There aren’t many things more frustrating than a highly drafted player who hasn’t lived up to his potential. Whether it’s due to injuries, scheme, or a plethora of different factors, a good amount of first-round selections end up as disappointments relative to their draft status. Usually, this distinction can be found within the first three years of a career, as that seems to be the typical length before words like “bust” start making their way to the forefront.
Sometimes, however, players take longer than that to breakout, which categorizes them as, what I like to call, late bloomers. Perfect examples of late bloomers are players like DeVante Parker and Arik Armstead, two prospects that took a long time to develop but showed last season why they were worth the patience and slow approach.
For this exercise, the late bloomers I’m trying to unearth need to fit the following criteria...
- First-round draft pick
- Still on his rookie contract
- Fifth-year option was declined
First up in this multi-week segment is Tennessee Titans wideout Corey Davis, a former top-five pick that has yet to live up to the hype.
Where Davis Currently Stacks Up
Selected fifth overall back in 2017, Davis is a three-year starter for Tennessee who has provided a serviceable impact in the passing game. If you took out the draft context and pretended that Davis was a third-round pick, his career would be exceptional up to this point. The problem is that the expectations were much higher than that and they’re something—although not entirely his fault—that he’s yet to meet.
In his draft class alone, Davis—the No. 1 receiver taken—has had a worse career than fellow wideouts like Mike Williams (seventh pick), JuJu Smith-Schuster (62nd pick), Cooper Kupp (69th pick), Chris Godwin (84th pick), and Kenny Golladay (96th pick).
Of course, nitpicking after the fact is easy to do, but Davis also isn’t even the best wide receiver on his team (A.J. Brown), nor has he ever eclipsed 1,000 yards in a season. It’s these underwhelming points that have made so many fans sour on Davis, despite his ability to still contend as an average WR2 for a playoff squad. Currently speaking, the Titan is a decent complementary wideout capable of succeeding with his physicality and on deep patterns. He won’t offer much on comeback routes or in the underneath game, but he also provides terrific effort blocking for a run-first team. It’s not enough to make a fifth overall pick worthwhile though, and also made declining his fifth-year option a relatively easy decision to make.
Thankfully the talent for more is there, and a late bloom this season is certainly within the realm of possibility for Davis if he improves in a few specific categories.
Reasons To Be Optimistic
The best thing to happen to Tennessee last season was quarterback Ryan Tannehill. Sure, as a run-first team Derrick Henry dominated, but it was Tannehill who gave the passing attack the desperate boost they needed. Unfortunately, his presence boosted fellow teammates Brown and tight end Jonnu Smith more than Davis. With Marcus Mariota at QB, Davis’ average yards per game was 39.5, while with Tannehill it only improved to 40.4 yards per game. Furthermore, his target average with Mariota was 4.5 a game, while it was only slightly better with Tannehill at 4.66.
The reason to be optimistic lies within the belief that Tennessee will attempt more passes this year with Tannehill as a full-fledged starter. The Titans ranked second-to-last in both attempts and total completions last season, desperately hurting the entire WR group despite efficient performances from nearly all of them.
Davis did what he could with the targets he got, but the lack of opportunities simply killed him. With the same amount of mouths to feed but more food stocked in the pantry, Davis should go well above the meager 600 yards he posted in 2019.
Another reason to be optimistic lies with Davis’ yards after catch improvement throughout last season. For a quick-strike QB who relied on space passing and play-action throws, Davis’ development in this regard was shadowed by Brown and Smith, but he still ranked 16th in the entire league in YAC above the projected number (1.5). This shows that he can be used more in the shallow game this upcoming season and not just as a sideline threat. Furthermore, it might also mean opponents will stop playing him so far off the line, as Davis had the third-most average cushion in the entire league a season ago.
Typically playing seven yards off of him, corners simply weren’t scared of Davis in the underneath game and for good reason. Usage in that regard increased over the year, however, and defensive backs tightened up as a result. More compact coverages could lead to more deep shots and touchdown opportunities, especially with Brown potentially facing bracket coverage on the other side of the field.
All in all, this likely increase in pass attempts with Tannehill, coupled with the improved YAC, means there's plenty of reason to like Davis in 2019.
Reasons To Worry
Two words: A.J. Brown.
A star in the making, Brown exploded with Tannehill at the helm last season, going from 45.5 yards per game to 77.8 yards. Gaining more targets and able to use his elite YAC skills, Brown was superb for a rookie and looks to improve upon that this coming season. Although his presence makes life easier for Davis as far as coverages go, he’s going to drastically eat into his targets as the likely de-facto No. 1 in 2020.
Smith also saw a bump with Tannehill, going from 19.4 yards a game to 33 yards a game. That increase was further bumped by five total red-zone targets, a large number compared to Davis’ one.
So, with Smith getting the red-zone looks, Henry receiving a large portion of carries, and Brown dominating the target share, what is Davis good for other than the odd chain-moving play?
Ultimately, he has all the talent in the world, but Davis remains a question mark this upcoming season. There are plenty of reasons why he could become a late bloomer, but just as many that suggest what we see now is what we’re going to continue to get.
Davis posts a 70-900-6 line and enters free agency with a chance to earn around $10 million per year.
- Dec 08, 2022
- Dec 08, 2022