The New Orleans Saints made an important addition to their rapidly improving defense on Wednesday when they signed former New York Jets linebacker Demario Davis. A cousin of former NFL quarterback Steve McNair, Davis grew up in Brandon, Mississippi, about three hours from New Orleans. He entered the league as a 3rd round draft choice in 2012 from Arkansas State, the 77th selection overall, and was a full-time starter by his second season in the league. He finished second on New York in tackles for 3 years, from 2013-15, compiling 6.5 sacks, recovering 4 fumbles, with 1 interception.
Davis departed the Jets as a free agent after the 2015 season, signing with the Cleveland Browns. After one year in Cleveland, where he finished second in tackles and added 2 sacks and a forced fumble, he was traded back to the Jets in exchange for safety Calvin Pryor. Upon his return to the Jets, Davis had the best season of his career in 2017, leading the team in sacks (5) and tackles (135), with 13 tackles for loss and a fumble recovery. Pro Football Focus graded Davis' 2017 performance as the 8th best linebacker in the league, and the top linebacker entering free agency. A durable player, Davis has started 79 of the last 80 games, and played in 99% of the Jets defensive snaps last year.
The Saints signed Davis to a 3-yr./24 million dollar contract with a reported 18 million guaranteed in hopes of shoring up a linebacker unit that has been a team weakness for a number of years. He packs a punch as a tackler, driving through the ball carrier and wrapping up well. Davis provides an immediate upgrade in speed for the New Orleans defense. He has explosive burst to the ball, and has the speed to chase down the ball from sideline to sideline. He thrives in open space, but flows through traffic well once diagnosing a play and explodes into the opposing backfield. Despite his athletic ability, Davis is a bit stiff in man coverage, sometimes causing him to react a bit slower to change of direction. He plays best in zone drops, where he can diagnose and use his athleticism to react quickly to the developing play. Davis was used effectively in blitz packages by New York last season, getting credited with 15 quarterback pressures and finishing with a career high in sacks. He is versatile enough to play both inside and outside, a perfect fit for the way coordinator Dennis Allen likes to use his linebackers. He will likely be used in the middle or on the strong side most often, but has the capability to be an every down player, regardless of situation. Davis will be an immediate starter on the Saints defense, teaming with A.J. Klein and either Craig Robertson or Alex Anzalone in the starting lineup with Manti Te'o providing depth. The New Orleans Saints filled a big need with the addition of Demario Davis, who they hope will continue the team's defensive rise to among the NFL's best.