We just recently entered into a new year, and as is tradition people tend to make a list of ways they hope to improve their lives in the form of resolutions.
These resolutions come from a lot of self-reflection; identifying areas where one is falling shorter or are capable of change and forming a plan to remedy that. Such a practice is also very important in the game of football, and specifically for draft prospects entering a new chapter of their lives.
Cal safety Ashtyn Davis is one of the best athletes in the 2020 draft class. His range, ball skills and overall playmaking ability have made him a coveted asset here in the early months of January. So much so he was honored with an invite to the Senior Bowl. Though Davis wasn't able to participate in the on-field workouts in Mobile, Alabama, due to a groin injury, he was on the floor during the media portion of the week answering questions from anyone who asked.
Typically when players are at the podium, they often talk about what they bring to the table. In scouting, identifying what a player can do is important. But for Davis, it was a practice of studying himself and identifying the weaknesses in his game that he credits to his improved final season.
“When I’m looking at certain things on film, I’m objectively looking at how I would attack me," Davis said. "I’m asking [wide] receiver coaches after the game what I can do to improve or what they saw on film of me. I did that my junior year, and senior year I sat down with my coach and developed things I wanted to work on.”
When it comes to film study, players often focus on their opponents. They are trying to figure out what these they're about to go up against do well in order to formulate the right plan to attack it. But for Davis, for every hour he'll spend on the other team, he said he does just as much scouting on himself — if not more.
“I’d say at least the same amount," Davis said. "You look at things you’re bad at, things you can improve on. You watch with other guys because they can be really objective with you. Maybe when you’re watching by yourself you’re blaming other factors. But the tape doesn’t lie.”
Davis went on to explain that in order to defend a player the right way, you first have to know yourself better than anyone else might.
“For example, if you’re a cornerback and you play a lot of press and you’re using the same kind of technique over and over again, maybe one day you’ll get hit on something, and that play could be invaluable for you [to know] because other people see that on tape as well," Davis added. "So you want to look at that and make sure that you fix it and have other ways to attack certain situations.”
This sort of self-reflection can be uncomfortable. No one really likes to see how they're failing. But when trying to achieve the best you you can be, sometimes it's more than just making your strengths stronger. It's about being as open and honest with yourself as you can.
A self-aware state is natural for Davis. He finds it in a secluded environment, one that allows his mind to be free, relaxed and reflective.
“I’m not too social, but I’ll go do outdoor-y things," Davis said. "I like hiking. As corny as it may some, something like climbing a tree. … I grew up in the Red Woods, so I would just go out there and either hit golf balls or just go hike around.”
It's typical to ask players what their favorite play was from a previous season or throughout their collegiate careers. But due to the topic of conversation we had, I wanted to ask Davis about a play he remembers where he knew he messed up. A play he went back to watch and got better from.
He knew the answer immediately.
“Utah on the goal line," Davis said without missing a beat. "And it wasn’t necessarily a physical thing. I lined up poorly and missed the check and they were able to score. I was out-leveraged right away and they threw a 2-yard flat rote for a touchdown. That fell on my shoulders and it’s something that I had to take full responsibility for.”
Though there has been plenty of talk about where Davis believes he can get better, he certainly has the strengths of his game to be a potential top-50 pick. He has a natural speed and the right mentality to be a playmaker against passes in the air and against ball carriers on the ground.
When it comes to who he's studying outside of himself to get better at the next level, his watch list included some of the best in the game at his position.
“There’s not one person, I’d say, but I watch a lot of Harrison Smith,” Davis said. “Micah Hyde has a pretty good range in the post. Guys like Earl Thomas are so good at what they do. I try to incorporate a lot of that stuff into my game.”
Confidence is important, but so is being comfortable enough in yourself and your game to look at where you might be falling short, addressing it with honesty and correcting it with as much focus as you would on making your favorite play.
That's what makes a complete player.
That's why Davis is one you bet on.