The Steelers have selected defensive back Sean Davis in the 2nd round of the NFL draft.
The Steelers had Lynn Swann deliver the pick for the team and he declared that the Steelers had selected Sean Davis, defensive back out of Maryland, with the 58th pick. Sean Davis is big and he’s athletic. He’s also raw. The Steelers have officially doubled down on their commitment to improving the secondary.
Now, Davis stands 6’1″ and weighs 201 lbs. He comes out of Maryland as previously mentioned. His freshman year he didn’t play much but played safety his sophomore year where he racked up 103 tackles and 2 interceptions. He topped 103 with 115 tackles his junior year where he led the Big Ten in solo tackles with 80.
Last year, his senior year, he was shifted to cornerback. At times it was a rocky transition. But that’s reasonable. He finished that year with solid numbers, getting 88 tackles. He also showed some ball skills pulling in 3 interceptions while forcing 5 fumbles, second most in NCAA football.
But that was then and this is now. He’s a not a Terrapin, but he’s now another word that many non-fans aren’t sure exactly what it means, a Steeler. Let’s go over what Sean Davis is bringing to the table.
As previously mentioned Sean Davis is big and athletic. The Steelers have traditionally used bigger corners but had been signing and drafting smaller guys the past couple of years. Davis is more consistent with not just the Steelers past but future in that regard. If Tomlin plans to continue shifting the defense to a Cover 2 he’s going to need defensive backs that are long and strong. Not a Sir Mix-A-Lot reference.
Davis is both of those things. Though he does have length he is by no means lanky. He’s got a solid build and it plays a part in those college tackling stats. He is often around the ball. He closes on ball carriers with confidence and attacks the line of scrimmage fearlessly. Davis is capable of making hard hits and often does.
In coverage he fights for jump balls and is more than capable of jarring the ball loose with a well timed hit. His size gives him the ability to cover tall corners and he also has speed enough to catch faster receivers and avoid getting burnt. His size and strength also make him capable of matching up with a tight end. Solid hands too.
Finally, even though on many draft profiles and mock drafts he’s listed as a cornerback there’s a reason the phrase defensive back is often used as well, because he can play safety. He is kind of a tweener physically which can be a blessing or a curse. But Davis has versatility. The Steelers like versatility. The Steelers need versatility.
In terms of tackling and run support there’s little to criticize. His rawness is not just in coverage however. Despite his power, speed, and fearlessness in run support he still misses more tackles than you want. This goes back to his rawness. He’ll be a project in a few respects but all rookies are to some degree.
His big area of improvement is coverage. Though he does knock balls loose and he has good physical skills he is lacking in some technique in coverage and maybe even certain physical traits could limit him. He tackled receivers and intercepted balls but he also gave up a lot of yards and touchdowns. On top of that, Davis got a number of penalties.
The problems Davis has in coverage are based on a few things. He has issues with staying low and balance which makes him susceptible to getting beat by players who are quick or run good routes, like an Antonio Brown. He’ll also make a mental mistake and lose a receiver or peak at the quarterback. These issues were much more of an issue when he was playing corner. Safety may be the better position for him.
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Well the idea here is, from what I can gather, to throw everything at the wall and see what sticks. It is not clear but highly likely that the Steelers plan to develop Davis into a safety. But that’s not necessarily the case. If he can clean up his coverage issues with technique then maybe he could be a corner. He also might be too big to play effective coverage, and therefore better at safety with his hitting style.
Ultimately, the Steelers secondary needs are across the board so wherever he develops is going to work out. No need to force him into a position like they did at Maryland, pushing him into corner because the Steelers have too much talent at one position. That is not a problem we have in the secondary.
The Steelers are familiar with Davis. They’ve met with him on more than one occasion and tend to scout more heavily colleges nearby like Maryland (hence all the Ohio State). The Steelers have not had a lot of raw talent in the defensive backfield since Troy Polamalu really. Most everyone else, even if turning out to be assets like William Gay, always had a ceiling.
Tomlin and Lake feel confident in their ability to coach these players up and to transition to a system where defensive backs are more important. Both of Davis and Burns have high ceilings but are raw. Let’s assume each of these players are a coin flip from greatness. One of them, the Steelers had a 50% chance, with two they have a 75% chance that they got a great defensive back in this draft.
Final Grade: C
Big, athletic, raw. Are you getting deja vu? You’re not the only one. Feels a lot like yesterday, does it not? This pick was a surprise because it felt so much like the last pick. Burns is a little more comfortable in coverage and Davis is better against the run but this is still a puzzling pick in that regard.
There are also other players that, having chosen this approach, may have been better options. For example, if Davis was drafted as a corner, then you could ask why not Cyrus Jones, taken 2 picks later? Then you’d also get a punt returner. And if they drafted him as a safety then why not Vonn Bell, taken 3 picks later? You’d have a player with better coverage and technique, and more ready on day 1.
Well the reason is because they want that high ceiling. Vonn Bell and Cyrus Jones might be more of an asset to a team on game 1 but the Steelers think Davis can contribute his first year but be a great player in year 2 or 3 perhaps. It’s understandable. The Steelers have settled for mediocrity in the secondary for years and they’re rolling the dice for greatness in this years draft.
Because of that though the pick only gets a C. If you go for a high ceiling, raw player, your draft grade isn’t going to have as high of a ceiling because of the risk involved. Could Davis be a bust? Could he just be a great special teams player? Sure, but so could anyone. He could also be great.
Problem is, and the reason a C might be generous, the Steelers need secondary help now and I don’t know if Burns or Davis offer that. I get rolling the dice for greatness, especially when playing it safe hasn’t worked.
But Ben Roethlisberger is a QB who can get you all the way. That’s the hardest thing to get and the Steelers have it. Ben has several good years but the clock’s ticking. So that’s additional risk. It’s not good enough for Davis to develop, he must do so asap.
The more time goes by the more I’m accepting of the pick. It will especially make sense if Davis develops at safety, because that is a need that, other than Davis, has not been addressed. If a pick could end up an F and could end up an A, seems the most reasonable grade is to split the difference and give it a C. We’ll see how he develops but this could look like a steal some day. We’ll see.
All stats used via Sports Reference