Jarrad Davis Has All The Motivation He Needs In Crucial Season

And the Lions have plenty hanging in the balance.

Will Burchfield
May 15, 2020 - 12:25 pm

The deadline snuck up on Jarrad Davis, if not the news. The Lions declined his fifth-year option earlier this month, a move many saw coming. Davis hasn't met expectations since Detroit drafted him 21st overall in 2017. He hadn't earned the $10 million on the table for 2021. He'd probably be the first to admit that. 

So the call came from Lions GM Bob Quinn on May 4, and Davis took it in stride. 

"I really wasn’t even aware the deadline was coming around," Davis told local reporters Thursday. "I’ve been so focused on just trying to get back into the building and work with the guys and trying to make the most of this time we’re in now. So honestly I wasn’t even aware of it until literally the day of. It’s one of those things, it can be detrimental or it can be a positive."

Knowing Davis, he'll make it a positive. It's all he can do entering his fourth NFL season, his most important yet. The Lions would love to build around Davis on defense. He embodies the bare-knuckled brawn Matt Patricia wants in his team. But he has to give them more on the field. He has to show them he can be the linebacker they envisioned, at least close to it, and his next chance could be his last. 

As it is, the Lions have already reduced Davis' role. He watched his fair share of snaps from the sideline in 2019, after playing almost every down the season prior. And they've invested heavily at his position, drafting Jahlani Tavai in the second-round last year and signing Jamie Collins and Reggie Ragland this year. The new faces are another reminder that Davis' time might be running out.

And another portent for Davis to twist into a positive.

"I wouldn’t say it produces a chip (on my shoulder). It produces excitement, man," he said. "As an athlete, as a competitor, you have to have great guys around you to bring out the best in you. You don’t really know what you’re made of until you get put into a situation where you gotta bring everything out. I feel like this is similar. It’s competition."

Caputo: Last Chance For Lions To Solve Jarrad Davis Puzzle

Davis isn't the only one with something at stake this season. Quinn and Patricia have their jobs on the line, and Quinn's 2017 draft is a big reason why. Second-rounder Teez Tabor is long gone. His below-average speed was too much to overcome. And now the first-rounder has his back to the ropes, fighting the same fight. Quinn, with Patricia's help, has built a defense powered by strength in a league that runs on speed.

Davis is big and physical, at times explosive. He had six sacks in 2018. But he's not quick, and he's not fast enough in full gear, especially in coverage. Out of 99 qualifying players last season, Davis was rated the fifth-worst at his position by Pro Football Focus. The image that sums up Davis' career thus far is a swath of turf between No. 40 and an open receiver.

And the play that brings that image to life -- Week 4, 2018 -- is Ezekiel Elliott blowing by Davis at the line of scrimmage and hauling in a 34-yard catch to set up a game-winning field goal for the Cowboys. A tough matchup for Davis, to be sure. But not even a contest for Elliott, which is where Davis' physical shortcomings are hard to ignore. His intention is to close that gap mentally. 

"I have the talent to be a good coverage linebacker," he said. "I just haven’t been able to show exactly what I can do in that area yet, whether it be from just overthinking or just trying to do too much. I haven’t really been the best I can truly be in that position." 

He's an honest self-critic, always has been. He's an honest worker and an honest player, and honestly it hasn't been enough. The Lions say they're committed to Davis despite the decision on his contract, but that very decision gives them an out. Davis is playing for a lot this year, and Quinn and Patricia have a lot hanging in the balance. The trio might go down together. Davis might be gone either way. 

The writing on the wall is clear -- it's up to Davis to bend the words in his favor.