Dynasty owners have the tendency to get so caught up in the hype train every year when it comes to the big names in the draft class. We get blinders on and seem to overlook a few players that have a similar pedigree but lack the name brand recognition and national exposure. Just flash back to this time last year when the talk of the town was Sammy Watkins, Mike Evans and Brandin Cooks. How many experts had Odell Beckham as their top wide receiver or dynasty rookie on their draft boards? The simple answer is very few and boy was that a big mistake! For my inaugural piece @FakePigskin I wanted to examine a player I strongly believe falls under this category at the running back position. Everyone knows this is one of the most talent-rich running back classes we’ve seen in the past 10 years. What they may not know is that there is a running back that is going criminally unnoticed by many scouts and front offices around the league. Former South Carolina Gamecock Mike Davis may not be Todd Gurley or Melvin Gordon, but that doesn’t mean he can’t carve out a very nice NFL career and possibly surpass them both. For the smart and savvy fantasy owners the time is now to do your homework and find the next diamond in the rough similar to Alfred Morris in 2012. Without further ado let me introduce a player that makes me want to draft my fantasy team right now before the cat is out of the bag and the rest of the world finds out about Mike Davis.
Driven to Succeed
Before I start digging into the laundry list of things that get me excited about Mike Davis, I’d like to provide everyone a little background information as a prelude. I firmly believe to truly know a man you must walk in his shoes if you want to understand what drives him and makes him tick or at the very least know his story. Mike Davis grew up in a very rough neighborhood west of downtown Atlanta, called Bankhead. Growing up in the hood isn’t easy for anyone and usually doesn’t end well for the majority of people in that type of environment. In Mike Davis’ case, he was very fortunate that he had positive role models in his life, which were his mother Teresa Davis and his older brother James Davis. Mike had a burning desire to make it out of Bankhead and become a star. He was also driven to succeed and make a name for himself. Proof of that would be Mike’s quote after witnessing multiple gun exchanges and violence as a youth growing up in Bankhead.
“Stuff like that will have you scarred for life,” Davis said. “But, you know, it teaches you a lesson. It makes you want to get out of that type of environment. It makes you hungry. It will keep you on the right track, that, hey, I can’t lose focus. I don’t want to end up like this type of person.”
At the time, James Davis was making a name for himself at Clemson breaking all kinds of rushing records from 2005-2008. This resulted in him being selected in the 6th round of the 2009 NFL Draft by the Cleveland Browns. James Davis did an unselfish act and took $25,000 of his signing bonus from the Browns and put a down payment on a house for his mom and two brothers 45 minutes on the other side of town. The change of scenery was exactly what Mike Davis needed to jump start his career and get started on the right track to succeed. Davis went on to be a superstar at powerhouse Stephenson High School in Stone Mountain where he played football and also ran track. He was a superior athlete there and as a senior he rushed for a video game-like 1,923 yards on 213 carries and 21 touchdowns. Davis was ranked as the 7th best running back by Rivals.com at the time and was being heavily recruited by Florida, Florida State, Miami, Oklahoma, Georgia, Tennessee and South Carolina. After committing to Florida, he changed his mind after a year and decided that South Carolina would give him the best opportunity to succeed. Kudos to Mike for making the right call and not letting anything or anybody stop him from focusing on achieving his goals in life.
The Tale of Two Seasons
After growing up in the shadows of his older brother, he was once again in the shadows his freshman year of one of the best running backs South Carolina had ever seen: Marcus Lattimore. Davis stayed as motivated as ever and finally got his chance to start after Lattimore’s injury and departure to the NFL Draft his sophomore year in 2013. It was obvious that Davis had an ax to grind in his second start of the season versus the Georgia Bulldogs, a team that had waited until a month before his official signing day to send him an offer letter. This was clearly in the back of his mind as he shredded Georgia’s defense for 198 all-purpose yards, including a 75-yard scamper. Even more impressive was that Davis outshined his five-star recruit counterpart Todd Gurley in the game. It was the second week in a row that Davis had managed to break a big one, also busting out for a 75-yard touchdown run the previous week versus North Carolina. The fact that neither of those teams had cupcake defenses gave credence to fact that Mike Davis had finally arrived onto the college scene and was here to stay. Davis continued to torch powerhouse SEC defenses along the way registering seven 100-plus yard rushing games in his first nine starts of the season. Over that time period he amassed 1,384 all-purpose yards and 10 touchdowns. Another one of his performances that stood out to me was his game versus Missouri. The Tigers defense managed to contain Davis to only 51 yards on 19 carries (2.7 avg.) however he still managed to snag 9 catches for 99 yards! This just proves how versatile he was at the running back position and that even if opposing defenses schemed to stop the run, he would beat them with the screen pass or swing pass. Mike Davis had finally made a name for himself while finishing his breakout 2013 season with 203 carries for 1,183 rushing yards and 11 touchdowns. His magical season was enough to garner him a spot on the second-team All-SEC team. Had he been eligible for the 2014 NFL draft he could have bolted and earned a big payday. Lots of scouts and experts projected him as a slam dunk 1st round pick and possibly even the first running back selected if that was the case.
