Raekwon Davis is not a PFF darling.
After a promising rookie campaign in 2020, the stats and grades suggest the former second-round pick from Alabama took a considerable step back in 2021. Davis finished with a 36.5 overall defensive grade, a 36.1 run defense grade, and a 54.1 pass-rush grade.
Those numbers are down from his 2020 grades of 71.1, 66.8, and 71, respectively.
Davis is Miami’s starting nose tackle — a position vital to anchoring Miami’s defensive front and run defense, which relies on a defensive lineman who can two-gap at the point of attack. The Dolphins run defense wasn’t exactly a strength last season, further pointing to Davis’ struggles.
Even Davis’ raw numbers were underwhelming. He finished with just 28 total tackles, 0.5 sacks, and five quarterback pressures. That’s not good enough for a player selected inside the top-60.
However, a lot of what Davis does well doesn’t show up in the box score. Again, he’s tasked with two-gapping so sometimes just eating space and allowing Miami’s linebackers to remain untouched is a positive rep for him.
PFF is supposed to account for things like that when grading out players, so the question becomes: was Davis truly awful in 2021, or is PFF a little too harsh?
Let’s dive into some film and find out.
So, what does it look like when Raekwon Davis is doing his job well? The play above is a fair example of what should be considered a good rep for Davis. He displaces the man across from him, leading the running back to run directly into the back of his own offensive lineman.
He’s lined up directly over the left guard, and when he fires his hands out, he immediately bench presses the offensive lineman off his chest. This allows him to reset the line of scrimmage and dictate the running backs’ reads.
Davis has 33 ⅞ inch arms, which ranks in the 67th percentile. That is plenty of length to bully opposing linemen and create displacement like the play above. Davis just wasn’t consistent in that area this past season.
This play won’t show up in the box score, but it’s the type of dirty work every successful team needs someone to do consistently.
This clip is an example of what happens when a defender doesn’t get extension. Since Davis is Miami’s primary run stuffer, he has to be capable of eating double teams and freeing his linebackers up to make tackles downhill.
Davis gets the job done here, but he doesn’t exactly win the rep either. Neither Tampa Bay offensive lineman gets to the second level, but Davis gives up way too much ground. Anytime a defensive lineman has their butt to the sideline, it’s safe to assume they could’ve done a better job.
It’s plays like this that explain why Davis’ run grade was so low last season. This rep isn’t a total loss for him, but it’s not exactly a win either.
Here is a play that is without a doubt a loss for Davis. The Titans run right off of his hip for a big gain in the red zone.
He’s lined up over the right guard this time, and the Titans are running a zone concept. Davis gets good extension off the snap, but he doesn’t disengage in time to cut off the cutback lane. He either didn’t pick his head up in time or didn’t work to free his hands quickly enough.
Either way, it’s a rep he’d like to have back. These are the types of plays Davis is supposed to make. The types of plays that earn him his money, and he just didn’t make enough of them in 2021.
This clip shows the importance of creating separation off the snap when rushing the passer. This isn’t a sack or even really a pressure and would probably be considered a win for the offensive lineman, but Davis creates a good push.
If Brady had wanted to step up in the pocket on this play, he couldn’t have. The issue is this is pretty much all Davis is capable of when rushing the passer right now. The expectation for nose tackles is low because this is typically a secondary job for them, but in today’s NFL, everyone needs to have a little bit of pass rush juice.
Davis just doesn’t have it, and that became apparent quickly when watching his film. He was subbed out on pass rush downs, and when he did rush the passer, it was rarely an impactful rep for him.
As mentioned earlier, Davis accrued just five quarterback pressures last season. Giants nose tackle Danny Shelton also had five pressures last season but he did it in 90 fewer pass-rush snaps.
Shelton played in a similar defense with pretty much the same role as Davis while matching his pass rush production with fewer snaps. Davis has to find his 2020 pass-rush ability again if he wants to take a jump in 2022.
I do believe PFF was a little too harsh on Davis. His good reps are difficult to quantify, so I understand why his grades were so low, but he wasn’t as bad as they suggested last season.
With that said, I don’t think Davis was “good” in 2021 either. It was very clear he wasn’t as good as his rookie season. He struggled at both defending the run and rushing the passer in ways he didn’t last season.
With young players, it’s prudent to look back at their draft profile when they struggle. When the Dolphins drafted Davis in the second round, the concerns around him were inconsistent technique and lack of pass rush ability.
However, his 2020 tape flipped that on its head, and it looked like Miami had at least plucked a valuable starter, but his 2021 tape shows all of those concerns coming home to roost all at once.
The most probable outcome is Davis’ true ability is somewhere in the middle of his 2020 film and his 2021 film. We’ve likely seen both the ceiling and the floor of his play, meaning Davis should have a better 2022 season than 2021.
The downside is if Davis’ true ability lies within the middle of a “solid” and” bad” season, that isn’t exactly good value for a second-round pick.
It’s not his primary job, and he probably won’t be a dominant force on the interior, but Davis needs to find some semblance of pass rush prowess and ability to be more disruptive against the run if he wants to be a long term piece on the Dolphins’ defensive line.