Going into the 2016 offseason, Tyeler Davison was the second-string nose tackle for the Saints, right behind incumbent starter John Jenkins. His solid play in practices and training camp vaulted him to the starting spot, and the Saints haven’t looked back since.
After starting in five games as a rookie and appearing in 10 more, Davison started all 15 games he appeared in during the 2016 season. His solid play as the anchor in the middle of the Saints defense played a major part in the enormous overall improvement for the Saints run defense in the 2016 season.
After allowing a league-worst 4.9 yards per carry in 2015, the Saints improved drastically to the point where they allowed a humble 4.1 yards per attempt in 2016, good for 15th in the league. While allowing over 4 yards per attempt is nothing special, the Saints certainly have to be pleased with the significant improvement made from 2015 to 2016.
What you’ll find when you specifically watch Davison during games is very similar to what you find when you search for stats to describe his play: not much flash. Often times, you’ll see Davison lined up as the 1-technique, stonewalling a double-team from the guard and center that allows a linebacker to make a tackle for no gain. Unfortunately, Davison records no statistic for that play, despite being a main contributor to the positive outcome. Regardless, his play within the context of the defense is something to look forward to during the 2017 campaign.
What makes Tyeler Davison’s 2016 impressive is that he contributed so handily while sustaining several injuries that hindered his effectiveness. He suffered a foot injury and a torn labrum during the second game of the season against the New York Giants, a nasty combination that forced him to miss the following game. However, he recuperated quickly enough to start every game after Week 3, showing the toughness and accountability that is vital for defensive linemen in the NFL.
Given a clean bill of health in 2017, it’s likely that Davison will see improved play and the ability to show off more of his natural athleticism that was hampered by injuries throughout the season.
While we’re on the topic of Davison, let’s consider how he was acquired: in the 2015 offseason, the Saints sent starting guard Ben Grubbs to the Kansas City Chiefs in exchange for a fifth-round pick that ended up being slotted as the 154th overcall choice in the draft. Grubbs started seven games in 2015 before being placed on injured reserve. He was ultimately released at the conclusion of the season, and is not on an NFL roster over a year later.
On the other hand, Davison established himself as a starting nose tackle for an improving run defense in just his second year as a pro. There is no argument to be had on which team won that trade; it’s pretty clear that the Saints made out like bandits.
Tyeler Davison will likely never be an every-down defensive lineman in the pros and quite frankly, that’s okay. A young, solid starting nose tackle that can force the attention of double teams and allow linebackers clear paths to the football is always going to be a helpful piece to a defense. With Sheldon Rankins and David Onyemata under contract for at least three additional years, Davison won’t be asked to play a role that he’s unfit to play. He can continue to grow and do the selfless, dirty work as the nose tackle in the center of the Saints defense, all the while only accounting for a meager 0.39% of the 2017 salary cap (per Spotrac.com).