Since the Lions made linebacker Jarrad Davis the 21st-overall pick in the 2017 NFL Draft, he’s started all 41 games he’s been healthy enough to play in.
While landing a starting linebacker was the objective of the selection, Davis simply hasn’t played well. Detroit recently declined the fifth-year option on his rookie contract, paving the way for him to become an unrestricted free agent following the 2020 season.
Exercising the option would equate to roughly a $10 million salary, a figure that would far exceed that value of Davis’ contributions to this point in his career; and paying him in the same range Joe Schobert, Eric Kendricks and Benardrick McKinney would simply be a poor business decision.
Davis’ failure to become an answer for the defense is not a matter of work ethic, passion or football character. He is an elite competitor that is renowned for the way he prepares. Unfortunately, his level of play has been poor.
While the case could be made that Davis was drafted for a different scheme, as he was picked when Teryl Austin was the defensive coordinator under then-head coach Jim Caldwell, Davis underperformed and struggled to translate equally to Matt Patricia’s defense.
The mental side of the game has been tough for Davis. He frequently blows coverage assignments and moves out of run fits because of misreads. While he is a terrific athlete, Davis doesn’t play with enough control to take advantage of it.
In 2018, Davis allowed a quarterback rating of 95.6 against his coverage and that figure rose to 116.6. Teams are picking on him in coverage and it’s hurting the Lions’ defense. Tackling consistency has been an issue for Davis, and he’s missed 15.3% and 13.7% of his tackle attempts in 2018 and 2019, respectively.
Injuries haven’t been a huge problem for Davis but he has missed some time. Last season, Davis missed five games due to ankle and knee injuries. As a rookie, Davis sat out two games because of a concussion.
If there is a bright spot to Davis’ tenure so far in Detroit, it has been his ability to find success as a blitzer. In three seasons, Davis has 10 sacks and 19 quarterback hits. His speed and urgency show up when given the opportunity to shoot a gap and chase down the quarterback.
While Davis has continued to struggle, Detroit has invested quite heavily in linebackers. The Lions drafted Jahlani Tavai with their 43rd pick in 2019 and signed veterans Jamie Collins Christian Jones, Elijah Lee and Reggie Ragland. Between those additions and opting against the fifth-year option in Davis’ contract, the writing is on the wall that his days in Detroit are numbered. In fact, he’s not even a lock to make the Lions’ roster in 2020.