Sidearm Session, Ashtyn Davis
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Contrary to what people thought he was coming out of Cal, Ashtyn Davis is an aggressive, physical player. The New York Jets must use him accordingly.

Continuing my series of breakdowns on the New York Jets‘ safeties, it’s finally time for Ashtyn Davis. The Jets’ second-round pick from the 2020 NFL draft, Davis had an up-and-down rookie season – which is exactly what you would expect from a rookie defensive back playing on a 2-14 football team. 

Previous safety film reviews:

Gregg Williams deployed Davis everywhere. His skill-set variety allowed the former Jets defensive coordinator to turn Davis into a game plan-oriented player: the other team’s strength dictated Davis’ role.

Against Kansas City, Davis played a lot of snaps deep, since the Jets favored two-deep looks due to their fear of the Chiefs’ chunk-taking passing game. Against New England, Davis was as close to the ball as he could be, because Williams knew New England’s game plan would be running oriented. Against Las Vegas and Miami, the Jets faced teams that use its tight ends in the passing game a ton, so Davis constantly matched up one-on-one with Darren Waller and Mike Gesicki. 

Truth is, even though Davis possesses the skills to be versatile, the Jets deploying him this way was not the greatest thing for his development. Davis was a rookie who didn’t have OTAs, minicamp, or a normal training camp. He hurt his groin on Sept. 24 and got injured again late in the season. Besides all of that, he had to play multiple responsibilities in a defense that lacked a true pass rush and lost its starting linebackers and cornerbacks.

Talk about a rough early road.

When the Jets finally decided Davis’ spot was close to the line of scrimmage, and after comfortability ensued, he suffered a foot injury against the Raiders and was placed on the team’s injured reserve. 


Anyway, enough of the sad days of 2020; we are here to talk about the exciting prospect of 2021, the year when things will start to go right for the Jets for the first time in over a decade. The vibrations are positive, so that’s why I’m going to say something positive … 

Ashtyn Davis is going to be a nice player for the Jets as the team’s third safety. 

And don’t think he won’t see the field because he’s the third safety. He will. The Jets will play a good amount of snaps in big nickel (five DBs with two CB and three S). Davis’ highlights last season came when he was in the box: blitzing, stopping the run, and aggressive play vs. tight ends in man coverage. And that’s exactly how the Jets should use him.

Remember, this defensive front’s weakness lands on that seventh box player (WLB, SLCB). They are set on the front four (John Franklin-Myers, Folorunso Fatukasi, Quinnen Williams, Carl Lawson), and at MIKE and SAM linebacker (C.J. Mosley has looked good in OTAs, Jarrad Davis has tons of potential). The only spots that have major question marks are WILL and slot cornerback.

Ashtyn Davis can play both. 

Surely, he isn’t as big as you’d wish for an outside linebacker, but he doesn’t need to play 100% of the snaps there. He just needs to play a good chunk of them. If the Jets test him in the offseason in those positions and he feels comfortable, there’s no need to force any of the rookies into the full-time job. Let Davis handle the duties.

This breakdown comes to sustain this point of view: start Ashtyn Davis as the seventh player in the box in this defense.

First, you will see three plays where he looked completely lost lining up as deep safety—plays that resulted in two touchdowns and a game-winning field goal. It helps my point that they should play him closer to the ball. 

After that, I will bring in nine plays where Ashtyn does a good job close to the LOS. Aligning as a pure box player, Davis shows awareness, aggressiveness, reaction ability and great tackling (he was the highest-graded rookie tackler in the Pro Football Focus grade system, earning a 90.0 tackling grade). It’s blatant how much more instinctive and aware Davis is closer to the LOS. 

When deep pre-snap, Davis seems to always overthink or to overreact when patience is needed. Closer to the LOS, things change. He can be a more reactive football player, and by knowing that, his reaction allows his attack timing becomes much faster. 

Deep safety – hesitancy all around

Double-move by Tyreek Hill

You can see Davis’ lack of overall awareness here. He’s a reactive player who plays in attacking mode. You can’t afford to be that aggressive when you are playing deep.

Davis breaks on the corner move by Hill when he should be more conservative here, especially because the left-side cornerback is hanging with no threat to his zone.

Missed tackle on Hardman

This play is a good example of Davis’ instincts falling off when he’s lined up far from the ball. Davis has a clear path to bring Mecole Hardman down and be the aggressive player he usually is.

Instead, he hesitates and tries to force him inside thinking someone else should make the tackle. Bad awareness.

Poor awareness vs. New England

This is an infuriating play, especially if you watched it live while rooting for a Jets win. Davis allows an easy pitch and catch for New England after failing to recognize the situation.

While both Arthur Maulet and Marcus Maye understand that they are playing the field goal range, Davis backpedals far too deep, allowing the easy completion right in front of him.

Playing close to the LOS – instinctive, vertical

Tackle for a loss

Awareness comes with comfortability, and being comfortable only happens when the player knows his role inside out. Closer to the line, Ashtyn Davis is much more aware of everything that’s happening around here.

