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NFL Draft

Corey Davis Truly Coming Into His Own In 2020

  • The Draft Network
  • November 5, 2020
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It seems so long ago that Corey Davis was WR1 of the 2017 NFL Draft class.

Davis, the incredibly accomplished wide receiver from Western Michigan, was selected No. 5 overall by the Tennessee Titans a little more than four years ago. He recorded more than 1,400 receiving yards in three consecutive seasons leading up to the draft. He was also just 59 yards short of the 1,000-yard mark in his freshman season, which would have eventually made it four straight years with more than 1,000 yards receiving in his college career.

All that and more gave Tennessee the confidence they needed to take him with a top-five selection, but since then he has not lived up to that value. As now a fourth-year player, Davis has yet to eclipse the 1,000-yard receiving mark in a single season. His career high in yards, game played, catches, and touchdowns all came in his second season in 2018, but the following year he was limited in his action and was not as productive. He was a player who had plenty of potential but did not show it enough, and that’s why the Titans elected to decline the fifth-year option on his rookie contract.

That means Davis is currently in a contract year, and so far this season, he’s having what might end up being a career year in a handful of ways.

Eight games into the season—five games for Davis, who missed some time while being on the reserve/COVID-19 list—and Davis has 369 receiving yards, 29 catches, and three touchdowns. All of those numbers would average out to career-high paces if you extrapolate it out to a full 16 games. Another career-high number for Davis is his catch percentage. With more attention, Davis is delivering at a higher pace than he has in previous seasons. His 74% catch percentage is more than 10 points higher than his previous career high of 62%, which he achieved last year.

This past weekend Davis showed us his best outing of the season with a team-high 10 targets, eight catches, 128 receiving yards, and a touchdown.

For this little film study I wanted to point out the diversity in Davis’ route tree and how he was able to win multiple times throughout the Cincinnati Bengals game with a variety of routes. Now, I’m not going to sit here and tell you that I’ve watched every Davis snap over the last four years to claim his route tree is more diverse and he is more confident and when making his breaks, but I did feel like I saw increased effectiveness for a bigger wide receiver compared to what I’ve seen from Davis in the past.

The first play above was a shorter speed out route. What makes this route different from what would be more of a traditional out route is that the clutter of receivers and defensive backs in the same area from the bunch alignment (that little triangle of receivers) at the snap takes away the need for that really hard cut on the break in order to create separation. With so many moving parts, the defensive backs already can’t be aligned too close or they will run into each other. That means they are forced to give more space at the snap. So Davis was instead just able to keep his momentum going and maintain his speed throughout the change in direction while the defensive back wasn’t close enough to close on him. It’s a route I think he understood and ran very well.

Above we have more of a traditional out route, and it’s one I liked from Davis even more than the previous one.

The Bengals appeared to be in Cover 3 with the outside cornerbacks and the lone deep safety dividing the field into thirds. The giveaway to this is that the outside cornerbacks have their eyes on the quarterbacks and the ball, not directly on the man in front of them. 

Davis had a lot of cushion to eat up between him and the cornerback. He needed to close that ground as quickly as possible in order to make the cornerback afraid of a straight vertical route down the sideline. If you can close cushion fast enough against off coverage and keep that vertical threat alive, that makes it more difficult for a cornerback to jump on any breaks on a route since they have to make sure they don’t get beat deep.

Not only did Davis eat up that cushion, but he also was savvy in how he slightly veered his route to the inside (middle) and in doing so got the cornerback to flip his hips and turn his back to the outside. Then, once that happened, Davis broke his route to the outside, forcing the defensive back to then try to completely flip his hips again (this time even more) to stay with him. It’s a difficult task for the cornerback once they flip those hips in the wrong direction once, and Davis was able to create that separation to create the throwing window.

For the next route, we go toward the middle of the field, as Davis was asked to execute a deep over route. 

Davis was lined up on the line of scrimmage for this one, which is important to note because as the “X” receiver (the receiver who is lined up on the line), he has to be ready to break press coverage. That’s what Davis was tasked with on this play, and he was able to do so smoothly. He was then able to get into his top speed relatively quickly and maintained decent separation throughout. Then, at the end of the catch, we saw his big catch radius and concentration come into play to reel it in.

Davis, at 6-foot-3 and 215 pounds, is an ideal “X” player. He has the body to deal with physicality, and often that means he won’t be as quick of a route-runner with his feet and his breaks. I think that is something he struggled with in his earlier years, but now it seems like he has a good understanding of both his strengths and weaknesses.

Finally, I wanted to highlight a combination route that Davis ran successfully.

Usually when you see something like this, it happens later in the game. With Davis running as many out breaking routes as he did against the Bengals, I would have thought this route would have been best served to save for the end of the game when the cornerbacks think they know what’s coming. But this was actually Davis’ first catch of the game. Davis must be running a lot of out breaking routes this season, because it got the cornerback good all the same. It was a great ball by quarterback Ryan Tannehill and a good route by Davis.

We always want new players in the league to succeed right away, especially when they’re high draft picks. But as much as we love guys like Nick Bosa and Terry McLaurin and Derwin James, we have to remember that as we celebrate them, succeeding so quickly is special, not the norm. For some players it takes a little more time. And for Davis, it feels like he’s finally starting to truly come into his own.

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