On offense, the spotlight is on James Washington, a second year player in dire need to make the jump. Defensively, most fans are looking to Bud Dupree and that ugly $9.2 million salary in the hopes he’ll justify it. But the guy I’m looking to have a big season even more than those two? Free safety Sean Davis.
Describing Davis’ three years in the NFL is difficult. Bumpy is an apt word to use both in his play and how the team has used him. A safety his first three years at Maryland, they switched him to corner his senior season. Pittsburgh drafted him to play strong safety in the 2nd round of the 2016 draft. But once Senquez Golson went down early in training camp, Davis was shuffled to slot corner with the team lacking other options. He wound up playing the second half of the season back at SS.
2017 saw a little more stability for him, remaining at strong safety, though he worked at dime in some situations as the team struggles – and it’s still an issue today – identifying that 6th defensive back. But he saw improvement his sophomore season and picked off three passes, tying the team lead.
Then Davis was on the move again. This time to free safety. Mike Tomlin and company tried to spin it as a small change, interchangeable really, but in the Steelers’ scheme, there’s a difference. Davis even admitted it.
“It’s something new to me, something new for us”, he said in late July, “so I am just using this time to develop my skills and get better so I can make the defense better”.
The switch wasn’t all bad. Davis, rightfully so, was praised for the stability and communication he brought to the secondary and there are intangibles he brings that won’t always show up on the stat sheet. The defense did a better job avoiding the big play, going from 13 gains of 40+ yards allowed in 2017 to just seven a year ago, but there were elements of the game still missing. Chiefly, the lack of playmaking. Davis and SS Terrell Edmunds combined to create just two turnovers despite both dudes playing 31 games and logging over 1900 snaps. That’s…not good and I remember doing the research during the season, almost historically bad.
Now, Davis enters his second year playing free safety and the last year of his rookie contract. Though possible, it’s unlikely he receives a contract extension this summer. How do you gauge his value? Is he the long-term answer? Maybe, maybe not, and you’d like to take a long look in 2019, knowing he’s more comfortable playing free safety the second time around before throwing more money at him. If he can’t create turnovers this year, and let’s assume Edmunds only sees a marginal uptick there, it’s hard to justify the investment. Two safeties who can’t take the ball away isn’t how defenses win nowadays.
But this is the year to prove it. As Tomlin referred to earlier this offseason in discussing Dupree, Davis – even moreso, really – is sitting in the sweet spot between youth and experience. Still just 25 years old with 40 career starts under his belt. If he can’t make a move now, it’s unlikely to ever happen. This is the year we find out.