Matt Waldman often shares sample scouting reports of NFL Draft prospects where he’s hit or missed on their success. One thing he hasn’t shared are instances where he’s hit on evaluations where he was much lower on a player than the national draft media.
Identifying talented players who will fit in the NFL is only part of scouting. Another part of the job is weeding out prospects. Whether it’s knowing that the player won’t fit a specific team or scheme or possessing far lower expectations for a prospect than the consensus, it’s part of the job and it’s an underrated facet of scouting that earns me customers.
We all have our misses in this industry because scouting is a difficult, humbling process and a lifetime journey. This humility also occurs with readers and eventual customers.
I’ve had my share of public criticism for bold calls about player success and those readers even apologize to me for their behavior. Often, I don’t get an actual apology, but I receive emails from readers who explained that they only began buying the RSP publication 1-3 years after watching the performance of players where I was an outlier and realized that my analysis was well-grounded.
These players aren’t only the successful talents like Nick Chubb, Patrick Mahomes, or Marvin Jones but also the players who earned a lot of national buzz that I didn’t believe in. It’s not something I’ve shared the way I provide samples of successful players because I don’t want to take victory laps over players who didn’t earn the success that others projected for them.
I want every player to succeed—even if it turns out that I’m wrong with my assessment of them. These are young men pursuing their dreams. I know how it feels to fail on a large scale.
Keep this in mind as I begin sharing some sample reports of players whose game I was more critical of than the consensus. I want you to see how specific issues with talented players can ultimately prevent them from reaching their potential and how I communicate it in a scouting report.
Knile Davis is a good example. A talented athlete who absolutely had NFL success as a kick return specialist, he could not find a fit as a starting NFL runner—and for many reasons seen in this scouting report below. In fact, you can even see why he had success as a returner and less as a runner.
Davis had a 57-game career with 250 attempts, 805 yards rushing, and 11 touchdowns. As a receiver, he caught 34 passes for 271 yards and a score. Davis also averaged 27 yards per kick return during his first four years in Kansas City, including returns of 108 yards and 99 yards as a rookie and second-year player.
Not bad at all for a situational player but when Jamaal Charles’ injury opened the door for Davis to take over in 2015, it was Spencer Ware—a sixth-round pick of the Seahawks that the RSP graded as the publication’s No.4 runner in the same class as Davis—who won the opportunity.
Ware averaged three yards per carry more than Davis and became the more compelling part of a 1-2 punch with UDFA Charcandrick West.
Davis had skills and a fit in the league, but he had a lot of work to do in order to capitalize on flashes of excellence and transform them into consistent, starting-caliber performances.
24. Knile Davis, Arkansas (5-11, 227)
Speed is not an issue with Davis. He also picks and slides well. His pad level is consistently good enough to get under defenders. He reads his blocks well and dips in and out of creases with some agility for a runner of his size.
His agility is not something you notice at first glance, but he consistently makes a player miss or weaves through tight traffic as if they really weren’t serious obstacles when he’s moving downhill. He’s fairly agile for his size and can spin, dip, or cut (at a limited angle) away from defenders while on the move
When Davis plays decisive football, he shows some ability to press and cut back with dips away from oncoming defenders. Although he demonstrates nice patience with a variety of run plays. I’m just not sure he has enough lateral agility or sharpness with his cuts for the NFL game. Many of his more agile runs at the college level are through big creases he won’t see as a pro and where he fails to execute well on play types he will encounter in the NFL.
He consistently finishes plays with low pad level for extra yardage, but he runs with his pads too far ahead of his feet. He runs with his hips a little too straight to allow him to maneuver his arms and shoulders to avoid hits or use a stiff arm to ward off contact. This also prevents Davis from breaking as many tackles as he could because he’s not exploding into contact as often as he’s bracing for it.
He drops his head too early and this causes him to lose balance at inopportune times. He is stopped pretty easily in the backfield before plays start, and doesn’t handle penetration as well as top backs.
Davis carries the ball tight with the elbow close to his body, but not high enough for the ball to stay close to his chest. His low-slung carrying style can make it easier for defenders to rip the ball loose on occasions where Davis is held up while gang tackled. When he’s changing direction, his arm becomes more separated from his body and remains away from his side as he works outside a defender.
Davis flashes moments of good pass blocking technique, but he frequently goes for the knockout hit with a lowered shoulder. This causes him to drop his pads and give the defender an opportunity to avoid the hit. He does flash good technique with cut blocks, but has to get a little more consistent with driving through.
Davis was the lead back as a sophomore but lost the job to Dennis Johnson after fracturing his ankle in 2011 and missing the season. He led the SEC in rushing in 2010 but hasn’t returned to form, according to many. I’m not sure his form was ever really as good as advertised
when viewing through the lens of the NFL.
In terms of pad level, patience, stride length, and running with his head down, Davis reminds me of a stronger, but less explosive DeMarco Murray. Physically, Davis might project as a future NFL starter, but he has a lot to learn and change about his running style and pass protection to develop into anything more than a situational reserve in the NFL.
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