2018 NFL Draft

Finding the Fits: Rex Ryan likens 3rd round LB Davis to Ray Lewis

Finding the Fits: Rex Ryan likens 3rd round LB Davis to Ray Lewis

By Rob Rang | The Sports Xchange/CBSSports.com
Over the next several weeks, NFLDraftScout.com will be reviewing some of the more intriguing picks made during the 2012 NFL Draft through a series called “Finding the Fits.” The goal of the series is to identify one relatively unheralded player per team who appears to be a good schematic fit and therefore more likely to be a surprise contributor early in his pro career.

The New York Jets ascended to the AFC Championship Game in each of head coach Rex Ryan's first two seasons at the helm despite having never won the AFC East division during his tenure. Much of the team's success is due to their physical, aggressive and big play defense, which is a credit to Ryan's coaching as well as the talent general manager Mike Tannebaum has helped acquire.

Despite the Jets' reputation for tough defense, this is a team that had plenty of holes on that side of the ball. Consider that while New York finished 5th in the entire NFL in pass defense a year ago, they finished tied for 17th in sacks with 35. To put that in perspective, the lowly St. Rams finished just ahead of the Jets with 39 sacks.

Of course, generating pressure on the opposing quarterback isn't as important when a team boasts the talent in the secondary that the New York Jets possess. No team received less production from their leading pass rusher than Ryan's bunch, which was highlighted by the career-high six sacks (amid 11 total tackles) from former first round Buffalo Bills "bust" Aaron Maybin.

Proponents of the 3-4 defense (like Ryan) typically look for their pass rush from their outside linebackers. Sources told me following the draft that the Jets had hoped that West Virginia's 6-3, 240 pound sack-master Bruce Irvin, a natural rush linebacker after playing defensive end for the Mountaineers, would be available to them at No. 16 overall. Instead, the Seattle Seahawks selected him one pick earlier.

The Jets instead selected North Carolina defensive end Quinton Coples. The 6-6, 284 pound Coples is certainly not going to be asked to make the transition to outside linebacker but he does have the size and power to provide unusual pass rush production as a five-technique defensive end in the Jets' odd-man front. While I have real concerns about his motor, there is no questioning Coples' talent. He has shown the ability to take over games, has a natural skill set that some scouts have likened to All-Pro Richard Seymour and was the clearly the most dominant player on the field at the Senior Bowl.

It is difficult to not get excited about Coples' upside in the Jets' scheme, especially when considering Ryan's reputation as a motivator. New York's selection of the explosive and nationally underrated Demario Davis in the third round, however, could prove just as exciting.

Largely due to the fact that he played in the SBC (Sun Belt Conference) rather than the SEC (Southeastern Conference), Davis didn't generate a great deal of national attention prior to the draft despite the fact has the conference's Defensive Player of the Year. The 6-2, 235 pound Davis eased concerns about his level of competition by enjoying a strong week of practice, himself, at the Senior Bowl and proving to have eye-popping athleticism at the Scouting Combine, registering a 4.61 second time in the 40-yard dash, as well recording 31 repepitions of 225 pounds.

It isn't just Davis' athleticism, explosive hitting or upside that has Ryan excited about the former Red Wolf linebacker, however. Ryan sees some of the leadership qualities in Davis that have helped turn Ray Lewis into a superstar for the Baltimore Ravens. Ryan coached Lewis while serving as the Ravens' defensive coordinator from 2005-2007.

As noted by Manish Mehta of the New York Daily News, Ryan gushed about his team's third round pick following the club's recent rookie mini-camp.

“You can have a list of 500 numbers up there on a wall, but how many real leaders are up there?” Ryan said following the team's first day of rookie mini-camp. “It's easy to say, ‘Well, this guy was a leader for his football team.' But does he have that thing that he can lead men? That's rare. Some guys have it. Ray Lewis had it when he came in. The day he walked into Baltimore, he was the leader of that defense. That was one year before I got there. That's what they all said. When I got there, he was clearly the leader. It's strange… but what kind of motivator is Ray Lewis? Ray Lewis motivated me as a coach. That's rare for a player to do that (and) have that kind of ability. I'm not saying Demario is that guy, but… and there's only one Ray Lewis… but it's interesting.”

“His face. His mannerisms. Passion,” Ryan continued. “I see some things.…. It's interesting… When you watch him on the tape, he pops off the tape. Like I said, he reminds me of a young Bart Scott: A guy that's just full of energy, flying all over the place and couldn't wait to hit somebody. That's kind of how he reminds me.”

Sources in New York suggest that the Jets couldn't be more pleased with Davis' performance on and off the field since he was drafted No. 77 overall. Davis may struggle initially to find playing time. While he played on the outside for the Red Wolves, Davis will be asked to play inside linebacker behind starters Bart Scott and David Harris for the Jets and may see his first extended playing time on special teams.

For that reason, it might be a season or more before Davis is able to prove his "fit" with the Jets. If the buzz in the building is correct, however, it won't be long before the Arkansas State standout proves he was a true Diamond in the Rough.

The rest of the Jets' picks:

1st Round - No. 16 overall - Quinton Coples, DE, North Carolina
2nd Round - No. 43 overall - Stephen Hill, WR, Georgia Tech
3rd Round - No. 77 overall - Demario Davis, LB, Arkansas State
6th Round - No. 187 overall - Josh Bush, FS, Wake Forest
6th Round - No. 202 overall - Terrance Ganaway, RB, Baylor
6th Round - No. 203 overall - Robert T. Griffin, OG, Baylor
7th Round - No. 242 overall - Antonio Allen, SS, South Carolina
7th Round - No. 244 overall - Jordan White, WR, Western Michigan

Read more about all of the Jets' picks here.
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