Ravens Rookies Davis, Smith, catching on quick
Disclaimer: Small sample sizes ahead as we delve into the numbers.
Let’s be honest. Preseason football is all about the rookies and undrafted hopefuls. For the seasoned veterans they are back on the sidelines in baseball caps before they even break a sweat. Two rookies have stood out above the rest thus far in training camp. They are Carl Davis, defensive tackle out of Iowa. Za’Darius Smith, defensive end converting to outside linebacker out of Kentucky.
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Davis will be counted on as an important part of the rotation in the defensive front. With Timmy Jernigan missing a few practices and the preseason opener with a foot injury, he knew he would be getting plenty of reps last Thursday. 38 of them (excluding special teams) to be exact. The coaches mentioned last week that Davis will need to grasp things quickly in order for them to count on him. In his first action against an NFL foe, he wouldn’t disappoint.
I realize the small sample size here, but let’s examine Davis’ run stop percentage, and pass rush productivity from the Saints matchup.
First, the run game. Carl Davis played on 17 running plays and racked up a run stop percentage of 17.6% with three “stops” on the night. That was good enough for sixth best among defensive tackles across the league in preseason week 1. To put this in perspective, the Jets Damon Harrison led the league at 12.5% in all of 2014. Our own Brandon Williams was second best among DTs at 11.4%. I don’t expect Davis’ 17.6% mark to hold up all year, especially since he’ll face all first teamers in the regular season. But it is a nice start, and good to see his skill set translating over to the pro game. Strength will play anywhere and we saw his strength on display when he brought down a ball carrier with one arm, and broke free from the clutches of a blocker with cat like reflexes to swat a ball out of the air. Here is a clip from his college days where he slung Melvin Gordon to the turf with one hand while being engaged by a blocker.(#71 in the middle).
Not much of note on the pass rushing front from Davis on the night. He got one hit on the quarterback in 21 passing downs he played on. Some worried about his pass rush ability in college where he didn’t put up gaudy sack totals. But in the college game you face a lot of up tempo, quick strike offenses, and sacks are harder to come by. I’m not worried about this part of his game yet, especially with the cast surrounding him and their pass rush prowess. While Jernigan was out, Davis saw action with the first teamers. This Saturday might be a good time to let him face the Eagles first team defense as much as he can, and check his progress against tougher talent.
On to the other rookie of note, Za’Darius Smith. When Head Coach John Harbaugh talked about these two rookies, he mentioned Davis being a “big puppy” who still needs to “sharpen his edges.” While in the case of Smith, Coach said, “…his edges may already be sharp.” Smith is big, lean, and has a swim move that leaves would be blockers in the dust. Here is an example of his speed and that swim move that gets him around the edge leading to a sack. (#94 on the right). No clip, but I have also seen him in practice use the same move to his left. Keeps the blocker guessing when you can go either way.
Smith is adjusting to playing outside linebacker in the Ravens hybrid 3-4 scheme. He played the most snaps of any Raven last Thursday with 57 (excluding special teams). Not much doing in the run stop department with just 17 snaps in the run game, and making two tackles.
It was in pass rushing where Smith shined versus the Saints. He played on 40 passing downs last week, which was 10 more than any other 3-4 OLB in the league. He was a blitzer 90% of the time, notched a sack, and five hurries of Saints QBs. Good enough for a pass rush productivity of 13.2%. Second best among 3-4 OLBs last week. To put that in perspective, Kansas City Chiefs OLB Justin Houston led the league at his position last year with a 15.1% mark. Pernell McPhee ranked second (14.7%) and Elvis Dumervil ranked fourth (11.6%).
If Smith’s edges are sharp, meaning he’s ready to roll at the NFL level, that 13.2% mark isn’t out of the realm of possibility, and would make him one of the league’s best, should he continue to excel against first team talent.
Carl Davis was rated by Pro Football Focus as the top performer for the Ravens on Thursday with a plus 2.8 rating. Za’Darius Smith was rated at plus 0.7. Someone will have to explain to me how Smith gets such high marks as a productive pass rusher, but PFF graded him a minus 0.6 in that department alone on their ratings scale.
These two men will see more action this Saturday night when the Ravens travel to Philly for game two of the preseason with the Eagles, whom they will share camp with leading up to the game.
Mike was born on the Eastern Shore, raised in Finksburg, and currently resides in Parkville. In 2009, Mike graduated from the Broadcasting Institute of Maryland. Mike became a Baltimore City Fire Fighter in late 2010. Mike has appeared as a guest on Q1370, and FOX45. Now a Sr. Ravens Analyst for BSL, he can be reached at [email protected]