After setting the bar so high in 2013 Mike Davis had created some big shoes to fill in 2014. Davis missed the season opener versus Texas A&M. Regardless, he still managed to register four 100 yard rushing performances including a monster game versus Kentucky. Running like a man on a mission, Davis torched the Cats defense for a career-high 183 yards on 23 carries and three touchdowns. This would go down as the highlight reel to his somewhat underwhelming 2014 season. Unfortunately he failed to reach the lofty expectations that everyone had set for him in 2014. It was and up and down season for Davis but he still managed 982 yards rushing, just falling 18 yards short of 1,000 yards. While I can’t be 100 percent sure what caused his regression, one theory is that his heavy workload from the previous season contributed. In addition, he dealt with some nagging injuries (hamstring, ribs) along the way and there were whispers that he was out of shape. I don’t know how much truth there is to these conditioning rumors but given his track record I’m willing to give him the benefit of the doubt in this case. After all, I remember these were some of the same concerns many scouts had about Eddie Lacy coming out of college in 2013, and he went on to become one of the best bruising running backs in the NFL. I’m not saying Mike Davis is the next Eddie Lacy but I do have faith that he can overcome whatever road blocks stand in his way to become a workhorse running back at the next level. Now it’s time for me to backup this statement and give my comps to the guy that has me giddy as a schoolboy to see where he lands later this month.
Mad Dog’s Mike Davis Scouting report
Locking myself in my basement or “man cave” as I would like to call it, I thoroughly enjoyed breaking down some Mike Davis film. I saw a lot to like in Davis’ running style and there were quite a few comps that came racing through my head as I watched him run, which I will dive into later. I witnessed a powerful and very decisive runner who runs with fire and determination, leaving it all out on the field. He’s a great downhill runner who isn’t afraid to lower the boom and run over his defenders, while pushing the pile forward. Davis uses his cinder block build (5’9″, 217 lbs) to keep himself low to the ground (low center of gravity) and hide from his defenders in the backfield. Jumping off the tape to me, I spied a very patient, shifty runner with excellent vision, who is very good at using his blockers to clear running lanes for him. He anticipates just the right time to make his cuts and hits the hole like a slingshot while accelerating with his deceptive speed, thus enabling him to get to the second level of the defense. To say that he’s very agile on his feet for a man of his size is an understatement. Davis has very good burst and cut ability that will translate well at the next level. He’s able to change directions on a dime and also can juke his defenders from time to time, making them look silly. Speaking of defenders, he also has the power to shrug off a defender and stiff arm them to the ground leading to broken tackles. Your best bet to bring him down is to converge on him with multiple defenders and wrap up, thus ensuring that he’s stopped for a minimal gain. Having said that, it’s easier said than done when it comes to tackling Mike Davis. He has the speed to beat his defenders to the outside and also the brute strength to power it between the tackles. This is a rare combination nowadays in the NFL where we’re seeing more and more change-of-pace running backs coming out of college and offensive coordinators employing the dreaded RBBC to fantasy owners’ dismay. Davis also possesses nice hands and good pass protection skills which help project him as a possible 3-down bell cow running back at the next level. Davis bobs and weaves through traffic like a race car driver on Sunday and darts through holes while bouncing off tacklers like a bowling ball full of steam. He’s the type of running back that will give opposing defensive coordinators headaches trying to contain him if he’s utilized correctly. The key ingredient to his success at the next level will be whether or not he improves his conditioning and stays healthy.
