Since being drafted with the 14th pick in the 2018 NFL Draft (as well as costing an additional first rounder that was traded to the Packers) Marcus Davenport has had every eye glued on him. The cost to draft him has many expecting, no, requiring, he been an instant success. His first round draft status even has many expecting Davenport to be the immediate starter opposite Cameron Jordan. The Saints have taken a slower approach.
This week against the Los Angeles Chargers marked the first time we had seen Davenport during the preseason as Sean Payton announced the weekend prior he was expected to practice during the week and see time during the game. His first performance in the black and gold showed off the “rawness” that was his buzzword following the draft. It also relieved a lot of the restlessness as everyone finally was able to see him take the field.
In my 2018 NFL Draft guide I saw Davenport as a project player that possessed an extremely high ceiling, but was also very “raw” coming out and would need time to develop. Against the Chargers we got to see the unique traits that made him so desirable for New Orleans.
In the above guide one of the traits described a positive under projection is his ability as a sound tackler. During the 1st quarter with the starters still present the Chargers ran a wide receiver end around that forced Marcus to defend against the run. In this situation Marcus has what is known as containment. The responsibility of containment is to be prepared against plays such as this end around that threaten the backside.
Los Angeles leaves Davenport unblocked hoping he will follow the action of the fake and come down the line. The thought is that he will vacate his gap to try and meet the runningback behind the line where Taylor Stallworth is which leaves the pulling tight end free to block the next level. Instead, Davenport keeps good gap integrity and forces the play outside.
A negative on this play is that Davenport actually gets caught slightly over-pursuing Chargers receiver Travis Benjamin which is a bit understandable considering Benjamin is 5’10, 175 lbs. and is moving upfield while Davenport is moving laterally. However, this is a play where we see Davenport show off not only his athletic ability but his elite length as well. He’s able to stop his momentum, reach the outside shoulder of the receiver and then use his weight and length to bring Benjamin to a dead stop.
Following the draft one comment Dennis Allen made that has been repeated throughout camps and the preseason was, “Mentally he has the things that we are looking for that gives him the chance to have success.” In the scouting world this is often referred to as mental processing and it can show itself in several ways. In the below run play it shows up with the young rookie Davenport displaying an understanding of his responsibility in multiple play calls and situations.
Previously we talked about Davenport having the assignment of containment which forced him to sit on his gap, maintain integrity, and defend the edge. In this play Davenport understands that Vonn Bell coming down takes that responsibility which then allows him to use his play strength and crash down the line. The blitzing defensive back and Davenport meet at the ball carrier to force a tackle for loss.
Everything matters in a play. Small details are the difference between a rep that is won and one that is lost. While the blitzer is allowed to come free Davenport still must deal with the left guard. By using good hand placement and play strength to strike the outside (left) shoulder of the guard he’s able to bypass the potential block and get to the ball carrier.
While defending the run was certainly a positive from his first preseason game it was how he fared as a pass rusher that will determine if he gets a passing grade from the coaching staff. After all, that is the main reason he was brought in to join Trey Hendrickson, Alex Okafor and Jordan. One of the weaker reps of the night for Davenport actually came on the play where he received credit for a half sack.
Marcus is actually the last player off the line of scrimmage on this rep and it seemed that early on there was some rust that needed to be knocked off of the first year defensive end. He allows his pad level to rise a bit high before attempting his pass rush move and it’s actually the combined pressure of Hendrickson, Sheldon Rankins and Bell that flush the quarterback into the waiting arms of David Onyemata and Davenport.
Rankins does a great job of splitting the gap against the center and guard and Hendrickson shows a dominant first step with a quick dip and rip to run the arc. Davenport gets a motor sack here. He never gave up on the play and was able to get to the quarterback. These types of hustle plays are still valuable.
For an example of a positive pass rush rep you don’t have to go very far in the game. Against tackle Sam Tevi Davenport is going to use a very familiar move in the swat rip to apply pressure on Jones and win the edge. As the game progressed and Davenport got more reps he began to better acclimate to the speed of the game.
While he does allow his pad level to rise a bit there is still a stellar example of great hand eye coordination to swat the outside wrist of the left tackle and then follows it up using good ankle flexion to bend and move laterally towards the quarterback. This play doesn’t pick up a sack, but the combined pressure from the Saints forces an errant throw that falls incomplete.
Many of these traits (both positive and negative) were noted in the 2018 NFL Draft profile I created for him earlier this year. At times he allows his pad level to rise in which gives offensive lineman greater surface area on his frame to engage and latch onto. Other negative traits he showed at UTSA were not present in this game against the Chargers, specially his propensity to false step.
Due to a lack of interior pressure the above play doesn’t lead to a sack, but Davenport does flush the QB up into the pocket. This is another example of his athleticism to corner the edge and win. Davenport didn’t play far into the second half, but the little we did see him showed a player that was getting quicker off the ball at the snap and becoming more comfortable in his role off the edge.
Following the game Davenport said he felt ok about his performance and said there were somethings he could have done better, including finishing on quarterback, closing better and using more pass rushing moves.
For his first performance against NFL talent Davenport held his own, and in many of his matchups he left victorious. The “rawness” he walked into New Orleans with isn’t gone, and it can’t be expected to be cleaned up in just one summer, yet it’s easy to see after this performance what teams around the league saw in Marcus. The important thing was getting him on the field and gaining game time, competitive reps.