Boiler Room: UNLV WR Devante Davis


When the football world labels a prospect as “raw,” it can be a positive or negative connotation. How does one discern the difference? Devante Davis’ play provides some guidelines. 

It’s never as simple as I’m about to describe, but there are two general meanings for the term “raw prospect.” One describes the athletic talent not only in need of additional knowledge and experience of the fine points of the game, but also a player who possesses technical and conceptual flaws that need significant correction.

Vince Young, Jared Cook, Jacoby Jones, Robert Meachem, Tim Tebow, Michael Vick, Limas Sweed, C.J. Spiller, and Ronnie Hillman are examples of prospects that had some habits to unlearn before they could develop a measure of consistency to match their talents. Hillman might develop into the best example on this list of a player who unlearned bad habits (decision-making and ball security) to maximize his skills.

Julian Edelman, Demaryius Thomas,  Jimmy Graham, Jordan Cameron, Mike Wallace, Colin Kaepernick, Antonio Brown, and Terrell Owens had few bad habits that required a lot of reshaping. Unlike the first list of players who flashed excellence for a weeks or even a season or two, the talents on this second list have a better track record of sustained production — even when opponents thought they had these prospects figured out.

Some may look at Owens’ inclusion in the second list and cite his issues with dropping the ball earlier in this career. However, Owens’ hands techniques were clean enough that he didn’t have much to unlearn as much as knowledge and experiences to build on. Even after Owens developed into a star, the receiver’s employers still had to contend with Owens’ share of dropped passes.

A player who reminds me a lot of Owens on the field is UNLV receiver Davante Davis. The physical dimensions (6’3″, 218 lbs., and room to add another 5-7 pounds), the speed, and the strength are all quality raw materials to build a future NFL receiver.

The rational assumption among many who place great value in physical and athletic measurements is that these raw prospects will get coached up and develop into capable professionals. Although professionals-turned-writers like Ryan Riddle have made it clear that the NFL expects players to learn the fine points of technique from fellow professionals or hired coaching consultants, there are many cases where these raw players seek this training and make the leap. However, matching a list of player heights-weights-times doesn’t reveal if a player has technical deficiencies that require an overhaul this late in their football development.

And yes, there are certain techniques reliant on years of muscle memory that are difficult to unlearn. Robert Meachem tried valiantly to become a better hands catcher of the football, but it never took to the level of consistency for Meachem to maximize his first-round athleticism.

Davis is raw, but more so in the classic sense where he needs refinement without an overhaul. The Boiler Room is a series designed to share a limited number of plays in a prospect’s highlight portfolio that would be essential viewing for a team to understand its potential investment.

Two plays from Davis’ performance against Nevada reveal a receiver with the willingness to play to the advantages of his body type and a prospect with flashes of the “IT Factor” (Integrated Technique that is the result of a player who is capable of processing a situation and matching the demands of a play with focus, athleticism, creativity, and technique rolled into successful execution).

If You’re Big, Play Big

Davis is a fit athletic with strength and he has no problem using it to his advantage. It sounds basic, but Ron Dayne was a big athlete with strength who ran like a little back. Allen Robinson is off to a decent start in Jacksonville, but his natural inclination as a ball carrier is to make defenders miss rather than run through them — odd for a bigger receiver.

This 2nd and 6 slant with 9:53 left is an important play against a cornerback playing Davis tight at the line of scrimmage. The technique isn’t fancy or even a refined release that limits the amount of surface area the corner has access, but Davis is the aggressor.

Davis releases up field and delivers a hard punch into the chest of the defender to break inside for the catch. In addition to Davis being the first to attack, note how he rolls his hips like a run blocker to drive the defender backwards. Once the receiver has the defender off-balance, Davis finishes the release move with a chip to break the opponent’s grip. Rarely does one see a receiver attack a defender straight-on, but the techniques displayed in this sequence will translate well to more refined moves where Davis doesn’t have to square the defender like a blocker.

The catch with the hands despite getting wrapped from behind is a quality finish to the play. It’s also a mere appetizer to what he displays later in the quarter.

Difficult, Clutch Plays With Multiple Contributing Factors

Davis ices this game with 6:03 left as the single receiver to the right of the formation with a cornerback playing press with a slight inside shade on the receiver. Davis stutters at the line and dips outside the defender with the use of a rip move. It wasn’t the best use of his hands and feet to get clean separation, because there could have been more depth to the footwork and greater snap to the use of the arms to release with violence, but Davis’ work was effective and a good start.

The receiver uses his hands to maintain separation during his stem and set up a spin towards the quarterback to attack the target. The release techniques, the set up of the break with the hands to maintain separation, and then the excellent hand-eye coordination and hand strength near the boundary all contribute to this play’s excellence.

Davis not only catches the back-end of the football without  a problem (good hand strength), but he also times his adjustment to the ball so the continuation of his spin shields the opponent from the ball. This is a clutch play with a lot of little techniques that only need to get more refined. Add some variations on these release and separation techniques to set up the attack of the target and Davis has the hands, athleticism, and effort to develop into good NFL starter capable of leading his team in receiving.

It probably won’t happen right way and it might not happen at all, but the reason Devante Davis won’t succeed in the NFL will have nothing to do with him lacking the inherent skills and athleticism to beat defensive backs before, during, or after the catch. He’s raw material in the best sense of the phrase.

For analysis of skill players in this year’s draft class, download the 2014 Rookie Scouting Portfolio – available now. Better yet, if you’re a fantasy owner the 56-page Post-Draft Add-on comes with the 2012 – 2014 RSPs at no additional charge. Best, yet, 10 percent of every sale is donated to Darkness to Light to combat sexual abuse. You can purchase past editions of the Rookie Scouting Portfolio for just $9.95 apiece.

 The 2015 RSP will be available for pre-order in January.

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