Could Steelers safety Sean Davis earn snaps in sub-packages this year?

Sean Davis #21 of the Pittsburgh Steelers (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)
Sean Davis #21 of the Pittsburgh Steelers (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images) /

Sean Davis has reunited with the team that drafted him in the second round in 2016. Could he earn snaps as a dime backer in sub-packages for the Steelers?

I bet there aren’t a lot of fans out there who would have predicted that Sean Davis would be reunited with the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2020. After beginning his contract year in 2019, Davis suffered an injury in Week 1 that would land him on IR. Just over a week later, the Steelers traded for Dolphin’s safety Minkah Fitzpatrick.

As a result, Davis later signed with Washington in hopes to revamp his career elsewhere. Unfortunately for him, the former Steelers safety did not make the final cut when teams were forced to get down to their 53-man roster.

It’s a bit surprising to learn that Davis didn’t even make Washington’s team this year. Just four years ago, Davis was a high draft choice. Still just 26 years old, Davis already has 41 starts in 48 career games under his belt, so bringing him back to the team he is familiar with for pennies on the dollar was a no-brainer move by Pittsburgh’s front office.

While Davis isn’t going to be competing for a starting role this year, it’s interesting to think about what his role may end up playing for the team. Davis has experience at both free and strong safety, and he is likely to be the primary backup at both of those positions. In addition, he’s certainly going to be asked to contribute on special teams this year.

However, is it possible that Davis could also find himself on defense during sup-package formations?

Why the Steelers could use Davis in their dime defense

Now, this isn’t something that I’ve heard discussed around the organization to this point, but it makes sense as to why Davis may be able to play some version of a ‘dime backer’ role for the Steelers in 2020.

Over the past two years, this job has gone to former safeties in Morgan Burnett and Mark Barron. These players were rarely on the field for early-down work, but their strengths were used in nickel and dime formations.

Currently, it is expected that players like Ulysees Gilbert, Marcus Allen, and Jordan Dangerfield could share this role and fill some of the snaps Mark Barron leaves behind. In dime packages, Cameron Sutton is the player who is expected to be on the field for obvious passing downs.

While Sutton has earned the coaches’ trust with the strides that he has made over the past two seasons, perhaps Davis could be used in sub-packages as well. Davis is undersized for a sub-package linebacker but much larger than your typical nickel corner – which is why he could play a role similar to Burnett’s for the Steelers back in 2018.

Not only does Davis have experience at free safety and strong safety for the Steelers, but he also began his career playing some nickel cornerback as well. With his versatility and 95th percentile athleticism (according to Three Sigma Athlete), Davis could give the Steelers a long, athletic presence that can cover and tackle as an extra defensive back-hybrid in passing situations.

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Davis rejoins the team just a week before the regular season kicks off, so his role may be limited right away. However, if players like Gilbert, Allen, or Sutton struggle, perhaps Sean Davis could find himself playing a fair amount of snaps in sub-packages for the Steelers this year.