+His burst is back…
+Not just since the combine, but since the last game in 2012
-Runs out of bounds to avoid hits way too often (even before injury)
-Didn’t look like the same player for most of the season upon returning
-Fumbles more often than he scores
-Lots of strength in the upper body, but not much in terms of leg drive
Arkansas running back Knile Davis is one of the biggest high risk-high reward prospects of this draft. One thing I want to make clear immediately: he’s underrated by the media. The media’s perception of him is as a formerly good player that had a horrible ankle injury and wasn’t the same upon returning, but remains a fairly good workout warrior. But that’s not entirely true. Knile Davis wasn’t the same upon returning for most of the season. But, in the last game of his career (LSU), he looked like the Knile Davis of old in his 12 touches. He looked like he hadn’t lost a step since his sophomore year. He still is regaining his feel for the game, but, physically, he’s back. He’s 100% back. It’s not just for the combine. It’s for the long haul. NFL teams know that, and he’s going to find his way into the third round or so this year. But he still has his problems.
Another think I would like to make clear: I’m not a doctor, now will a pretend to be one. I took a similar stance in my Michael Mauti scouting report. The only thing I’m willing to say is that the physical effects of his season ending ankle injury haven’t been apparent since before the LSU game. Still, this may be a recurring injury. I don’t know. I wouldn’t be the person to ask. Right now, he seems unaffected by it. NFL team doctors might tell teams to bump him down their draft boards because of the injury. Or maybe the X-rays look pretty good, and team doctors may tell teams to bump him up. I don’t know. I’m not going to try to speculate, because the last time I did, I called Rob Gronkowski overrated (he gave me literally every reason in the world he had a bad back, like, Dwight Howard bad, but boy was that a terrible call by me). I’m going to try to be as neutral as possible regarding his injury issues, because I know very little about his ankle, excluding the fact that it was broken.
Davis has rare measurables. His combine was amazing. 5’10, 227lbs, 4.37 40 yard dash, 31 bench reps at 225lbs (That’s Steven Jackson territory). He had the second fastest 40 at the combine among running backs (Onterio McCalebb was best), and he did the most bench reps, an enviable combination. He had small hands, and he didn’t do a good job with the vertical of the broad jump (needs more strength in the lower body), but still, his measurables are terrific.
Davis’s stats are mostly a mixed bag. His sophomore season was ridiculous. He had 202 carries for 1322 yards for a 6.5 yards per carry in the SEC (!), to go along with 13 touchdowns and 19 receptions for 136 yards. Honestly, had he not been injured in 2011, Arkansas could have won the national championship, and he was more productive in 2010 in the SEC than Trent Richardson ever was. Those numbers are incredible. But, in 2012, he wasn’t the same player for most of the season. He had 112 carries for 377 yards (an ugly 3.4 yards per carry), and an inexcusable 7 fumbles. 7 fumbles. On 112 carries. As bad a number I’ve ever seen. While I’m on the subject, I might as well put my two cents in on the subject of his fumbles. This will be a long term problem in the NFL. One, he has small hands. 8 5/8 in, 3rd smallest at the combine among running backs, which is pretty insane given how many short backs there were at the combine. That problem isn’t going to go away. In addition, his ball carriage is pretty loose. He usually has two hands on the ball, but his off hand isn’t really doing any more than simply laying on the ball. It’s not applying any sort of pressure. It’s like the off hand in a basketball shot. It’s not really applying much of a force. It’s basically there for balance. And when your hands are as tiny as those of Davis, you need to put as much effort into using both hands to secure the ball as possible unless one hand is briefly being used to do a stiff arm.
Davis is an elite athlete. I’ve always felt that, to be a superstar running back in this league, you need to be powerful enough to inspire fear in your opponents when you run inside as well as quick and fast to inspire fear in your opponents when you run outside and try to turn the corner. LaDainian Tomlinson and Adrian Peterson, two of the top backs of the last decade, fit this mold. So does Davis. In his case. his quickness is good but his long speed is just ridiculous. No guy should be as fast as he is at that size. It’s really special. He also reaches top speed quickly and has above average change of direction skills. Still, as an outside runner, he has problems, because he doesn’t have much patience and has an awful tendency to run out of bounds instead of taking a hit, quite reminiscent of (gulp) Beanie Wells. This is a terrible tendency. Because he is willing to run out of bounds instead of fighting for more yardage, a corner will gladly concede the edge to him (knowing they have no chance of actually tackling him) if the linebacker isn’t there to help inside knowing that he’ll simply run out of bounds when he sees the safety coming his way. The worst part is that this isn’t just a post ankle surgery tendency. He ran out of bounds all the time back when he was a sophomore, and now that he’s even more worried about his health, he may not stop. It’s a big problem, and it will hold him back in the NFL if it continues.
The other problem with running out of bounds is that it’s waste of his power. Which brings me to my next point: he has a lot of power. Although he lacks leg strength and can’t push the pile (he may have laid off the leg press machine post ankle surgery), upper body strength is absolutely ridiculous, and his core is nice too. It’s hard to knock him off balance and he’s got a nice stiff arm. He’s powerful. He’s really hard to bring down. He flashes toughness. That being said, his vision could be better. He’s impatient when he enters the second level, not giving his blocks time to develop, though he really does a good job of weaving through traffic and gets solid pad level.
Davis is a decent pass catcher. His hands are solid, although small, he’s a half decent route runner, and he’s explosive in the open field. He also is a capable pass blocker that plays with solid on field intensity, though his ability to read blitz schemes is pretty average at this point. In the long term, he should be pretty good on third downs, though he probably won’t ever be a third down only back.
Davis has a lot of potential, but he’s got a lot to work on. Even if he’s healed, he needs to stop fumbling (or at least fumble less, seriously), running out of bounds to avoid taking hit, and become a little bit more patient entering the second level. His ceiling is high, but his floor is low.
NFL Comparison: Rashard Mendanhall, but with Chris Well’s vision and also more injury issues. He needs to stop running out of bounds to avoid hits. Oh, and he fumbles more than Mendanhall (I didn’t know it was possible).
Grade: 71 (worthy of a late 3rd, maybe early 4th round pick)
Projection: 72 (will be a late 3rd, possibly early 4th round pick)