On the following play, he recognizes the double team on the mid-to-outside zone and understands he needs to penetrate before the double team gets sealed and the offensive lineman gets to him. Davis is at his best when he is playing vertically.

All Gas no Brake

This isn’t a play where you will see fantastic awareness or recognition from Davis, but his motor is just outstanding. Smaller box players must be much more willing players. Davis comes from the back-side of the play and runs all the way down to tackle Troymaine Pope on a toss sweep. 

Covering the flat

Davis isn’t exactly in the box here, but he’s handling the duties of a third safety in Robert Saleh’s defense. Lining up in the slot (also, closer to the football compared to deep safety), Davis is responsible for the curl/flat zone in Cover 3 and plays it perfectly.

He forces Newton to the check-down and tackles the ball carrier immediately. Davis’ hips are incredibly fluid.

Big hit on Cam Newton

The next play features a much more instinctive Ashtyn Davis. The tight end successfully checks and releases, clearing Davis and getting wide open. Does Ashtyn panic? No.

Davis sees the only way to not allow a big play is using the free lane he has to get to Newton. He doesn’t hesitate or become desperate. He simply attacks downhill and sacks the quarterback. Unfortunately, a soft flag was thrown for roughing the passer.

Matching up vs a receiver, tight end, and fullback in the ground game

The following is a three-rep breakdown on Davis matching one on one with a wide receiver, a fullback and a tight end. 

First, against WR Jakobi Meyers, Davis displayed his aggressiveness. Lowering his shoulder and moving his feet, Davis pushed Meyers into the backfield, impacting the run play and throwing the running back into Harvey Langi’s arms.

Against TE Ryan Izzo, Davis loses the rep. But it’s kind of fine. You obviously want to see him play more balanced, but Davis goes low – as the book says – and successfully forces the running back inside. When you are facing a bigger guy in the ground game constantly, you will lose sometimes.

That’s physics. Overall, it’s a lost rep, but I like the technique by Davis here. He knows what he’s doing even though he got mauled.

One of my favorite plays on Davis’ tape comes our way. The Patriots are running a lead OZ, and Davis takes on the fullback. He knows he won’t be able to get to the ball carrier, so his mission is to ensure that the fullback doesn’t reach the second level.

Ashtyn lowers his shoulders and brings the fullback down. It’s a one-yard loss thanks to Davis playing vertical, aggressive football.

Great play recognition

This is an impressive play by Davis. He’s the seventh man in the box here, meaning gap responsibilities are in play. Davis shows good mental awareness in front of the jet-motion threat, reading the O-lineman’s movement and attacking his gap. Had the Jets contained on the outside, Davis’ play would’ve accounted for a TFL.

Matching up with Darren Waller

I couldn’t end this breakdown without a positive man-coverage play by Davis.

Truth is, Ashtyn got beat a few times in man coverage during the season, especially on inside routes. The Los Angeles Chargers tape contains a few examples of what I’m saying, even though Keenan Allen is a mismatch for most defensive backs. 

Anyway, this part of the breakdown is about Davis’ positive impact in coverage playing closer to the LOS. He had some good man-to-man reps, one of which can be seen in the play below.

Darren Waller, the Raiders’ star tight end, was having a day against the Jets. Below you can see Davis pocketing him with great coverage. First, he is patient at the line with the switch between Waller and Foster Moreau, another Raiders tight end.

Once he gets to Waller, Davis’s speed allows him to run step by step with the TE, while he controls the receiver’s movement by placing his outside hand on Waller’s inside.

Final thoughts

It was an up and down rookie season for Ashtyn Davis, but all of his flashes came when he was close to the football. That’s because when you play closer to the LOS you can attack and be more reactive, while when deep your mentality is conservative (even though you still can’t overthink).

I believe Davis’ mentality is more suited to the box game in the NFL. When he knows he can attack, he feels comfortable enough to understand everything that’s happening around him. Things simply slow down for Davis when he’s in the box.

As a WLB or NB, Davis will be able to align close to the ball and go from there. He is not big, but he’s willing and plays low enough to often beat bigger players (remember, the lower man always wins). His fluid hips and quickness allow him to quickly get to his zones and he does a nice job when the space he needs to cover isn’t that rangy.

I’d like to see some improvement from Davis in the man coverage aspect of his game. His aggressiveness, at times, comes back to bite him. But that will be just fine if the Jets’ front-four turns out to be as good as promised. 

I could see these eleven players getting the majority of the snaps on the Jets defense: 

  • DL: Franklin-Myers, Fatukasi, Williams, Lawson
  • LB: Jarrad Davis, Mosley, and Ashtyn Davis
  • DB: Hall, Maye, Joyner, and Austin

Look out for Ashtyn Davis in the box this season.

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A former quarterback, Vitor Paiva wants to showcase a deep analysis of what's really happening on the field, showcasing what's really on the mind of a football player during a play, in his Sidearm Session. Email: vitorpaivagon[at]
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