Chargers cornerback Michael Davis is one of the NFL’s most underrated free agents and a great potential target for the New York Jets.
Great on-ball coverage throughout career
Few fans around the NFL would do backflips if their team signed Michael Davis, but maybe they should. Since signing with the Los Angeles Chargers as an undrafted free agent out of BYU in 2017, Davis (6-foot-2, 196 pounds) has consistently held opponents to subpar results when they have chosen to throw at him. Davis excels at preventing touchdowns, tends to give up solid numbers in terms of yardage, and is adept at getting his hands on the football.
Over 1,479 career coverage snaps across 59 games, Davis has allowed 132 of 212 passes in his direction to be completed for 1,560 yards, four touchdowns, and five interceptions. He has a total of 32 passes defended in his career. Here are how some of those numbers compare to the 2020 league average for cornerbacks.
In 2020, Davis played all 16 games and dropped back into coverage on 596 snaps, allowing 56 of 92 passes to be completed for 689 yards (7.5 per target), two touchdowns, and three interceptions. He tied for seventh among cornerbacks with a total of 14 passes defended.
The 2021 free agent cornerback market is packed with veterans who played well in 2020, but among the younger players of the batch, there are very few who actually performed at a high level this past season.
Davis is one of the exceptions. Just turning 26 years old a little under two months ago, he is among the small number of free agent corners who are both in their prime and coming off of a good 2020 season.
Among the 40 impending unrestricted free agent cornerbacks that played at least 200 snaps last year, Davis joins Shaquill Griffin, Cameron Sutton, and Ahkello Witherspoon as the only ones who check these three boxes:
- Will be under 27 years old when the season begins
- Ranked above the position’s 50th percentile in passer rating allowed in 2020
- Ranked above the position’s 50th percentile in Pro Football Focus’ coverage grade in 2020
Sutton is primarily a slot corner, so that makes Davis, Griffin, and Witherspoon the only three outside corners who check those boxes. To boot, Davis is the only member of the bunch who played all 16 games last year; Witherspoon missed five games and Griffin missed four.
Davis has done a solid job of remaining healthy throughout his career. He appeared in 61 out of 66 (92.4%) possible regular season and playoff games for the Chargers from 2017-20, and only two of those five missed games were due to injury.
In 2020, Davis played all 16 games and never appeared on the Chargers’ injury report prior to a game.
Back in 2019, Davis missed two games with a hamstring injury from Weeks 2-3. Later that season, he was suspended two games by the NFL for violating the league’s substance-abuse policy.
Davis played 16 games in 2018 and 15 games in 2017 (including both playoff games that year). His only missed game in 2017 was the season-opener, in which he was healthy but was chosen as one of the team’s inactive players for the game.
Davis spent the past four years playing under defensive coordinator Gus Bradley in Los Angeles. Bradley comes from the same coaching tree as Robert Saleh and Jeff Ulbrich. All three were on the Seahawks’ staff together under Pete Caroll from 2010-11. Saleh also coached under Bradley in Jacksonville from 2014-16.
In Los Angeles, Bradley ran the 4-3/Cover-3 scheme that he inherited from Seattle, the same base defense that Saleh carried with him to San Francisco after his days in Seattle and Jacksonville. So, Davis already has plenty of experience playing in a defense that should be very similar to what the New York Jets will run.
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While Davis’ raw numbers in coverage are excellent, his grading at PFF hasn’t been quite as pristine. His composite career coverage grade at PFF is 63.9, which is a few ticks above the 2020 positional average of 61.0, but not quite as eye-popping as his coverage numbers. In 2020, his 62.9 coverage grade ranked at the 55th percentile among 129 qualifiers. Once again, that’s respectable but not great.
PFF’s coverage grade does a good job of accounting for things that the raw coverage numbers miss, such as bad throws or drops by the opponent that bailed out the defender when he was beaten. The fact that Davis’ grade falls significantly below the quality of his coverage numbers is a little bit concerning, suggesting that a regression back towards an average level could potentially be in his future.
From watching some of his 2020 film, Davis certainly benefited from bad throws to an extent. On a few of his pass breakups, he was beaten but a bad throw allowed him to get back into the play.
The overall body of work for Davis over the course of his career remains strong, but this is a red flag to keep in mind.
Hot-and-cold nature of 2020 season
Consistency was not a part of Davis’ game in 2020. He was a roller-coaster ride – one that surely had more peaks than valleys, but an adventure nonetheless.
Davis enjoyed quite a few fantastic games but stumbled through a handful of bad ones as well. He had eight games in which he allowed fewer than 30 yards, but four in which he allowed more than 80 yards.
Davis is a very average tackler. He owns a career miss rate of 12.8% that is almost equal to the 2020 positional average (12.9%).
However, it should be noted that Davis took an enormous leap in this area in 2020. This past season, he had a miss rate of just 8.6%, missing six tackles and making 64. Prior to 2020, he had a less-than-ideal 15.5% miss rate. Is his progression a sign of things to come or will it go down as an outlier?
Davis’ run defense isn’t anything to write home about in either a positive or negative way. His composite career run defense grade at PFF is 62.8, slightly above the 2020 positional average of 61.4. In 2020, he posted a grade of 62.0.
The run game is where Davis sputtered as a tackler before the 2020 season. From 2017-19, he had a 20.8% miss rate against the run (19 tackles, 5 misses), surpassing the 2020 positional average against the run (17.6%). He took a big leap in this area in 2020 with 22 tackles against the run and only one miss (4.3%).
Like his run defense and his tackling, Davis is average when it comes to penalty minimization. He has 13 penalties over 2,423 career snaps, an average of 5.36 per 1,000 snaps that is barely below the 2020 positional average of 5.89.
Similar to his leap as a run defender, this is another area where Davis improved in 2020. He had three penalties over 958 snaps, a per-1,000 snap rate of just 3.13.
Davis made his first career start for the Chargers in Week 8 of 2018, and since then, has been an every-down player for them. Save for one game he left early due to injury, Davis participated in 96% of the Chargers’ defensive plays on average over his past 38 regular season and playoff games.
In 2020, Davis primarily lined up on the outside for the Chargers, doing so on 85.3% of his defensive snaps. He favored the right side of the field, where he lined up 72.5% of the time. Davis also favored the right side in 2019 (69.1%), but in 2018, his split was a bit more even (54.8%).
Don’t expect Davis to be utilized heavily as a blitzer. He has only rushed the quarterback on five career snaps.
Great awareness on this play from Davis. He recovers well after sinking down on the play fake, feeling out the corner route by Dawson Knox and getting enough depth to make a leaping pass deflection.