It’s make or break time for Ashtyn Davis; should New York Jets fans buy into him?
New York Jets safety Ashtyn Davis is on the hot seat heading into 2022. Appearing in 23 career games, the former 68th overall pick has not done enough to inspire confidence as a starter. Frequent poor pursuit angles and a general lack of awareness have resulted in big plays for opposing offenses.
This missed tackle against Jonathan Taylor on Thursday Night Football is a prime example.
— Barstool Sports (@barstoolsports) November 5, 2021
So far, Davis’ mistakes have overshadowed any positive contributions he has made. While he was better in Year 2, it was not nearly enough for fans to be confident heading into 2022.
Free safety is arguably the worst position on the Jets’ roster. Should fans have any confidence that the former track star can play at even an average level?
Let’s go into Davis’ struggles, why I believe in him, and where he stands heading into Year 3.
Injuries and blown plays
After two seasons since being drafted early in the third round, Astyn Davis’ career has been defined by injuries and blown plays.
Davis missed several stretches of games as a rookie and then missed the start of the 2021 season due to a slow recovery from foot surgery. Overall, Davis has played in only 23 of 33 possible games for the Jets.
While injuries can be attributed to bad luck, his frequent and massive blown plays are not forgivable.
As a rookie, Davis struggled greatly in coverage, allowing a passer rating of 139.6 when targeted (fifth-highest among 99 qualified safeties). His awareness was a significant issue as he frequently looked lost on the field.
In his second season, Davis struggled significantly against the run with only a slight improvement in pass coverage. Davis was a liability on early downs having the fourth-worst run defense grade (43.1) at Pro Football Focus among 98 qualified safeties. This was largely due to his 13.3% missed tackle rate, which ranked 64th among 98 safeties.
Unfortunately, Davis still had a penchant for letting up big plays in coverage. His 14.3 yards allowed per reception (84th/98) and 80% allowed completion rate when targeted (93rd/98) were among the worst numbers at his position.
Heading into his third season, many fans have written off Davis as a player who will be cut in September. While that scenario isn’t impossible, Davis has flashed much more potential than given credit for. Given his athletic ability and late start to football, there is still a good chance Davis can continue to improve.
Davis has flashed enough to compete for the starting job in Year 3
Despite starting for the Jets 16 times over the last two seasons, Davis was never given the starting job heading into the season. In both seasons, the starter ahead of Davis suffered a season ending injury early in the season.
While Davis has struggled when called upon, he was considered a project when he was drafted.
Davis originally went to college for track and had never played safety before. His only prior playing experience was at wide receiver in high school. Davis walked onto the California Golden Bears football team in Spring 2015 and played primarily on special teams before becoming a starter in 2017. He would build on that by starting every game in 2018 and earning All-PAC 12 honors as a safety.
While his play on the field would get still him drafted, it’s his steady improvement and elite speed that made him a Day 2 pick.
In track, Davis was a four-time All-American and one of the best hurdlers in the entire country. His two biggest achievements were winning the PAC-12 100m hurdles championships in 2017 and placing third in the NCAA Indoor Championship for the 60m hurdles.
With elite speed and steady growth, there’s reason to believe Davis can break out in Year 3.
While he made more than his fair share of mistakes, Davis also flashed the ability to force takeaways in 2021. His combined total of five forced fumbles and interceptions (3 FF/2 INT) was tied for third-best among all safeties. His three forced fumbles ranked first.
On the season, Davis finished with a 60.7 overall grade at PFF which ranked 44th among 64 safeties, placing him firmly in the bottom half among starters. His 66.1 coverage grade was more encouraging, ranking 32nd. Davis was boom or bust in coverage, letting up three touchdowns and having only one pass breakup but also grabbing two interceptions.
According to PFF, Davis actually had a very encouraging stretch in the middle of the year, sandwiched between a disappointing start and finish to the season. While the eye test wasn’t nearly as encouraging, it’s nice that at least someone thinks he played well.
Between Weeks 9-15, Davis had a 78.6 overall grade (11th of 95 qualified safeties with at least 100 snaps) and 84.7 coverage grade (6th). He also only allowed a passer rating of 74.1 over this stretch (38th).
Unfortunately, Davis had a rough time over his first four games, and after missing Week 16 with COVID-19, Davis struggled again in the final two games. While it’s a tall task going against Josh Allen and Tom Brady, Davis’ decline to end the year makes it difficult to label his mid-season play as real improvement.
Where does Ashtyn Davis stand heading into Year 3?
Heading into Year 3, Davis has a legitimate chance to finally earn the starting job heading into Week 1.
Outside of Jordan Whitehead, the Jets’ safety room isn’t very encouraging. Lamarcus Joyner is old and injury-prone, Jason Pinnock is unproven, and Will Parks is a waiver claim. Considering he is a former third-round pick and has started 16 games for the Jets the last two seasons, Davis should have the inside track.
As a rookie, Davis was actually competent against the run ranking 21st in run defense grade (72.7) and first in missed tackle rate (2.7%) among 99 safeties. If Davis can combine the tackling ability he displayed as a rookie with the coverage he displayed in the middle of 2021, the Jets can get a legitimately good player.
However, with only two seasons in the NFL and five total seasons playing safety, Davis still has a long way to go until he gets there. As the free safety, his most important task is to be the last line of defense. So far, he has struggled with that responsibility.
Thankfully, his issues are coachable. When you consider the late start of his career, it’s not shocking that his awareness is lacking.
Heading into the offseason healthy for the first time, Davis is excited to improve.
“With me just going into the offseason healthy I’ll be able to take my lumps in OTAs and keep leaning going into the season with my best foot forward,” Davis said in February. “I know I need to work on my tackling, getting the scheme down. I think I have a good understanding now.”
I believe Davis can win the starting job opposite of Whitehead. Judging from Douglas’ moves this offseason, he may feel similarly.