Mad Dog’s Mike Davis comps
Maybe now you can see why I’m so excited about Mike Davis similar to a kid in a candy shop. He’s got all the traits and matching skill set that NFL scouts and front offices look for in a complete running back coming out of college. As far as comps go I came up with a few of my own but the one that stands out the most to me is Maurice Jones-Drew. Hence the bowling ball reference in my scouting report and the fact that he has a very similar body-build to MJD. While he may not be as strong as MJD, he can be if he’s willing put in the time in the weight room and I fully trust that he will. MJD also possesses better hands and is more proficient at receiving and pass protection but Davis isn’t that far behind him and his screen game is phenomenal. Let’s not forget that he caught 70 passes over his three year career at South Carolina and 66 of those catches came the last two years. If he works hard at improving in all these areas I think he can reach MJD’s level at some point. He’s a carbon copy of MJD in the aspect that he’s a load to bring down for his defenders and has great vision and balance. I also noticed a touch of Eddie Lacy in Mike Davis in regards to how hard he runs and how fearless he is at the point of attack. He’s definitely not afraid to lower his head a la Eddie Lacy and sacrifice his body. My only concern is if he makes a habit of this and ends up with multiple concussions at the next level. Davis is good enough to beat his defenders with the plethora of tools he possesses and how can you not love the aggressiveness and determination he runs with. My last comparison is Alfred Morris and this is two-fold. Davis and Alf both run violently and are ideal running backs in today’s NFL zone run blocking scheme. Alf also flew under the radar coming from a smaller school at Florida Atlantic and was drafted very late in the 6th round of the 2012 NFL draft. I have a feeling they will follow a similar career path with the exception being that Mike Davis will be more involved in the passing game for whatever team calls his name at the podium on draft day.
Mad Dog’s Mike Davis Measurables
************************************NFL combine and Pro Day results***********************************
Combine results & measurables Pro day results & measurables
Height: 5’9″ Height: 5’9″
Weight: 217 lbs Weight: 211 lbs *lost 6 lbs*
Arm length: 30 1/4″ Arm length: 30 1/4″
Hand size: 9 3/8″ Hand size: 9 3/8″
40-yard dash: 4.61 seconds 40-yard dash: 4.38 seconds *unofficial*
Bench press: 17 reps N/A
Vertical jump: 34 inches Vertical jump: 35 1/2 inches
Broad jump: 116 inches N/A
3-cone drill: 7.0 seconds N/A
20-yard shuttle: 4.18 seconds N/A
60-yard shuttle: 11.65 seconds N/A
As the old saying goes, “The proof is in the pudding” and after an underwhelming NFL combine, Mike Davis went to work. He drastically improved his conditioning as evidenced by his official pro day weigh-in at 211 pounds, which was 6 pounds less than his combine weigh-in. The after effects of this were his drastically improved 40-yard dash time in which he unofficially ran a 4.38. This helps dispel the misbelief of some scouts that Davis lacked the top-end speed to make it at the next level. Davis’ unofficial 40-time would put him in the top 3 at his position at the NFL combine. We have confirmation that Mike Davis is a lot quicker and faster than many scouts had originally given him credit for. See for yourself and check out this video clip from his pro day in Columbia. He also must have eaten his Wheaties that day because he added an inch and a half to his vertical jump! The bottom line here is that his draft stock is on the rise. Honestly, I wouldn’t be surprised to see him go earlier in the 2nd round than some of the bigger name running backs on the board like say Duke Johnson, David Cobb, Tevin Coleman and David Johnson. Unlike a lot of the second-tier and third-tier running backs after Gurley, Gordon, and Ajayi, Davis isn’t a one-trick pony or COP back. He is a complete back and I’m positive that teams around the league are reevaluating him and taking a second look after his brilliant showing in Columbia. I know that New England has shown some interest but the team I think would fit him the best is the Atlanta Falcons. Davis is an ideal fit for their zone-heavy running scheme, not to mention a team that utilizes the screen pass like the Falcons do. If this happened Davis would have the opportunity to compete with Devonta Freeman for the starting job from day one. Wouldn’t it just be the perfect homecoming if Mike Davis came back to his home digs and played in front of his family and friends? Regardless of his landing spot Mike Davis is going to be a diamond in the rough for some lucky NFL team out there.
I would like to give special thanks to Merrick Harding for sharing his amazing photography of Mike Davis. He captured the Heisman pose used in the featured image of my article. Merrick is a sports writer for the South Carolina Gamecocks. You can find him on Twitter @Merrick_Harding and check out his work here. He will be a special guest this week on the @FakePigskin Angle of Pursuit podcast.