Corey Davis was one of the most efficient wide receivers in football in 2020. Should the New York Jets offer him an elite-level contract?
Ridiculous efficiency in 2020
Davis was an absolute monster in his fourth NFL season. Check out where he ranked among 163 qualified wide receivers in a few different efficiency metrics:
- Percentage of routes gaining a first down or touchdown: 12.9% (99th percentile)
- Overall Pro Football Focus grade: 86.9 (91st percentile)
- Yards per route run: 2.58 (98th percentile)
- DVOA: +22.4% (90th percentile)
Missing two games and playing in a run-heavy Titans offense, Davis ranked only 64th among wide receivers in routes run (381), yet he ranked 18th in receiving yards (984) and 22nd in conversions (49). Davis’ rate of picking up a conversion on 12.9% of his routes trailed only Davante Adams (15.7%) and Titans teammate A.J. Brown (13.5%).
Davis is at his most dangerous in the intermediate area of the field (10-19 yards beyond the line of scrimmage). In 2020, he tied for fourth in receptions (27) and third in receiving yards (493) in the intermediate range, trailing only Stefon Diggs and Calvin Ridley in both categories while tying with DeAndre Hopkins in receiving yards (who played two more games than Davis).
Contested catch ability
Davis is fantastic at winning jump-balls. According to Pro Football Focus’ tracking, he caught 11-of-17 targets considered “contested” in 2020, a rate of 64.7% that placed eighth-best among wide receivers with at least 10 contested targets.
He was even better in 2019. Davis snatched 10-of-14 contested targets that year, a rate of 71.4%, tops among qualifiers at both wide receiver and tight end.
With 28 career broken tackles over 207 receptions, Davis has averaged 0.135 broken tackles per reception, a solid mark. The 2020 average for wide receivers was 0.111.
In each of the past three seasons, Davis posted a YAC above expectation average of at least +0.5 (a stat via NFL Next Gen Stats that compares a player’s YAC versus the amount of YAC that the average player would have been expected to produce in the same situations).
Davis has a good reputation as a blocker. Over the past three seasons, he posted a composite PFF run blocking grade of 68.7 (2020 WR average: 59.8). In 2020, he ranked 28th out of 116 qualified wide receivers (77th percentile) with a 67.5 run blocking grade.
Save for two games missed due to COVID-19 in 2020, Davis has only missed one game due to injury over the past three seasons, which was due to a hip injury in 2019. Back in his rookie season of 2017, Davis missed five games due to a hamstring injury.
Overall, Davis has played in 62 out of 70 possible regular season and playoff games for the Titans (88.6%).
Davis just turned 26 years old in January, so he’s entering his prime.
Outlier status of 2020
Teams will need to decide whether they believe Davis can maintain his 2020 or season or if it will prove to be an outlier compared to the rest of his career. Prior to averaging 70.3 yards per game in 2020, Davis averaged just 40.1 yards per game in 2019 and 44.5 yards per game over his first three seasons. He had only six touchdowns over his first three seasons (42 games) before scoring five in 2020 (14 games).
To Davis’ credit, he was still efficient on a per-target basis in 2019 even if not at the caliber he was in 2020. In 2019, Davis averaged 8.7 yards per target and pulled in a conversion on 47.8% of his targets (the 2020 WR averages were 8.2 and 41.0%). Those marks aren’t even close to his 10.7 yards per target and 53.3% conversion rate in 2020, but they’re still very good.
Davis simply didn’t draw many targets prior to 2020. In 2019, he was targeted just 69 times in 15 games (4.6 per game). His average of one target every 6.0 routes run ranked 63rd out of 79 qualified wide receivers (21st percentile), contributing to him averaging a below-average 1.48 yards per route run (2020 average was 1.56).
Was Davis not getting targets because he couldn’t separate consistently or did the Titans just not feature him enough? Teams will be studying every rep of the tape closely to figure that out.
Davis’ elusiveness stands out in the middle of the field, but he isn’t a formidable threat on designed screen plays. Over the course of his career, he has been targeted on 20 passes behind the line of scrimmage and produced just 81 yards (4.1 per target) and two first downs (10.0%). In 2020, he caught just one pass behind the line of scrimmage for one yard.
Product of system?
The Titans became an absolute juggernaut offensively over the past two seasons, spitting out absurdly efficient production in both phases like it was nothing. Left and right, players across the offense began to hit heights that they never had before.
How much of Davis’ outburst was his own doing and how much of it was the product of playing alongside A.J. Brown, under Arthur Smith, and in an offense that set up the passing game beautifully with a dominant Derrick Henry-led run game?
It’s always smart to take a bit of pause when considering the outlook of a player who comes from an extremely fruitful environment. Will they be able to maintain the same level of production in less favorable conditions?
Clashing skillset with Denzel Mims?
In 2020, Davis and Denzel Mims lined up outside (rather than in the slot) on nearly the exact same percentage of their routes run, with Davis at 75.4% and Mims at 75.0%. They have almost identical frames (Davis stands six-foot-three and 209 pounds while Mims stands six-foot-three and 215 pounds) and both do their best work in the intermediate range, as both players led their team’s wide receivers in PFF’s receiving grade on intermediate passes.
Would Davis and Mims be a bit redundant?
Davis has respectable hands with a 5.9% career drop rate that falls a tad below the 2020 league average of 6.8%.
The deep game isn’t Davis’ bread-and-butter, but he has generally come through when targeted, catching 6-of-12 deep passes (20+ yards downfield) for 229 yards and two touchdowns in 2020. The total of six catches ranked 35th among wide receivers, but the 50.0% catch rate tied for 13th-best out of 70 qualifiers.
Davis was also strong as a deep target in 2018, grabbing 8-of-13 deep passes (61.5%) for 238 yards and two touchdowns. That 61.5% catch rate ranked fourth-best among qualifiers.
However, sandwiched between 2018 and 2020, Davis had a 2019 season where he did not catch a single one of his 11 deep targets. In fairness to Davis, none of those targets were credited as drops, so that atrocious result likely has a lot to do with the accuracy of the passes.