From now until the 2017 NFL Draft takes place, we hope to showcase as many prospects as possible and examine both their strengths and weaknesses. Most of these profiles will feature individuals that the Pittsburgh Steelers are likely to have an interest in, while a few others will be top-ranked players. If there is a player you would like us to analyze, let us know in the comments below.
#22 Justin Davis / RB / 6’1 208 lbs
– Disciplined runner, gets what’s blocked for him
– Fluid hips, elusive in open field
– Cutback runner
– Accelerates to the line of scrimmage
– Quickly turns upfield with smooth running stride
– Does not break many tackles
– Needs to shore up pass protection
– Hesitates when a lane does not present itself
– Needs to play with better ball security
– 2016: 110 carries, 607 yards, 5.5 YPC, 2 rushing touchdowns
– Career: 461 carries, 2465 yards, 5.3 YPC, 19 rushing touchdowns
– 46 receptions for 400 yards in 4 seasons at USC
– Missed three games last season with a high ankle sprain
– 2015 All Pac-12 Honorable Mention
Rounding out the bottom half of this year’s running back draft class is USC’s Justin Davis. A running back who has enjoyed moderate success at USC, Davis figures as a low risk – low upside prospect.
Davis is a very disciplined runner, who in the right scheme can excel. The USC running back would be most comfortable as a cutback runner in a zone blocking scheme.
Here in a 2015 matchup against Oregon, Davis takes the hand off and leads to his right before cutting back to a backside lane between the left tackle and tight end. Due to Oregon’s second level defenders shifting to towards the right side of the offense, Davis can leisurely make his way downfield.
There are a couple intangibles that allow Davis to perform at an acceptable level – acceleration to the line of scrimmage and discipline. A former sprinter, Davis’ initial burst helps him find running lanes before they narrow. Davis flashes his ability to quickly hit the line of scrimmage and squeeze through a running lane on the play below.
Davis also does a great job at staying disciplined with the blocks set up in front of him, a key reason why he averaged over five yards per carry over his college career. Not one to trust his instincts over the game plan, Davis enjoyed great success passing through the channel created by his linemen.
Davis follows behind his left tackle, who is releasing and taking on a Stanford inside linebacker. In doing so, Davis picks up a first down on a play executed almost as well as it was designed.
While being a disciplined runner has its fair share of perks, it has also set a cap on Davis’ ceiling as he approaches the NFL Draft. Due to a lack of power and instincts, Davis struggles to create when his offensive line is unable to create a clear running lane.
When the USC offensive line is unable to pave a lane for Davis, you will likely see a run that resembles the one above. Without a lane present, Davis is no longer the disciplined, decisive runner seen before, instead he transforms into a more hesitant running back uncertain about his ability.
As for his role as a potential third down back, I believe Davis could contribute in this role. Though he did not average many receptions at USC, his hands are better than advertised. Davis’ performance in pass protection will need require more coaching at the next level as while he may not be among the worst in his class at pass protection, he does tend to shoot low instead of anchoring.
While Davis may not be able to raise his roof much higher, if at all, I do believe there is a place for him in the NFL. Davis’ film leads me to believe that he is better suited for a zone blocking team as it plays best to his disciplined running style. While Davis may not steal the show, he does have the potential to be a decent mid card act in a running back rotation.
Projection: Late Day Three
Games Watched: vs Stanford, vs Oregon, vs UCLA (2016), Vs UCLA (2015)