He made us wait for it in 2017. He teased it in the postseason. Tennessee went through the quarterbacking bumps early…and then it came.
The Corey Davis breakout game.
2017’s top selected receiver at No. 5 overall saw 15 targets against the Eagles on Sunday — that’s about a quarter of the targets he saw all last season — for nine receptions, 161 yards (17.9 yards/catch), and a touchdown. And those numbers don’t even illustrate the missed opportunities — Mariota missed him more than once.
It was finally that taste of dominance we saw from Davis in the MAC, when he was a record-setting receiver for Western Michigan — and we should expect more of it. In Mariota’s two starts this season, Davis has been targeted 13 and 15 times. He’s going to keep seeing the same opportunity.
But now that he’s seemingly cleared the hamstring issues that limited his 2017 season, Davis’ characteristic explosiveness is back in his routes — and for a 6-foot-2, 200+ pound dude to move with that smoothness and burst poses a big problem for isolated cover men.
That’s Jalen Mills in coverage. Now, Jalen Mills isn’t the quickest cover man that’s ever existed — but he ain’t slow.
Corey Davis made him look slow right there. I mean, that’s just burnt toast. Good explosion into the initial break to give the illusion that he’s working into the flat for a quick route; turn the head to draw the defender in. Quickly turn head on the vertical stem to locate the football; lean back inside on the vertical stem to stack defender.
And then, crucially: coming all the way back to inside leverage to attack the football at the highest point with a hands catch, protecting it from a PBU attempt from the trailing corner and reeling it in before the safety arrives.
Everything about this screams the Round 1 receiver that Corey Davis was coming out; that he failed to unlock in his first season.
Matt Lafleur tasks Davis with these isolation style routes — multiple breaks, longer developing — a good bit. It indicates not only the trust he has in the Davis – Mariota connection, but also how much the Titans’ offensive staff believes in Davis’ route running ability.
This is the Pinch route — a route popularized by Kyle Shanahan (LaFleur descends from the Shanahan tree) and Julio Jones from their time in Alabama. Against a Cover 3 corner, initially stemming to the Post before whipping back around to the bench (P + ench = Pinch) puts a ton of stress on the defender.
Now, Corey doesn’t run this yet as cleanly as Julio does — I don’t think anyone does, given that some folks call the Pinch route the “Julio” route, for how he dominates with it. It takes Davis an extra step or two to get fully into the outside break, and he doesn’t take the route as flat to the line of scrimmage as you’d like to see. But it’s enough to break Jalen Mills’ ankles and force him into a grab and consequent pass interference — and Mills even felt it coming! Davis still stacked him cleanly.
Davis also broke some ankles on the game-winning touchdown with 17 seconds left in overtime (stud) — but that was on a fourth-round rookie corner who never had much of a prayer. But again, you can see Davis’ snappiness at his size — how he takes the jab step outside of the corner’s frame before exploding back inside. And again, you can see how he attacks the ball at a high point, with a good vertical and true hands outside of his frame.
This combination of explosiveness, size, and catch radius is what made Davis special as a prospect coming out.
The most exciting development in Davis’ young career is the variety of routes introduced to him by Matt LaFleur system — especially when you contrast it with the Mike Munchak system (never forget). We’ve already seen an out-‘n-up and a pinch route thus far — Davis also started a huge Titans drive with a beautiful deep route and catch.
This is essentially a post-corner-post, or PCP route. Typically you’d see a vertical stem off the line, but Davis comes off a little angled — and that’s fine, as he does the same on most of his deep crossers for the Titans.
But that lean back outside before he snaps into the middle is imperative — you see a similar little head fake from the opposite receiver as well. This is, by the end of it, a very familiar concept for the Shanahan/LaFleur system: Yankee. But incorporating those little fakes to the outside plays off of the typical counters Shanahan/LaFleur run to Yankee, which is a double-bluff head spin for opposing defenses.
And you can see how Jalen Mills responds to that little outside stem — he has to pop back outside to retain leverage, and that gives Davis some extra space to work with when he finally cuts back inside to the middle. Then it becomes a foot race — and again, look at how slow Corey Davis makes Jalen Mills seem.
Mariota puts on a dime on him. 50 yard gain. Boom-shakalaka.
Davis is the primary deep threat for a Tennessee Titans offense that took a general step forward this weekend. He also saw a significant number of reps across the short and intermediate levels of the field; was regularly targeted on key third downs across the fourth quarter and overtime; was given YAC opportunities on WR screens.
For an offense on the rise in 2018, Corey Davis is the man.