When I saw the 2012 Lewin Career Forecast, I had already studied Russell Wilson. In fact, I told a panel of draft analysts on a National Football Post podcast (beginning at the 17:42 mark) that included Josh Norris, Wes Bunting, and Josh Buchanan that Wilson was my sleeper quarterback in this draft. I was cynical that Wilson would be picked before the third round, but once Seattle opted for the N.C. State-Wisconsin quarterback, my immediate thought was that Wilson would be a pivotal test case against height bias in the NFL.
I think there’s another potential test case in the draft this year, but on the opposite end of the spectrum when it comes to the dilemma of prototypical skills vs. prototypical measurements. The lead actor in this draft-day drama could be Knile Davis. If an NFL team selects Davis in the first three rounds of this draft, it will be a telling indication that they relied more on Davis’ Combine performance –- and to some degree sabermetrics –- than the opinions of scouts and draft analysts who lean hard on the game tape.
Davis was an All-SEC selection in 2010, rushing for 1322 yards and scoring 13 touchdowns. In 2011, the Arkansas running back missed the season with a broken ankle. Davis underwhelmed in 2012, losing the starting job to reserve Dennis Johnson and only showing flashes of what he did in 2010.
Fast forward to the 2013 NFL Combine, and the 227-pound runner put on a show: a 4.37 40-yard dash and 31 reps on the bench press. It was an impressive performance that vaulted Davis atop Football Outsiders’ Speed Score metric for running backs. According to Danny Tuccitto, a Speed score below 80 is “a giant red flag,” a 100 Speed Score is “average,” and “anything above 120 serving as a giant neon sign.”
This makes Davis’ Speed Score, “off-the-charts good.” If you listen to Davis talk about NFL players of comparison, his self-perception is also top-notch. Andrew Gribble reports that Davis describes his style as on par with Arian Foster and Adrian Peterson.
If you ask me, Davis has some sort of dsymorphic disorder isolated to running backs and American Idol audition candidates. He has the idea that he performs differently than he does. Davis’ style is nowhere close to that of Foster or Peterson. When it comes to talent, if Davis is one of the top-ten runners in this class, then it’s a stretch to place him among the top seven in what is a deep class that lacks superstar talent at the top.
While I can’t be definitive about an exact ranking because I’m about two days away from the month-long task of compiling my 24 months of analysis into rankings this month, I can say that I have similar concerns as other writers (such as Rotoworld’s Evan Silva, NFL.com’s Josh Norris, and Bleacher Report’s Sigmund Bloom) who have studied Davis.
Foster and Peterson don’t come to mind when they watch Davis run. The running back mentioned most often among them was Shonn Greene.
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