great complementary back," Steuber said. "Working with C.J. Spiller as long as he has and the production that he has put up, I think scouts like that especially with the NFL going to a two-back system now.

"I think James is a perfect compliment for a guy that is either a scat back or a little bit more versatile. He is a guy that can move the chains and is good between the tackles. He has some elusiveness on the outside and on the edge. It's hard to pinpoint a team that will take him, but I think a team that has a good running back could definitely use him as a compliment."


"I'm all for winning games. I probably could have got the rushing record and we could have run the ball more, but I think winning games is more important than getting the rushing record." (Roy Philpott/CUTigers.com)

Four teams currently fit Steuber's description for Davis. The Texans want a bigger back and one that has the ability to spell Steve Slaton, but also carry the ball on a consistent basis as well.

The Eagles need to find someone to share the load with Brian Westbrook, who has always been hampered by nagging injuries. He is also getting up in age and that concerns the Philadelphia front office.

The Saints are looking for someone to compliment Reggie Bush. Davis would be a great fit here because of his experience with Spiller.

He also becomes a target in New Orleans because of his draft value. Davis is the No. 9 running back on the Scout.com board and would be a perfect value pick for a team like the Saints that already have Bush and Pierre Thomas.

"A team that utilizes their running backs and has multiple running backs, I think that can be the right kind of team for him," Steuber said.

Arizona is another team that will be shopping for a running back like Davis. The Cardinals are more than likely going to cut their ties with Edgerrin James so that leaves them shopping for a faster back and someone to compliment Tim Hightower, who is more of a power back with one move.

Though Arizona wants speed, it would also like someone who can run and catch the ball out of the backfield.

"The scouts saw I could catch the ball and that's something I have really been working on the last couple of weeks," Davis said.

Steuber likes where Davis' position in the draft is at. He believes he is in the right spot where a team that is looking for a complimentary running back will take a chance with him.

"I think James is a very underrated running back," he said. "I've mentioned he is a great compliment running back, but I still think he has the potential to be a feature guy. I think his overall speed is what concerns some teams.

"Again, he is very talented. Look at the kind of production he put up at Clemson. He is very tough. He kind of reminds me of Terrell Davis a little bit. He was a guy that basically came out of nowhere and really emerged. He fell in the right system and he really blossomed.

"I think if James gets in the right system and gets an opportunity to play, I think he will be okay and can be a very good player."

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