When I say this, I mean it: they don't make 'em quite like Raekwon Davis.
Alabama's now senior defensive lineman has been on the NFL Draft radar for a while now. Maybe that's due to the fact that his presence alone commands a room, as he stands a Goliath-looking 6-foot-7, 305 pounds. Or maybe it's because he can tell people that he not only played in Alabama's season opening game against Florida State but also recorded a sack after suffering from a minor gunshot wound to the leg just five days prior.
Whether it's the size, the stats or the stories, Raekwon Davis is quite the draft prospect. Last year he ran next to future No. 3 overall pick Quinnen Williams on Bama's interior defensive line. This year it will be Davis' time to dominate.
So what should we expect from Davis and where does he need to improve most? Let's take a look.
Author's note: we're switching up the style of my column for the foreseeable future. It's going to be more to-the-point with the film breakdowns, sticking to the true concept of a quick-hitting 5-play format that should make these reads easier and more enjoyable. But if you miss the storied intros I usually do, don't worry. They're not going away. We're just breaking content up so I can tell those in different, more detailed forms. Stay tuned for that!
Play No. 1: A-Plus A-Gap Defender
It's a trending thing now a days to put quicker, more finesse pass rushing interior defensive linemen on the field as full-time players, not just situational pieces to rotate in on third downs and obvious passing downs. We're seeing teams experiment more and more with just how much they can get away with sacrificing speed for size, but at the end of the day the game is going to still come back to setting the line of scrimmage and controlling it. If you can't do that, you can't expand.
Davis, at 6-foot-7, 305 pounds, can really anchor in the middle. He has very long arms coming from his big, long frame, and that allows him to keep offensive linemen at a distance while he keeps his eyes in the backfield to wait for the running back.
Davis is constantly in control of his assignments. He gets better consistent leverage than you would think for a man his size, and he really knows how to anchor his feet.
Play No. 2: Second Level Stopper
With Davis being such a force in the middle, teams often try to focus their double team schemes his way. It's only a matter of time each game before they figure out that one-on-one blocks aren't going to work, so as teams call running plays that have chip blocks, scoop blocks or just straight double teams, Davis is often their target -- because he'll blow it up if he's not.
But the problem for teams is that, even when double teamed, Davis doesn't give up much ground. There are plenty of plays, like the one above, where teams will try to scoop block on Davis. Scoop blocks are where two offensive linemen engage one defensive lineman with the hope of overpowering them back a few yards, then having one of the offensive linemen break off to go block at the second level. It works, in theory, but Davis tends to crush those theories.
Davis is so big, so long and so strong that he often holds two blockers so they can't even more on to the second level. That leaves linebackers free for tackles closer to the line of scrimmage. Complimentary football, if you will.
Play No. 3: Let It Rip
There is no doubt about it that what people are going to want to see more of from Davis this season is what he can do as a pass rusher. He had 8.5 sacks in 2017, but just 1.5 in 2018. We can call that "The Quinnen Williams Effect", since Williams was getting to the quarterback so fast in 2018 that he barely left any sacks out there for anyone else. But now it's really Davis' time to shine as a pass rusher.
Using his long arms, Davis can pull off a few different pass rush moves well. One of his go-to moves is the rip move. Davis does a nice job of dividing his offensive lineman in half (meaning he doesn't go at him straight up), attack his hip and ripping his arm up fast and strong. As you can see in the play above, Davis exploded so fast with his moves that the offensive lineman was barely hanging on.
Play No. 4: No Room In The Inn
Davis is giant. We've made this quite known. As is often the case with giants, you usually want to put them in the middle of scrimmage to take up the most space. As a run defender, this definitely checks out. But where Alabama has mainly played Davis at the 3-technique and 1-technique defensive tackle positions, I'd actually like to see what he can do as a 3-4 defensive end in more of a 4i or even 5-technique position.
The reason for that is because I think that Davis can take advantage of space and length more as a potential 3-4 defensive end. Take the play above, for example. The middle of the trenches can get so cluttered, and even on plays where you see Davis beat his assignments, he doesn't always have the space to then do something with it.
Play No. 5: Davis At Defensive End
In a continuation of the last segment, Davis was given more space in the play above and he was able to win with his length. When he's given space, Davis can control his assignments as usual, but then he can use his length more to perform moves such as the push-pull seen above and get right into the backfield. That just does not happen as much when he's in the middle of things.
Can he still have success in the middle as a defensive tackle? Yes, especially at 3-technique. But, as it pertains to where he could be the most effective, I think that the combination of size, speed and length makes him a prime candidate for a 3-4 defensive team to get the most of what he can do against the run and the pass.
Regardless, we're talking about a first round player here.